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Towne Stove & Spirits soft open preview (opens July)

tatsu Jun 29, 2010 12:02 AM

shamelessly reposted here from my yelp review. nooo i am certainly not a pro.

White Tablecloth Service for a Party of 380 x 4, I'll Take All Seating Times Please!

Leighann graciously extended an invite to attend Towne Stove & Spirit's soft opening, a fundraiser for Mass Eye And Ear Infirmary. I do not know how this new venue escaped me, let's just say the rate of openings in Q2 to Q3 2010 is pretty astonishing as of right now.

Lydia Shire of Locke-Ober and Scampo fame has paired with a surprising choice in Jasper White, the man behind Summer Shack and many books on New England style fare. The backing power comes from the Lyons Brothers and they definitely brought it. Big time.

The real estate is mind-bogglingly prime, basically a T-bone sized chunk of the Northeast corner of the Hynes Convention Center. I would of named it "The N.E. Corner of Hynes C.C.". It occupies both levels, and the view from the more enclosed banquet style room has a stunning view of Boylston due to windows arrangement above and all sides of the room, nearly 180 and above your head. It also peers into the Hynes main hallway adjacent, an extended view of easily 150 meters across the entire length of the Hynes. The main room is also gorgeous, with a modern open kitchen, yet charming whimsical touches throughout that is very Lydia. The downstairs has yet another room, looking into the expansive not-so-gorgeous cement courtyard of the Prudential Mall. The bar as you enter rivals anything on Boylston, and in fact, being the corner part of the Hynes affords the luxury of massive and tall plate glass windows in every room. Quite frankly it is second to none in terms of curbside and inside appeal compared to anything inside the Mandarin, and that is quite the architectural boast.

The menu and food is decidedly safely chosen, an amalgam of Jasper's and Lydia's greatest hits, with some crowd pleasers thrown in. The menu is actually a bit longer than expected for such a nice looking venue, no doubt an effort to quickly appeal to the many conventioneers who will be peering into the banquet room and saying "What is THAT?".

Lobster Popovers, from Scampo are being ported over, along with some of Jasper's previous dishes. Also seen were flatbreads, skirt steaks, even a burger. Frites are typically served with the meat dishes. The fish on the other hand, various rice sides or veggies can be ordered, separately. Aside from various duck and lamb entrees, that is pretty much it, very simple and not confusing, again I suspect a nod to traffic they anticipate from within the Hynes.

From my judgement (Very little fish was served on this soft-opening, (In fact none of the kitchen equipment was hooked up, all the cooking was done patio-side in a temporary tent.) but Jasper did come out with skin-on pan-seared Salmon dressed in cucumber and accoutrements. Undoubtably wild from the taste of the oil coming off the salmon. I was frankly distraught to see Bluefin Tuna on the menu, unless it is of the farmed Kindai variety, I will encourage it's removal from the menu.

The stellar menu item is Lydia's Colorado Lamb Ribs. When I used to eat meat, I sourced my lamb from New Hampshire, from Halal butchers and it was night and day from New Zealand. No gameyness, or strings, just smooth as silk meat. Lydia goes further, to Colorado using more fully grown sheep. The result is an enormous eye in the rib, larger than a diver scallop unbelievably, absolutely succulent, pleasing non-gamey aroma, a texture between tenderloin of beef and sirloin. It was so appealing I cheated and tried one, it simply surpassed any Lamb Rib I've tried, which was formerly my favorite cut of meat, any type of BBQ or skirt steak be damned. So I would order that for you, while I resumed on Jasper's side of the menu because I'm supposed to be a vegetarian.

Perhaps the menu does not have the savoir faire of Scampo, or say Clink next door to Scampo in the Liberty Hotel. None-the-less this is destined to be hallmark establishment, known outside of Boston, that Back Bay really needs, something you might see editorialized in in-flight magazines as a hot spot in the future, but also a very swank rendezvous for the citizens of Boston herself with solid food from Team Shire/White and their underlings.

Quite frankly, as an event planner, I would have my convention inside Towne and skip the Hynes all-together. The service was ridiculously well-prepared, an army of staff picking up glasses at all times in nylon picnic baskets shows serious party planning skills. You can fit 1000 conventioneers in a 380 seat restaurant in one evening. And thus the title of my review.

Towne Stove and Spirits
900 Boylston Street, Boston, MA 02115

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  1. MC Slim JB Jun 29, 2010 04:55 AM

    Thanks for a very detailed preview! I'm envious, would like to have attended that one.

