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Solo Diner Visiting Boston - ideas?

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Hello Boston Chowhounds:

I'm visiting Boston from Canada for a weekend in mid-March and am looking for your input on my food itinerary. It's my first time here and I'm looking for food experiences which are specific to Boston and not available in Toronto or Montreal (or not done well in these two cities). I'm very much looking forward to the seafood options you have! My budget is fairly flexible as well: I will embrace restaurants on both ends of the spectrum, even if my initial list below does not demonstrate that.

Moreover, I'll be dining solo and would like to find places where a) I can read a book during lunch and b) I can enjoy a bustling atmosphere during dinner. I find that it’s typically too dark to read during dinner so it would be a bonus if there were friendly staff to chat with or communal tables / comfortable bars at which I can dine, but it’s not a high priority – the high priority, of course, would be quality of the food.

Lastly, I'll be staying on / around the MIT campus.

Here’s what I’ve gathered so far:
FRIDAY
Dinner: Craigie on Main. Reservations already made. I’m excited for my seat at the chef’s table for the tasting menu.

SATURDAY
Lunch: Toro Tapas (I love Spanish food and tapas allows me to sample a number of dishes as a solo diner)
Dinner: Island Creek Oyster Bar (lobster roe noodles, raw oysters)
Any ideas on where to go for drinks & live music after Friday’s dinner?

SUNDAY
Lunch: Neptune Oyster (lobster roll, fried clams)
Flight leaves at 5:15pm so I don’t think I’ll have time to squeeze in a sit down dinner but recommendations for take-out / portable snack to bring on the plane would be welcome. Should I consider picking something up from Rincon Limeno?

A few more questions for you: Any ideas for a quick & healthy breakfast? Anything note worthy at Quincy Market (couldn't find much praise on the board)? I'm planning on going to take some photos anyway so it would be great to pick up some things while I'm there. Any places to pick up food souvenirs? Any bakeries I should check out (again, no one seems overjoyed about Boston bakeries)? Overall, what do you think about my game plan?

I appreciate any input you can provide!

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Neptune Oyster
63 Salem St Ste 1, Boston, MA 02113

Rincon Limeno
409 Chelsea St, Boston, MA 02128

Toro
1704 Washington St, Boston, MA 02118

Craigie on Main
853 Main Street, Cambridge, MA 02139

Island Creek Oyster Bar
500 Commonwealth Ave, Boston, MA 02215

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  1. If you're near MIT, check out Flour Bakery and the new wine shop next to it. Food souvenirs? If I was taking things to another city from Boston, I'd buy bread from Hi-Rise and chocolate bars from Burdick's and pizza from Galleria Umberto and nuts from Fastachi.

    Boston bakeries are, in my opinion, the best food venues the city has on offer: Hi Rise and Flour.

    www.shrinkinthekitchen.com

    -----
    Burdick's
    Cambridge, MA, Cambridge, MA

    Flour Bakery + Cafe
    12 Farnsworth St, Boston, MA

    Fastachi
    598 Mount Auburn St, Watertown, MA

    14 Replies
    1. re: scotty27

      Oh yes - Burdick's! I forgot to mention that have a friend who has requested some hot chocolate mix from there. I'll be popping by at some point during my visit.

      Is there anything special about the nuts from Fastachi? I can usually buy a variety of nuts in bulk from a market in Toronto.

      I'll definitely consider visiting Flour Bakery for a morning meal.

      1. re: littlelam

        Fastachi is an Armenian place where they roast daily, old school.

        The BLT @ Flour is the best in town, I think.

        www.shrinkingthekitchen.com

        -----
        Fastachi
        598 Mount Auburn St, Watertown, MA

        1. re: scotty27

          scotty, i'm sure you know what you're talking about, but do you really want to recommend BLTs at THIS time of year?!

          1. re: opinionatedchef

            I don't understand. Flour has one of the best BLT's ever. What does time of year matter? If garden fresh tomatoes aren't up to snuff, they use a wonderful preserved tomato. Excellent sandwich all year round.

