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Celebratory, but low key

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My sweetie just had a big professional breakthrough, which we hope will lead to tenure, and all kinds of good things. I'd like to take him out to a celebratory meal, where the food is great, but the service and atmosphere are not stuffy. Places we like in that vein: Rendezvous, Blue Room, Oleanna, Toro, Hungry Mother.
Places we have felt were a bit too starched and not comfortable- Mistral, I'd also say Hammersley's and Rialto, although I haven't been either of those last places as a "grownup," so I might be more comfortable there now.

We could go to one of those standbys, but would love to try somewhere "new" to us, and in the price range of the above places. Cambridge, Somerville or South End (or vicinity) preferred. Good quality ingredients simply but interestingly, would be better than something showy or bleeding edge. Sushi/ sashimi not our first choice as he has an allergy to nori.

My thoughts so far were Bergamont, Ten Tables (opinions on JP vs Cambridge?) TW Food, maybe Flora in Arlington or Bondir (I found the menu a bit pretentious, but I love that old Atasca space)

Suggestions beyond this list, or comments on these ideas would be very welcomed.

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Toro
1704 Washington St, Boston, MA 02118

Hungry Mother
Cambridge, MA, Cambridge, MA

Ten Tables
5 Craigie Circle, Cambridge, MA 02138

The Blue Room
Hampshire and Portland streets, Cambridge, MA 02139

Bondir
279 Broadway, Cambridge, MA 02139

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  1. Have you been to Erbaluce in Bay Village? I think the food & service there is top-notch, and the space has got great ambiance.

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    Erbaluce
    69 Church Street, Boston, MA 02116

    2 Replies
    1. re: y2000k

      To the OP, if you like Toro you might consider Coppa which now takes reservations. The menu can be intimidating at Bondir, but you can throw a dart at it as every dish is fantastic. For me, Ten Tables is a bit ordinary for a special dinner.

      Y2k, what do you like about Erbaluce's atmosphere? I think it is quite sterile and in fact the restaurant's weakest spot.

      1. re: Gabatta

        Funny how we react different to the decor. I find Erbaluce's dining room small and cozy. To each his/her own.

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        Erbaluce
        69 Church Street, Boston, MA 02116

    2. Definitely go to Bergamot if you've never been. The food is wonderful, and the atmosphere is very comfortable but still feels special. I've been a few times, and I've always eaten at the bar, if that matters. There are two gentlemen behind the bar, Paul and Kai, who do a great job with both wine and cocktails. Everything I've tasted has made me want to lick my plate clean.

      4 Replies
      1. re: chefematician

        Thanks for the recco, I'm leaning towards Bergamot so far, but would love to hear about anyone's experiences with TW Food.

        1. re: cpingenot

          I like TW: it's tiny, inventive, a bit deadly self-serious, but for the right reasons. I think they've hit a groove after a bit of a rocky startup phase a few years ago. Reading the menu is a good clue to what they're about. The dining room is pretty plain; they're all about the food. Parking nearby can be tough.

          http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

          1. re: cpingenot

            I've also been to TW Food, but it was a year or two ago. I think that MC's opinion of the place is pretty accurate. They really are all about the food (and wine.) To me it feels a bit more formal and less comfortable than Bergamot but the food at both restaurants is definitely worthy of a celebration.

          2. re: chefematician

            I've been to TW food, and really liked it there, but if drinks are of importance, I like that Bergamot has a bar with capable staff. I especially appreciate their non-alcoholic cocktails since I don't drink. I think my preference is to Bergamot just over size of the room (TW Food is tiny, so you have to make sure to reserve in advance) and the bar. I really enjoyed the food at both.

          3. What do you think of Craigie? I know the scene isn't the nicest (I find it cramped), but I've never heard anybody - and I literally do mean anybody - ever speak a bad word about a meal at Craigie. Plus, I always love the service - great, friendly, kickback people who treat you with the right amount of respect, though the hostesses usually aren't quite as good. The food involves simple, fresh flavors, with everything bought locally, and very much in the same vein as Bergamot and TW Food.

            3 Replies
            1. re: The Food Buster

              Try reading few of the CH threads about Craigie. It is well regarded, but there are definitely some differing opinions and plenty of bad words about meals at Craigie. The food is great, but it is absolutely the kind of place where the OP might not be comfortable with certain servers. Lots of food 'tude if you get a bum draw (which I have more often than not).

              1. re: Gabatta

                Wow, wouldn't have expected. But I can see how that might happen - it's really always been one waiter each night who's gone out of his/her way to make my meal great, but most of the others haven't been involved. I'll be on the lookout next time I head down there.

                1. re: The Food Buster

                  We went to Craigie once when it was really on Cragie, and honestly I wasn't blown away. I don't remember the particulars- it was more that it was just "fine" when I was expecting it to be transcendent. We've been to the bar at Cragie a couple of times together, and he goes there fairly regularly when hosting visiting scientists.
                  I think we can both hold our own with foodie-'tude, but it's the kind of occasion where you don't want to feel like the waiter is judging you for using the wrong fork...

            2. Is Salts too stuffy (I've never been!) but celebratory? It seems off-the-collective radar lately.

              7 Replies
              1. re: digga

                The invitee also goes to Salts fairly often for work, but we both like it a lot. I find it intimate, not stuffy. Perhaps I should have qualified that things really close to MIT are a bit burnt out for him because of work dinners.

                1. re: cpingenot

                  Sounds like Bondir is one closeby place which you both haven't been to. Based on your posts I think it would be a really nice choice for your celebratory dinner. One caveat is that it is beer & wine only, however the selections are excellent.

                  1. re: Gabatta

                    I think Bondir might be your best bet, too. I wouldn't worry about pretension--the staff is incredibly friendly and down-to-earth, and the room is warm and homey.

                    1. re: robwat36

                      I would also recommend Bondir. The menu may sound pretentious but the food is not (just very delicious), and the service is very warm. It is wine and beer only so that might be a deterrent, but then again nothing says celebration like a glass of sparking wine.

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                      Bondir
                      279 Broadway, Cambridge, MA 02139

                      1. re: STL BOS

                        Wine and beer is perfectly fine, I'll reconsider my visceral reaction to the pretentiousness of the menu based on the recommendations I'm hearing.

                        1. re: cpingenot

                          If wine is the focue, there is only one place to buy wine: Troquet. You may be able to BYOB, my favorite option to various restaurants. But i would not discuss options openly as it is may be illegal at various venues. There was a thread about that if you are interested.

                          I find the food very good at Rialto and have no problems with the waiters at Craigie. But then, i have low standards for everything but the food.

                          congrats on the breakthrough.

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                          Troquet
                          140 Boylston Street, Boston, MA 02116

                          1. re: cambridgedoctpr

                            for not pretentious but very good I would add Russell House Tavern and Red House and perhaps Il Casale. Of the above suggestions, I like Bergamot and Bondir (actually prefer Bondir).

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                            The Red House Restaurant
                            98 Winthrop Street, Cambridge, MA 02138

                            Russell House Tavern
                            14 JFK Street, Cambridge, MA 02138

                            Bondir
                            279 Broadway, Cambridge, MA 02139