    Actually, Shire and White share some history, have been pals for a long time, dating to their days in the kitchen at the bygone Seasons in the Bostonian Hotel, which launched many great local chef/owners. Mario Capone, Shire's longtime lieutenant at Scampo (and Locke-Ober and Biba), is the exec at Towne, so I would expect it to feel more like a Lydia place; I read there was going to be a more Jasper-ish all-lobster menu section, too.

    The scale of the place is impressive: 300 seats in the dining room and an 80-seat patio. Prices look a little scary, plenty of entrees breaking the $40 mark. Would be nice if it turned out, among other things, to be that can't-miss upscale New England seafood restaurant the city has been lacking.


    3 Winter Place, Boston, MA 02108

    215 Charles Street, Boston, MA 02114

    1. tatsu Jun 29, 2010 08:58 AM

      Thanks MC, that is good to know about Jasper and Lydia. I'm surprised at prices, although the buildout must of been enormously expensive, I was thinking with the size and location, volume would be the driver and prices would be a tick lower than Scampo, maybe along Summer Shack's lines.

      We have pics! Food and interior shots and my friends who you don't know, ha ha. My fav part! Your choice of Flickr or Facebook. My fb photos have captions, I just don't caption Flickr, sorry.

      FLICKR: http://bit.ly/bX1Wdm
      FACEBOOK: http://bit.ly/asWn7M

      Summer Shack
      310 Northern Ave, Boston, MA 02210

      215 Charles Street, Boston, MA 02114

      12 Replies
      1. re: tatsu
        yumyum Jun 29, 2010 09:04 AM

        Thanks for the review and pictures.

        Lydia, Jasper and Gordon Hammersley all used to pal around together before Boston even had a food scene. Legend has it they would cook massive lunches for Julia Child at her house in Cambridge. Can you imagine being a fly on that wall?

        1. re: yumyum
          hotoynoodle Jun 29, 2010 11:01 AM

          jasper (who hired her and gordon, among so many others) and lydia basically invented the boston food scene.

          1. re: hotoynoodle
            yumyum Jun 29, 2010 11:06 AM

            Everyone who was anyone cooked with one of them at some point. I wonder if you put together the Boston chefs "family tree" they would all branch out from the two of them.

            1. re: yumyum
              hotoynoodle Jun 29, 2010 11:39 AM

              schlow and oringer come from elsewhere, but many others are biblical in all the begats... jasper hired jody, who was then hired by gordon, she later hired todd who hired barbara who hired jason... and that's just one branch.

              1. re: hotoynoodle
                yumyum Jun 29, 2010 11:42 AM

                Love the history noodle, thanks!

                1. re: yumyum
                  jpcat Jun 29, 2010 12:04 PM

                  I wonder if there's a link at the beginning to Madeleine Kamman. I remember waiting 3 months to get a reservation at Modern Gourmet back in the mid 1970s. There was nothing like it at the time.

                2. re: hotoynoodle
                  tatamagouche Sep 8, 2010 12:39 PM

                  To be fair, English spread his seed around pretty well too. (Or is that the branch? Suppose so.)

                  Edit: Wow, forgot about Kamman. Good call.

                  1. re: tatamagouche
                    T.Clark Sep 8, 2010 01:24 PM

                    Lydia Shire, Chris Schlesinger, Barbara Lynch, Frank McClelland, Sara Moulton, Bob Kinkead, Scott Bryan all worked at Harvest at one point or another. I think that's pretty impressive too.

                    1. re: T.Clark
                      opinionatedchef Sep 23, 2010 11:46 AM

                      there was an article and culinary family tree in the globe sunday mag a few yrs ago. I've been here since 1971;for founding mothers and fathers, don't forget gerry pierce at peasant stock(now dali ) and odette berry at turtle Cafe (now east coast grill); both doing their thing 1971 or earlier. (btw, anyone know where they are?) moncef maddeb started l'espalier in '76?(his sister at Baraka in Camb. says he's back in Tunisia now.)

                      Baraka Cafe
                      80 Pearl St, Cambridge, MA 02139

                      1. re: opinionatedchef
                        9lives Sep 24, 2010 08:39 AM

                        Odette and I were good friends and neighbors when she owned Another Season (Lala Rokh space). In a quirk of Boston architecture and Fire Codes, my bro and I had entry/exit access to her apt in case of fire in the building..Back Bay. We were kids and ate very well..:) This was late 70's

                        She never got caught up in the wave that lifted Lydia Shire and the others.

                        I bumped into her at Savenor's on Charles a few years ago and she was doing some teaching at 1 of the local universities.

                        Very nice woman.