            1. re: opinionatedchef

              Oh now I understand, you have a problem with Flour 's baked goods. Why the BLT comment while you're recommending ice cream further down pretty much gets to the point. You should try the sandwich. They've nailed it. I also think they've nailed carrot cake. Both are elevated to me. Some of the other things are ok but not trip worthy.

              1. re: Bellachefa

                bella,it was about the BLT itself. i had no idea their winter BLT used preserved tomatoes. i bet it IS yum!

                * 'preserved' = sundried or oven slow roasted or something?

          2. re: littlelam

            If you go to Burdick's in Harvard Sq, check out Crema Cafe.

            -----
            Burdick's
            Cambridge, MA, Cambridge, MA

            Crema Cafe
            27 Brattle St, Cambridge, MA 02138

            1. re: Madrid

              Thanks for the rec - Crema Cafe looks great! Maybe I'll start my day there with a latte and some breakfast items. Is their food decent, or is coffee/expresso the main draw?

              -----
              Crema Cafe
              27 Brattle St, Cambridge, MA 02138

              1. re: littlelam

                lam, don't be surprised to see a starbuck's "on every corner" down here.
                If Toro is a no-go for sat. lunch, i hope you'll go to Regina's.

                for music after Craigie, you might like to walk 4 blocks to either The MiddleEast or T.T.The Bear's for live indie rock music and a young energetic crowd.

                for food gifts/mementos:Burdick's is an excellent suggestion.
                You may also be able to pick up some good clam chowder at the Legal Seafood store at the airport (but you'd have to check that gift because of the liquids limits on flights.)
                I don't know about Canadian potato chips, but our local Cape Cod potato chips are very good and come in packaging with very iconic- New England graphics.I also see that Cafe Crema sells their own freshly made sweet potato chips, something you might not see in Canada(?) So, chocolate and potato chips>> that would make any friend happy, eh?!

                -----
                Regina Pizza
                11 1/2 Thacher St, Boston, MA 02113

                Burdick's
                Cambridge, MA, Cambridge, MA

                1. re: littlelam

                  The food at Crema is OK at best, in my opinion, but if the weather is warm, sitting outdoors and watching the crowds while sipping coffee can't be beat. Even better people watching from Tory Row down the street. The croissant at Crema are decent; the chili at Tory Row is good.

                  -----
                  Crema Cafe
                  27 Brattle St, Cambridge, MA 02138

                  Tory Row
                  3 Brattle St, Cambridge, MA 02138

            2. re: scotty27

              Always great to see a visitor who really does their homework before posting here. Our city fortunately has great breads, but if you have french french bakeries up there, we have nothing here to compare to that. scones and muffins do not a dacquoise make. I am not a fan of flour, though their croissants are v good. but then you have plenty of great croissants in those 2 food- impressive cities. It has been far too long since we visited up there but we have very fond memories of La Brioche and Au Vent Vert in Montreal, Au Tournant de la Riviere in carignan and Marie Christine, Simon Brunel(sp.), and Rest. St Amour in quebec city.
              You likely already saw this but the below link contains current CH answers to an advice question like yours, and a very long piece by me for first- time few- day visitors to boston. The visitor of this thread is also planning to go to many of the same spots as you, so you may want to check for her report after she visits.

              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/765459

              ---------------------------------------------------------------------------
              It is a great intro to M.I.T. to travel the full length of the main corridor that leads from the entrance of Bldg. 10, the main iconic Greek Revival style building w/ Rotunda on Mass Ave, through the atrium that looks out on the river and a henry moore sculpture , past the bursar’s office w/ the huge dollar bill mural, and on past major bulletin boards, offices and labs................

