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Not feeling the high price point.....

I am trying to plan an anniversary dinner and my first thought was the 7 course tasting with wine at Clio.

But the more I thought about it, I'm not sure I dig the idea of dropping the kind of money at this time. Partly because I think we've seen a number of very good quality restaurants pop up that could do an admirable job for a fraction of the cost.

can you give me some alterntives that would make just as memorable night? or perhaps Clio is my best bet and is worthy of the price?

For referrence, I've done tastings at No.9 and love it. My experience at L'Espalier was a little underwhelming.

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L'Espalier
774 Boylston St, Boston, MA 02199

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  1. You looking for a tasting menu meal? Or just a good meal?

    Just thinking out loud here...on the Cambridge side...
    Chef's Whim at Craigie on Main (Sunday after 9pm; $55/6 courses)
    Bergamot (nice atmosphere, excellent service; ~$40-50/3 courses)

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    Craigie on Main
    853 Main Street, Cambridge, MA 02139

    3 Replies
    1. re: emannths

      a tasting menu would be ideal but not necessary. I always liked not having to spend a lot of time and effort on the menu when I'm celebrating a special occasion. I'm also incredibly indecisive when it comes to ordering food- which is strange because I'm not like this in any other area of my life.....

      1. re: cannedmilkandfruitypebbles

        A good server can solve that problem for you. Just tell them what you're in the mood for and follow their recommendations.

      2. Bondir. Do a bunch of the half-courses, and spend some money on wine. Memorable in a completely understated, unshowy way.

        http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

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        Bondir
        279 Broadway, Cambridge, MA 02139

        2 Replies
        1. re: MC Slim JB

          Second this. We had a lovely anniversary dinner there- perfect, understated service, excellent food. Your dollar goes a long way on their wine list.

          1. re: bobot

            Third this idea. Bondir is very romantic and reasonably priced to boot.

            However, it is much simpler than Clio.

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            Bondir
            279 Broadway, Cambridge, MA 02139

        2. After my wife and I and another couple combined to drop almost $1000 on a totally underwhelming NYE tasting menu at Arrow's, I swore off that kind of dining for the forseeable ; future. It used to be fun, I think'I have great memories of tastings at L'Espalier and Arrow's...but now it just makes me sick, and the disappointments come to mind more than the successes (Jean Georges, No. 9 Park, the aforementioned Arrows). I can't even enjoy it when I think about the money that is being spent. Add to that that Portland, ME near my new home has fantastic restaurants that are far more reasonable (Street and Co., Petite Jacqueline, Hugo's, 555, Fore Street, Bresca, Primo in Rockland, etc.) and I'm just done with it for now.

          In Boston, before I dropped the bank on Clio, I'd try La Voile. It's not a tasting menu, but it is Romantic, fun, and dependably delicious. And you can definitely come out without feeling soaked.

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          L'Espalier
          774 Boylston St, Boston, MA 02199

          La Voile
          261 Newbury Street, Boston, MA 02116

          3 Replies
          1. re: tamerlanenj

            Funny you mention 555. We did the tasting menu there ($60 for 5 courses) over the winter, and it was one of the best meals we've had in a very long time.

            1. re: mkfisher

              So maybe the answer is for the OP to take a romantic trip to Portland's Old Port! :) An easy ride on the Downeaster or an 1:45 drive!

            2. re: tamerlanenj

              Tam, we alo had a very disappointing experience at Arrows last summer. What a lot of ridiculous affected hooey. Must have been? great at one time; like Radius and so many others. I also v much like 555 and Bresca, but neither Fore St. or Primo has ever wowed us, so we stopped going there. The one time we ate at La Voile last winter, it was mediocre, and that is putting it nicely. I still have a $12 coupon for there ; no one wanted it before but i'll happily send it to you or anyone who'd like it.............

            3. was just talking about this on another thread but East by Northeast is doing an 8 course tasting menu for $35 which I really enjoyed... it's not as fancy as the other places mentioned in this thread but it's really good and and I didn't feel like I was throwing my money away. maybe not a celebratory dinner kind of place for some, but for me, it works well.