                        1. re: 9lives
                          Small Plates Sep 24, 2010 09:06 AM

                          Another Season was my favorite restaurant in the early 80s

                          1. re: Small Plates
                            BostonZest Sep 25, 2010 04:08 PM

                            This brings back a memory of a long gone boss who took me there when I was a budding executive. Thanks for the smile. I also loved it.


        2. MC Slim JB Jul 14, 2010 04:54 PM

          Towne's PR people sent me a note, saying that the menu will be more affordable than I noted here (not sure where I got the price range I cited), with only a couple of entrees, both meant for two diners to share, exceeding the $40 mark. Another source I saw suggests that entrees will top out in the high 20s. I'll pass along more details when I get them.


          12 Replies
          1. re: MC Slim JB
            MC Slim JB Jul 29, 2010 09:51 AM

            No surprise: Towne isn't quite the bargain its PR people suggested. Entrees generally run $25-35, some starters over $20. If it's actually a la carte like it looks, you can add even more with sides at $5 to $11 a pop. Not so sure they should have given me grief for my initial price estimates.

            Details here: http://boston.grubstreet.com/2010/07/what_to_eat_at_towne_bringing.html


            1. re: MC Slim JB
              mgcmonkey Aug 1, 2010 06:51 PM

              considering the size of the restaurant, prices are very off putting and i will probably wait for a consensus of good service and food before visiting. places this size typically cater to tourist or are of the chain variety. neither or which screams good service and food.

              1. re: mgcmonkey
                DoubleMan Aug 1, 2010 07:49 PM

                Agreed on the pricing. $16 for six east coast oysters is unconscionable.

                1. re: DoubleMan
                  bobbert Aug 8, 2010 04:32 AM

                  Maybe unconscionable if you were sitting at a picnic table next to a parking lot in Lawrence fending off pigeons and sea gulls - actually $16 ($2.66 each) is not out of line with other Boston restaurants - check a few menus (What is a put-off is $4.00 for more bread - that is over the top). Haven't eaten here yet but am looking forward to try it out. Keep in mind that you tend to get what you pay for and pay for what you get (By the way, I've had some very tasty food while fending off sea gulls but sometimes I don't mind paying extra for quality service, comfortable seating and great ambiance)- when someone drops $9 million fixing up a place, hires top chefs and uses top quality food, you're going to pay a premium. You are not paying $11 for a salad alone. You're paying for the whole experience.

                  1. re: bobbert
                    tatsu Aug 8, 2010 07:52 AM

                    Well what I was implying in my wordy review was that it serves conventioneers on expense accounts but it's also a high-end destination for Bostonians. Certainly there's enough room for everyone. If MCSlim is accurate on pricing, I feel it could be a tick lower, in deference to those of us who supported Lydia and Jasper all this time.

                    But any place that makes Boston appear less insular and, ironically, "townie" is much needed thing, IMO. As well as filling in the high-end seafood category as MC pointed out.

                    1. re: bobbert
                      hotoynoodle Aug 8, 2010 09:14 AM

                      back in the biba days, a second bread basket incurred a charge on your check as well, but the bread all was to die for. and $2.66 an oyster seems about going market rate, just about what you'd pay at neptune or even legal's.

                      the pricing scheme seems similar to scampo. at first glance nothing seems unreasonable, but with a bit of this and that and few drinks, the check totes up quickly.

                      i'm thrilled for lydia and jasper. they have wanted to do a place together for many years and i will surely check it out after the dust settles.

                      1. re: hotoynoodle
                        MC Slim JB Aug 9, 2010 07:23 AM

                        This is exactly what's going on with the prices here. It's the old steakhouse a la carte scam. There are $30 entrees on this menu with no side dishes, and while the sides are big enough to share, you'll probably want at least a couple, which in many cases will put your total average entree price near $40. Don't be surprised if you get an app/entree/side/dessert bill here that comes to $60-$80 before drinks, tax and tip. Figure more if you get something with lobster.


                      2. re: bobbert
                        DoubleMan Aug 8, 2010 12:02 PM

                        Being in line with other restaurants does not make it any better. I think we're getting screwed across the board at most places around town.

                        I'll go with the experience of eating island creeks for $1 per oyster at the Rialto bar on Mondays. I could even go to Sam's and get them for $1.50 each from their normal menu.

                        I buy island creeks for $1 retail, which means that restaurants (especially high volume places) are getting them for likely $.50 or less per oyster. I understand paying a premium for the whole experience, but I still think I'm getting fleeced when paying nearly $3 for a raw local oyster. I understand markups and the need for profit, markups of 500% or more, however, are kind of bullshit.