              While you are at M.I.T., I really hope you will make time to see the M.I.T. chapel, designed by Eero Saarinen. It is non-denominational and can be a very spiritual experience, showing a wondrous visual blend of sparse modernity and richness of textures and light. It is across Mass. Ave from the main Bldg 10 entrance; and is the left corner of a triangle with the dome ,Kresge auditorium (also a Saarinen bldg.) and theStudent center.
              ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
              After your Craigie dinner i hope you will go to toscanini ice cream 2 minutes away. as to music and drinks after dinner, boston is a big music city with many conservatories and classical venues, and a very famous folk scene and contemp.jazz and indie rock music scene, in addition to hotel bars w/ commensurate music. Craigie is right off central sq which has a few active indie rock clubs. what is your music and environment leaning? On Sat. night, Island Creek is near a number of hotel bar/lounges.

              If it were me, and I had your itinerary and were looking for take- away food for the plane, I would (call and reserve beforehand because they run out alot) ask the cab to make a 5 min. detour before he drops you at Island Creek- and pick up food from the new Japonnaise Bakerylocation on Comm. Ave. Specifically, the curry beef donuts [entirely unique, fried light savory donuts with a creamy textured curried beef filling (i like 3 or 4 for lunch but i am not little)]and the adzuki creams ( light airy danish dough ‘cream puff’ filled with sweet adzuki bean paste and whipped cream) . These are both perfectly safe if left out of a frig for a day or so, or kept on a cold windowsill; they are lightweight, easy to carry and don’t require utensils. Very popular w/ boston CHs, I am among the addicted. Otherwise, I would suggest some things from the No End but both places are closed on sundays.
              http://www.japonaisebakery.com/

              Let me know if you would like a tour or dining company; we’ve been here 40 yrs and would be happy to show you around. my contact info is there when you click on my name.

              1. re: opinionatedchef

                Wow, so much great stuff to respond to - thanks opinionatedchef! Your response is incredibly thoughtful.

                Coincidentally, I found the thread you linked to just after I posted this one. There IS a lot of overlap in our itineraries so I'm looking forward to her trip report.

                Though not food related, I definitely appreciate your advice on MIT's campus. I'm going to be spending a good amount of time in the city exploring by foot and snapping photos.

                I'm in favour of jazz/folk/indie rock music in a more lounge-y environment where I have the choice to sit comfortably on my own, or at a bar where I can chat up some strangers / friendly bartenders. I'm in my mid-20s if that helps.

                Curry beef donuts sound remarkably and like nothing I've had before. It sounds like it's worth a detour.

                Lastly, thank you for the offer for the tour / company. I will certainly consider it as I put my plans together.

                1. re: littlelam

                  Regarding what to do post-dinner: you should check out the Boston Phoenix's website for a listing of clubs, bands, etc. Their listings are pretty comprehensive.

                  1. re: littlelam

                    For folk music, check out club passim, it's in harvard square and should be easy to get to if you're staying in/near MIT.

              2. Toro is not open for lunch on Sat. , only brunch on Sun. I've never been to Toro brunch, but since Neptune is open 7 days for lunch, why not try Neptune on Sat. and Toro on sunday. Toscanini near MIT has a breakfast/brunch on weekends. I've never been to Flour, but it's said they have great breakfast sandwiches. Clover food lab in Harvard Sq also has a nice healthy breakfast sandwich.

                -----
                Toro
                1704 Washington St, Boston, MA 02118

                1 Reply
                1. re: Madrid

                  Ah, good catch - I didn't realize Toro wasn't open on Saturday. Would doing the lobster roll at Neptune for lunch and then a lobster roe noodle dish in the evening at Island Creek Oyster bar be too much? Eh, who am I kidding - I'm sure I'll savour everything.

                2. You could take the T one stop "inbound" to the Charles/MGH stop and walk down Charles for a taste of Beacon Hill. There are a handfull of nice options on and just off Charles Street starting at the Liberty Hotel with Scampo and Clink and then heading down Charles towards the Common - The Paramount, 75 Chestnut, Beacon Hill Bistro.

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                  Beacon Hill Bistro
                  25 Charles St, Boston, MA 02114

                  Scampo
                  215 Charles Street, Boston, MA 02114

                  75 Chestnut
                  75 Chestnut St, Boston, MA 02108

                  1. Did you make a reservation for a seat at the dining bar for your Island Creek Visit? They have a few bar seats on the dining room end of the bar that they have reserved for me when I asked. It's a bit quieter than the Drinks end and has a bit more of a food focus.