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              East by Northeast
              1128 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA 02139

              1. The Vegetarble Tasting Menu at Oleana is outstanding and not that expensive. if you want to have some meat, add a side order of the Moussaka. Great wine list too.

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                Oleana
                134 Hampshire St., Cambridge, MA 02139

                2 Replies
                1. re: Delhiwala

                  I had the vegetable tasting menu at Oleana on my birthday this year and, sorry to say, it was really disappointing, and I am a big vegetable lover. Sadly, everything had too many flavors and moving parts, but without coming together in a nice way. There were hardly any recognizable vegetables on the menu either, and everything was mushy.

                  I'd love to try the East by Northeast tasting menu however, and it sounds like a great bargain. I love their food.

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                  Oleana
                  134 Hampshire St., Cambridge, MA 02139

                  East by Northeast
                  1128 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA 02139

                  1. re: bella_sarda

                    oh phooey i hate hearing that. darn.not my experience there but so sorry it was yours.

                2. Consider Erbaluce. Jenny Ondioline and I had a transcendently wonderful tasting menu at Marcuccio's way back when Charles Draghi was the chef there, so I'd bet that you would be able to arrange one at Erbaluce.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Allstonian

                    Wow I did not know he was there, no wonder I liked that place way back when!

                    1. re: tatsu

                      He was wonderful at Marcuccio's, but I think even better at Erbaluce. We celebrated our anniversary there in May and had a meal that we still talk about months later.

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                      Erbaluce
                      69 Church Street, Boston, MA 02116

                  2. I'd reommend you do the tasting menu at Ten Tables, for $40, and splurge on a great bottle of wine.

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                    Ten Tables
                    5 Craigie Circle, Cambridge, MA 02138

                    1. dapper dog (Swiss Mtn ?), given your past experiences and the importance of your evening, i would suggest from this list, which I have seen to be CH favs.
                      Erbaluce
                      Oleana
                      ICOB (Isl Creek O B)
                      Deuxave

                      OYa
                      Clio
                      Menton
                      Craigie

                      I think you might want service and atmosphere to play into your decision more than they usually do? Oleana has tremendous food but not special service and the room is a dud, w/ super close together tables. Bondir has special service and v romantic room, but we found the food boring/too simple for our taste. ICOB has exc. food and the room is v handsome (but it is a larger space than all the others listed.) Bergamot is a hotly debated spot on CH; I myself had an exc. meal there; sophisticalted service and room. The latter four on the list are the most expensive but will likely get you service and atmosphere that will feel like a very special evening.

                      You might consider pulling up the web menus and narrowing down your list from them and then asking further CH advice in your choice. Also, this recent visitor had a number of high end and tasting meals with extensive reviews(link below.) Given all the reviews and comments I have read this past year, along with the very inventive menu, I would choose OYa, but it is amazingly expensive. Clio, Menton and Erbaluce would be on the short list. Hope your night is a wonderful one. Plse let us know how it goes!

                      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/792188

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                      O Ya
                      9 East Street, Boston, MA 02111

                      Clio
                      370-A Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA 02215

                      Oleana
                      134 Hampshire St., Cambridge, MA 02139

                      Craigie on Main
                      853 Main Street, Cambridge, MA 02139

                      Erbaluce
                      69 Church Street, Boston, MA 02116

                      Menton
                      354 Congress St, Boston, MA 02210

                      Bergamot
                      118 Beacon St, Somerville, MA 02143

                      Bondir
                      279 Broadway, Cambridge, MA 02139

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: opinionatedchef

                        Smooth coat St.Bernard. Thanks chef, you nailed it. O Ya is on the list but since Clio has been consistently good for so long, we will probably go with that. It has been on the list for a while but it doesn't get too much hype on this board, so I was curious to see what folks suggested as an alternative.

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                        O Ya
                        9 East Street, Boston, MA 02111

                        1. re: cannedmilkandfruitypebbles

                          wow, that is one handsome fellow. I look forw. to your clio report.