                        1. re: DoubleMan
                          cambridgedoctpr Aug 8, 2010 12:07 PM

                          i will consider making an exception for rialto but...

                          1. re: DoubleMan
                            bobbert Aug 9, 2010 11:05 AM

                            Good points and that's the reason why I only eat lobsters at home (I live in Maine -$3.50lb from a friend/lobsterman). But... once in a while (and I can only afford once in a while) I like to go out for something special.

                            I'd plan on dropping about $100 per person in this place. What I'd expect is impeccable service and terrific food in a fantastic setting (and in deference to Mats77 - a menu printed on some nice parchment would be nice). Anything less and I don't return - it's really that simple.

                            Bottom line for me: food is my entertainment - it's probably an outrageous amount of money for a meal no matter how good but... it still costs a lot more to take two kids to a Sox game or a day of skiing. I like community theatre as much as the next guy but once a year I take the wife to Broadway and drop too much cash on a couple of shows. If this place turns out as good as I hope, then I think it will be worth it ...to me. If not , I'll probably have that same unpleasant feeling in my rear end that I got this weekend when the $28 tab came for two cocktails (in Maine no less). As for mark ups - if you really want that "they're screwing me" feeling, order a cocktail pretty much anywhere. 500% is probably about average for booze but it is what it is.

                            Bottom line: you're going to pay a lot to eat here. If they don't give you "value" (great service, food, etc.) for your dollar, they will not last. By the way, $1 per oyster - if I lived nearby, I'd be there every Monday night

                            1. re: DoubleMan
                              almansa Aug 12, 2010 01:18 PM

                              Island Creeks are $.75 wholesale; other local oysters (chatham, wallfleet, eastham, dennisport) are a bit more.

                              1. re: DoubleMan
                                Wannabfoode Sep 15, 2010 02:55 PM

                                island creeks are $.75 wholesale

                    2. m
                      mats77 Aug 9, 2010 07:46 AM

                      Is it too much to ask that if I am paying close to $40 for an entree that the menu not be a laminated piece of paper? Minor point but something that I found annoying.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: mats77
                        MC Slim JB Aug 9, 2010 08:08 AM

                        Agree that this is a cheesy touch. It's the same sort of busy, confusing layout as Scampo's menu, too.


                        215 Charles Street, Boston, MA 02114

                        1. re: MC Slim JB
                          tatamagouche Sep 8, 2010 12:44 PM

                          The only thing that bugs me about the menu is the flags denoting nationality. Is that on the hard copies too?

                          1. re: tatamagouche
                            yumyum Sep 8, 2010 12:54 PM

                            Yep. It's very Disney-esque for an upscale place.

                      2. y
                        your_outreach Aug 9, 2010 09:15 AM

                        So what's the consensus? I kind of have something against huge restaurants. I just think that if you're cooking for 400 tables, the food can't have THAT much care and thought put into it.

                        My friend went this past Friday for drinks (at the bar, I presume). I was too tired to join-- but she said it was nice. I definitely plan to check out Towne for the bar scene-- curious to see what type of crowd it will bring. I also hope the bartenders will be good. I like bars where you can actually talk to the bartenders and make special requests or ask for suggestions. My favorite is to ask them to make me one of their own drinks! :-)

                        Anyone have reviews on the bar scene there?

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: your_outreach
                          MC Slim JB Aug 9, 2010 11:32 AM

                          I think a kitchen appropriately scaled can serve 400 as well as 50, but I suspect Towne will take a while before it's doing a thousand covers a night with excellent quality and consistency. The patio isn't even open yet, and it's a big, ambitious menu.

                          There are three bars: two downstairs and one in the main dining room. Some fairly serious cocktails: classics and things inspired by them. I'll guess that the rear bar on the first floor will end up being the coziest.


                        2. n
                          nasilemak Aug 9, 2010 07:44 PM

                          Funny seeing an extensive discussion of the priciness of this spot, when Menton seems to have escaped such scrutiny.

                          354 Congress St, Boston, MA 02210

                          11 Replies
                          1. re: nasilemak
                            mgcmonkey Aug 9, 2010 09:22 PM

                            Menton's prices reflect what it is. A special occasion destination offering great food and service. Towne has seating for over 350+ people and entrees are upward of $30+. I'm skeptical that the Towne team or any team will be able to offer consistently good food and service for a venue that size.

                            Looking at the menu, I'm surprised they have bluefin tuna on it.

                            354 Congress St, Boston, MA 02210

                            1. re: mgcmonkey
                              almansa Aug 12, 2010 01:19 PM

                              I was also surprised to see that Jasper (not Lydia) offers swordfish pups.