                    We were there Saturday Night and had yet another great meal.

                    Penny
                    http://www.bostonzest.com/

                    1. since sweety isn't into food and I like to savor, I go alone to dinner more often than not. I think you'll find Boston an alone-friendly town, and I like your list.

                      The food at Craigie's great, but I don't like to eat there alone with a book because I'm getting bumped (at the bar) or feel rushed (at a table). Consider Rialto instead (haute regional Italian in Harvard Square)?

                      Since you'll be near MIT, mentally tag "Clover Food Lab," a (vegan) food truck in your mind for a quick lunch that's as healthy or with-fries as you like.

                      Food Souvenirs: I think Boston's food souvenirs are no good. "Baked Beans candy?" Ech. Ship some Burdick's home at extraordinary expense instead.

                      I'm adding a few places that are book-friendly but not _quite_ as delicious as your list for backups in case something goes wrong:
                      Harvest in Harvard Square will lend you a nice vertical rack for your book.

                      Flora in Arlington, if you go early, may remove a chair from the bar to give everyone more space if you bring a book and need some elbow room. (it's not on the subway.) Their veggies come from local farms.

                      -----
                      Burdick's
                      Cambridge, MA, Cambridge, MA

                      1. actually, there are a relatively large number of fantastic bakeries in boston. i agree with scotty that it is one of this town's strengths.

                        however, i disagree that flour is one of the better bakeries. i would check out:

                        1) hi-rise (harvard square) -- breads, quick breads, scones, cookies, bouchon & so forth
                        2) clear flour (brookline) -- breads, rustic tarts & sweets
                        3) canto 6 (jamaica plain) -- croissants!, scones, quiche, tarts
                        4) tatte (brookline) -- gorgeous nut-centric pastries
                        5) iggys (cambridge) -- breads (for some reason much better at the actual bakery than at the retail locations-- i like the francese), flatbread pizzas, some sweets
                        6) sofra (cambridge/belmont) -- middle-eastern inspired pastries (kunefeh, morrocan spiced donuts, things along that line), lamajun, nice breakfast platters in the AM

                        Iggys & Sofra are a bit harder to get to w/o a car and/or more out of the way for you. Plus Sofra is overrun by entitled hipsters who make the place extraordinarily unpleasant to spend time in. If you're ever back with more time and/or a car, other really great bakeries in the area that are worth checking out include Fornax (Roslindale), A&J King (Salem) and, especially, Annarosa's (Salisbury/Newburyport). I think highly of all these bakeries, but think Clear Flour and Annarosa's, in particular, are what people sometime refer to as "world class."

                        As you can no doubt infer, in my opinion the chatter about no good bakeries in Boston is, with all due respect, complete BS.

                        -----
                        Sofra
                        1 Belmont St, Cambridge, MA 02138

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: autopi

                          Do not forget Mamadou's in Winchester! While not on the well-beaten tourist track, its breads are divine. They do artisan bread in the French tradition.

                        2. [I'm a little Cambridge-centric, so I can't compare too well to most of your Boston-side ideas]

                          For seafood, I go to East Coast Grill in Inman Square. Definitely bustling, and I think you can eat at the bar. There are plenty of options for live music in the Inman Sq/Central Sq area, as well as further afield towards both Harvard and Boston.

                          If you're looking for drinks, you might want to stop into Green Street Grill in Central Sq for one of their awesome cocktails. They have a good beer list too, but the real beer destination in the area is Lord Hobo. If you like the idea of local, the Cambridge Brewing Company brews excellent beer (not simply excellent-for-a-brewpub, truly excellent).

                          -----
                          East Coast Grill and Raw Bar
                          1271 Cambridge St, Cambridge, MA 02139

                          Cambridge Brewing Company
                          1 Kendall Square, Cambridge, MA 02139

                          Green Street
                          280 Green St, Cambridge, MA 02139

                          Lord Hobo
                          92 Hampshire St, Cambridge, MA 02141