                              1. re: almansa
                                almansa Aug 20, 2010 01:17 PM

                                BTW, it's CleanSeas bluefin tuna - kindai - a hatched and farmed product from Australia. It's debatable how much better that is, but for someone who can't eschew bluefin, it's the best way to go.


                                1. re: almansa
                                  Gabatta Aug 20, 2010 02:33 PM

                                  It was quite flavorless in Towne's tartar unfortunately.

                                  1. re: Gabatta
                                    rlove Sep 24, 2010 08:09 AM

                                    I wasn't impressed by CleanSeas bluefin at Menton, either. My least favorite dish among some otherwise knockouts. It had the hallmarks of farmed fish: Softer consistency, milder flavor.

                                    Not that I am impressed by Towne, but I'd blame the fish.

                                    354 Congress St, Boston, MA 02210

                            2. re: nasilemak
                              MC Slim JB Aug 9, 2010 10:32 PM

                              I have harped on Towne's prices a bit because I got scolded privately by its PR people for suggesting that many of its entrees will exceed $40, when in fact that estimate isn't off-base at all. They just hide higher check totals with an a la carte and pricey-appetizer strategy, much as is done at Scampo and luxury steakhouses. I believe the 2- and 3-lb lobsters go for something like $48 and $60, respectively. The $30 porchetta (available Sundays and Wednesdays only) comes with no sides. This is hardly the "most entrees are $25" line they're flogging.

                              I haven't been involved in a single discussion of Menton that didn't touch on the prices: it's kind of impossible to ignore them and the giant Barbara Lynch balls that went into setting them, into opening that high-end a concept, in the current economy.

                              I was troubled to see bluefin on Towne's menu, too. Turns out it's from Cleanseas, a Southern bluefin farming operation in Australia, which at least smells more defensible in sustainability terms. I don't actually know if Cleanseas' operations meet strict sustainability standards. It's not a given: some fish-farming operations aren't that eco-friendly.

                              I also have no idea how the taste of farmed bluefin compares to wild -- certainly the salmon example suggests a likely unfavorable comparison -- but I can't in good conscience order wild bluefin just now (or maybe ever again, alas).


                              1. re: MC Slim JB
                                BostonZest Aug 10, 2010 07:27 AM

                                We stopped in Saturday. (By the way, they are not open for lunch despite the hours on the website.) Our bill, with tax and tip was $100 for a lobster roll, burger, one beer, one wine, and dessert. So it will not be on our drop-in-for-a-meal when I don't feel like cooking roster.

                                But, we hope it settles into a place where we'll be happy to spend a couple of hours with friends. A place where we can take people who have a variety of food preferences. An alternative when someone suggests one of the food factories in the neighborhood.

                                The lobster roll is no threat to Neptune but it's not bad at all. It is a bit heavy in the way that Jasper's pan roasted lobster is heavy compared to a boiled lobster. Lots an lots of seasoned butter. Mine was served with what I think were Terra Chips taken out of the bag and put in a little clear cello bag. Strange choice.

                                Ed's burger was a monster and the guys next to us also had the burger. They all said it was good. Ed rated Craigie's way above it.

                                The dessert list has some interest for me. I love it when I can order a great chocolate pudding or see a dessert that I've never seen before. It may be another great place to stop in for dessert as the second stop in an evening out.

                                We had an angel food cake with spun maple sugar and caramel ice cream. It was fun.

                                Photos here:


                                1. re: BostonZest
                                  MC Slim JB Aug 10, 2010 07:31 AM

                                  I have to say the desserts at Towne are extraordinary and surprisingly cliche-free. The pastry chef is someone I hadn't heard of, a Lyons Group restaurants veteran, but her work is beautiful, tasty, and unusual.


                                2. re: MC Slim JB
                                  tatamagouche Sep 8, 2010 12:42 PM

                                  FWIW, IIRC, Biba had some dishes that were in the high 30s/low 40s in the late 1990s.

                                  1. re: tatamagouche
                                    hotoynoodle Sep 8, 2010 07:20 PM

                                    it was also first in the city to break the $10 mark for a wine by the glass.

                                3. re: nasilemak
                                  hotoynoodle Aug 10, 2010 06:36 AM

                                  there have been numerous and heated discussions on this board about menton's pricing. after reading several reviews involving several courses that were flops, i can't drop that kind of dough in good conscience. every single thing, from the moment you enter the door til they tuck you into bed at night should be flawless, and apparently that is not yet the case.

                                  i can never get out of scampo for under $100 pp and i'm assuming the same will be true at towne.

                                  dining and drinking out are my entertainment dollars. it is what it is and i live in an expensive city.

                                4. g
                                  Gabatta Aug 10, 2010 07:59 AM

                                  We tried Towne this weekend and enjoyed the experience. We were impressed at how smoothly things seemed to be running given how recently they opened. I expected many hiccups in a space of this size, but encountered few. Towne seemed to have unlimited front of house staff, we were greeted at no less than 4 points in and outside of the space. We were seated at a very spacious round booth table on the 2nd floor, where we could observe 3 owner/manager types working the room continuously. It was if all of the Lyon’s group management were there at once.

                                  Lydia Shire was bouncing between the kitchen and checking in on tables in the dining room. I have to give it to her, as my wife correctly noted; she is in the house almost every time we are at one of her restaurants. Quite an impressive feat, given how many places she is involved in. She has been in the house for most recent meal at each of Towne, Locke Ober, and Scampo. Just before Christmas she was doing most of the tableside service at LO. She covered the au poivre but she had to run to the airport to catch a flight to Colombia before we got our baked alaska.

                                  The interior reminds me of a more upscale version of Post 390. The downstairs bar that looked like a nice lively spot when we arrived around 7:45p was an absolute zoo emanating an unpleasant cacophony that had us hurrying for the door by the time we were leaving. The nice thing is that there are multiple bars, so this main cattle area can be easily avoided. The dining rooms were about half full when we were seated, and was completely full by the time we paid the check.

                                  The beaker water glasses are a failed novelty, which should be done away with. They were out of place in the level of service they are going for at Towne. Speaking of which, we had fantastic service that was the high point of the evening. Our waiter was thoroughly professional, knowledgeable and friendly. We had 3 courses in all, and threw our waiter a huge curve ball by disappearing between the 1st and 2nd courses when we spotted old friends on the other side of the post near where sitting. He immediately brought our drinks to their table and told us to take our time. When we finally made it back to our table 10+ min later, the 2nd course followed in a reasonable amount of time afterward. The waiter was there immediately when we needed him, and never interrupted when we were in conversation. It was some of the best service we have had in Boston in awhile.

                                  The menu is certainly overwhelming and does not flow well. They are trying to do too many things here, and who knows where to start when ordering? It seems like they could lose certain items that seem out of place on the menu such as the fettuccini with the gratuitous reference to ‘our friend Paul Pierce’ (is this the Fours?). As far as the bread situation, the mention of extra bread on the menu is a slap in the face with these prices, and I think they know it. Our waiter brought extra bread, and it did not appear on the bill.

                                  The food was mostly good, enough so we will be back again soon to try some other things. The lobster tails were great, it seems that anywhere Jasper White is associated with knows how to cook and serve lobster perfectly. Though there was not even a hint of Sriracha in the bland and heavy lemon zabaione, however it was served on the side (along with a cocktail sauce and wasabi mixture), so no harm done. The tartar was the low point for me; neither the beef nor tuna were on par with some of the other versions to be had in town. The tuna was absolutely flavorless and the capers overwhelmed the beef. This was particularly disappointing as Shire mentioned that the tartar was the thing on which she was working with the kitchen staff that evening. The beet carpacio was fine, if a bit small in portion size. My wife’s salmon was cooked to a perfect medium rare and very tasty, (a bit pricey for the portion at $29). I thoroughly enjoyed the chicken thighs w/ black mustard seeds served on garlic bread. It is always a good sign when the least expensive entrée on the menu delivers. Out friends had already eaten, but commented that they really enjoyed their burger and the chicken brick style. Our dessert was great, we had the angel food cake with spun maple sugar and caramel ice cream. It was devoured quickly.

                                  My wife wasn’t drinking, and I had two cocktails. Total came to $170 with tip, definitely not a bargain, considering I had an $18 entrée. However you know the Lyons group will do whatever they can to maximize their investment in Towne, and no one should be surprised with what they are in for given the size, location and intended audience.

                                  Overall we enjoyed the meal more than expected and seeing the new space. It won’t be a regular place, however if friends pick Towne as a place to meet we will gladly try it a few times per year, particularly if our first visit is an indication of the service level.

                                  6 Replies
                                  1. re: Gabatta
                                    MC Slim JB Aug 10, 2010 10:27 AM

                                    There are definitely some dissonant decor touches. The lab beakers for water glasses and the rustic-looking, red checked napkins didn't seem to fit the otherwise modern, luxe interior. Weird, goofy choices.


                                    1. re: MC Slim JB
                                      marais Aug 11, 2010 06:07 PM

                                      Jeez, from all I've read I'll think it best to stay away. This joint looks all right for spendy tourists and business folk on expense accounts, but not for a moderately-incomed local like me. I'm sure it's fine for what it is, but I will go elsewhere.

                                      1. re: MC Slim JB
                                        nasilemak Aug 11, 2010 06:37 PM

                                        Weird and goofy touches sounds like it comes from Lydia Shire's sensibility.

                                        1. re: nasilemak
                                          OLDCHEF Aug 11, 2010 07:00 PM

                                          If half of the people on chowhound could have had pan roasted lobster at JASPERS in the glory days or cod cheeks at BIBA when they opened in the early days would not understand without these two chefs boston would be a food wasteland.they changed it all. I know people in kitchens all over the country that had that joy please give it a chance and enjoy the food that these chefs can still give us and stop beating on some of bostons best

                                          1. re: OLDCHEF
                                            MC Slim JB Aug 11, 2010 08:41 PM

                                            I think many Hounds like myself have enormous respect for and understanding of how important and influential these two chefs are to Boston's restaurant scene. I'm one of those people who remember Jasper's and Biba fondly.

                                            I'm against prejudging any restaurant: you should go check it out yourself. But given their stature and this place's prices, Hounds can be understood for going in with high expectations. You can't eat reputation: Towne will have to stand on its own merits.


                                            1. re: MC Slim JB
                                              tatsu Aug 12, 2010 11:07 AM

                                              No way MC, Towne is "too big to fail" ha ha, just kidding.

                                              I guess we both were quoted in the ch email blast. Sorta wish I didn't blab about eating meat but it was worth "cheating". I'm no Saint Vegetarian that's for sure.

                                    2. yumyum Aug 13, 2010 10:39 AM

                                      Checked out Towne last night for some drinks and nibbles. My observations about the room / decor mirror a lot of other posters ... that first floor bar you walk into is cacophonous, and almost made me want to turn around and walk right back out. I imagine they must have done this on purpose, to make the place seem too popular for its own good, but it's a turn off for people like me who like to talk to their DC. I'm definitely not looking for a tomb, but this was pretty jarring.

                                      Moving on to the back room and then upstairs to the upper level, we found cat-bird seats at the bar, perfect for people watching. I actually liked the decor and vibe of upstairs, with the open kitchen and the more formal dining room. The wine list is just fine, with some moderately priced options by the glass, a few interesting cocktails, and a nice pour (surprising) by our friendly barkeep.

                                      On to the food -- three menus, one for bar food / apps, one dinner menu that did remind me of Scampo's slightly disjointed carte, and one slightly goofy slightly endearing lobster menu on a stick (perhaps so you can fan yourself after looking at the prices?) My friend and I studied everything and marveled at things like a side of rice for $5, a $21 burger, $30 porchetta, etc. But I knew the prices were punishing going in, so my expectations were set appropriately. We ordered from each menu -- pork and yellow chive dumplings, lobster popovers, and razor clams a la plancha.

                                      I have to come clean. I was hoping the food wouldn't be as good as it was, so I could once and for all dismiss this place as a destination I would never return to. But the popovers were chock full of lobster meat, light and fluffy as they should be. I could have licked the plate the razor clams came on ... they serve croutons to mop up the smokey jus but honestly I just wanted to take the plate into the bathroom and polish it off. I didn't. The dumplings were fine, very light and delicate skins, but the weakest of the three in terms of flava. If someone was treating me, or I was on an expense account, I would head back there and crush the menu in a heartbeat. There I said it.

                                      After a few glasses of wine and those three moderately priced bites, we got out for about $60/head with tip. It was by no means "dinner" and we did skip across the street to Back Bay Social club for just a little more food (absolutely TERRIBLE IMO) but I didn't feel totally gouged. If anyone can pull off this kind of venue, these two can. And are.

                                      215 Charles Street, Boston, MA 02114

                                      1. Jolyon Helterman Sep 15, 2010 08:30 AM

                                        Interesting discussions, throughout, on price and provenance and genealogy, etc. (Seriously.)

                                        But any other leads on WHAT TO ORDER?

                                        3 Replies
                                        1. re: Jolyon Helterman
                                          MC Slim JB Sep 15, 2010 08:38 AM

                                          I liked the Peking Chicken dish (reviewed it for Stuff recently), thought the porchetta was a disaster: dry, tough, nearly inedible, and $30 with no sides. Flatbreads and legumes are unsurprisingly good. They've been out of a lot of seafood dishes on a few visits: haven't been able to get the razor clams yet. Desserts are surprisingly good, especially compared to a laughably bad dessert I had at Scampo recently.

                                          My sort-of-take is, if you liked it at Scampo, it's probably safe here. Still gettin' they land legs, it seems.

                                          And shame on me for repeating their PR team's canard that it's reasonable, entrees-in-the-mid-twenties kind of place. It's expensive: most people will be hard pressed to leave for under $60-80/head, I think.


                                          215 Charles Street, Boston, MA 02114

                                          1. re: Jolyon Helterman
                                            yumyum Sep 15, 2010 09:09 AM

                                            I'd get the lobster popovers and razor clams again in a heartbeat.

                                            1. re: Jolyon Helterman
                                              almansa Sep 15, 2010 02:47 PM

                                              My spies really loved the desserts, and they're dessert people. And the lobster pizza.

                                            2. l
                                              langley Sep 16, 2010 07:55 AM

                                              I was glad to read the reviews here because I felt the same way most of you did...and wondered if it was just me not totally getting it or being picky.

                                              The beaker-like water glasses totally didn't fit in. The busy laminated menus would be fine in a place where you're spending less, but it just didn't fit in here. Also about 10 mins into deciding what we wanted a bar menu and a lobster menu (weirdly on a Popsicle stick-like thing) was dropped on our table (seriously, we didn't see where it came from). So you ended up with an enormous amount of choices.

                                              I wasn't starving, so didn't want to get an entree and sides so I went a boring route and got the crab cake from the bar menu. It was quite large and very good. I also got a side of the mashed russets and sweet potatoes. That was spectacular. I had started off with the Garden Tomato Salad which was really tasty, but for $15 I would've liked more than 2 round slices of tomato. I had a very similar dish at Ten Tables for half the price and 3x the tomatoes and it was hard not to compare them.

                                              The folks with me had the cod bullet (was very pleased) and the corn + lobster flatbread pizza which was unfortunately soggy enough so that it was hard to pick up.

                                              Everyone was pleased with their cocktails and I was happy with my Sankaty Lager from Nantucket. Oh and we all shared the angel food cake with spun maple sugar and caramel ice cream which was Amazing. Definitely the hit of the evening.

                                              If it had been less loud (we sat downstairs and couldn't hear each other well) and appeared a little more formal, perhaps the price wouldn't have bothered me. I felt maybe we were paying for the names of Lydia and Jasper, which I totally get + I respect both of them. I'd just be more happy to pay that price at Harvest, I think.

                                              Ten Tables
                                              5 Craigie Circle, Cambridge, MA 02138

                                              1. b
                                                bostonbroad Nov 2, 2010 02:01 PM

                                                Had one of the worst meals I've had in a long time here on Saturday - surprising because I know Lydia was in the house (not cooking, but still). I'll start with my cocktail, from the list, being really unbalanced. It didn't have flavored vodka in it, but somehow they managed to make scotch nearly as bad. For an app, I had the razor clams. These were so rubbier and over-cooked, I would have sent them back if I hadn't been with 5 other people, one of whom was treating, so I just sucked it up. My husband's salad was super salty. The only good app I tried (not including the little bread basket with spreads), was my friend's broiled oysters. Those were good, not great, but solid.

                                                Dinner - I had the cod "bullet". This is cod, wrapped in potatoes, with chowder sauces and tartar sauce. First of all, the potatoes wrapped aroud my cod were actually a thin layer of undercooked string hash browns on top. Second, the fish was smaller than a deck of cards, but I had a bowl nearly the size of a coffee cup full of tartar sauce. Then, there was the chowder sauce, with a few mini clams. This part was the best part of the dish, although not very clammy when not actually eating one of the clams, and not very chowder-y. But this just made the vat of tartar sauce even more confusing. Another friend had the brick chicken. It was an ENORMOUS piece of flat (yes, I know, bricked) brown chicken, nothing else. Soooo dry. And brown. And boring. I didn't try any of the other entrees.

                                                Service was also not great. Not horrible, but the waitress wasn't able to answer a few basic questions about the menu and kept forgetting who ordered what.

                                                Finally, that is the most bewildering menu I've seen in a long time. Not clear what were apps, what special items were available which days.

                                                For the price and considering the pedigree, this was the most disappointing Boston dining experience I've had in quite a long time.

                                                1. hounda Mar 10, 2012 11:16 AM

                                                  Three of us got bar seats in the back room, nicely lit & less busy than the front. The lobster popovers we shared (2 per order) are the star of the menu, do not miss this appetizer. We also got the hamachi tartare, the duck crisp, salmon crisp, and the skirt steak. I'd probably hit Scampo again over Towne - or visit Towne just for a cocktail and the popovers.

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