                      2. We went to Clio and did the 10 course tasting for my Birthday. While it was amazing, I think I completely spoiled myself by doing Craigie on Main's 10 course last year. While Clio is very high end and ritzy and the food is very good, Craigie's service is just perfection and it always feels so homey there. The details they add... like when we arrived for my birthday there was a card signed by Tony Maws, and when we asked if they could give us copy of the menu we ate, they asked for 10 minutes and had a beautifully printed chef's menu. The waiter even tried to keep the surprise that my best friend had called ahead to schedule a bottle of wine! At Clio the service was a bit stiffer, and when we asked for a menu of what we ate, we got a handwritten #1 tomato, #2 tuna, etc on the back of receipt paper.

                        If you are going to drop some cash, Cragie is a bit cheaper but sooo much more worth it IMO :) Happy Anniversary!!

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                        Craigie on Main
                        853 Main Street, Cambridge, MA 02139

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: kimsrobot

                          your post is very helpful; th you. while i completely understand that service can make all the difference in the world, could you address the food aspect? the two styles of maws and orringer- seem vastly different.if you were only to address Innovativeness and Deliciousness (i.e.Wow, haven't seen that done before and More, more, please) what would you say about your 2 dinners? thanks so much.

                          1. re: opinionatedchef

                            You are correct, the two styles are very different, though for me, somewhat on the "same plane". In a single word, Oringer is more "gastronomic", Maws is "homey".

                            Both were incredibly creative. Oringer wowed us off the bat with a tomato water martini that was completely clear (though talking to others, this is done year round). Several seafood dishes followed from Ivory salmon to softshell crab dish. Maws started with three seafood dishes that were to die for, everything from squid noodles and fritters in squid ink to a Cobia fish in miso broth which I have never eaten but was so amazing, that it is now the best fish I have ever eaten.

                            Moving more towards the heart of the courses Oringer continued with fish with Scallops and Skate dishes that were perfectly cooked (as to be expected) and proceeded to a duck, for which they brought the whole roast duck to our table then presented it in a completely different manner 15 minutes later. But Maws took a slightly heavier progression moving from the fish into a house made farro tagliettelli pasta, a pork belly dish, and then into Lamb three ways. We were also given the option to add a bone marrow course to the Cragie dinner and did - even though it was so over the top!

                            Dessert was much more impressive at Cragie as well. There was a tea infused panna cotta that was much more delicate than any I've ever had, and then we each got a different - sheeps milk cheesecake and peanut butter parfait. At Clio, we were served a cheeseboard with some very good cheeses (yet none as remarkable as some I have purchased on my own like epoisse - our favorite), and a miso dark chocolate ganache dish that was very deep and rich. For my birthday Craigie brought out a plate with Happy Birthday and my name written on it in chocolate swirls... at Clio I was given a tiny scoop of unremarkable vanilla ice cream with a candle in it and a little tiny chocolate that said "Happy Birthday" on it.

                            As for comparing drinks, at Cragie we started out with cocktails at the bar, and then jumped into glasses of wine recommended by our sever. We did about the same at Clio, though the Cragie cocktails were better, and the recommendations of the Cragie waiter were much more in tune with our tastes. I felt like he really took the time to know exactly what we liked and would want.

                            I think overall I enjoyed the progression of light to rich much more at Cragie. We left more than full, whereas at Clio, I actually felt like we could have survived the 14 course (the difference between a ton of courses of seafood and finishing with several meat courses). Both were perfectly portioned such that you had enough to taste but never got too full.

                            Both restaurants are a great experience, both had very good menus, but there were just several small things that quickly added up to push Craigie over the top for me. If I were going to hit up another $300-$400 meal, it would definitely be on a return to Craigie. I'm glad I experienced Clio, but I wouldn't go back for the tasting menu.

                            And another odd thing about the service beyond what I said above, is that at Clio, we arrived and were asking about the 10 or 14 course... yet the waiter tried to talk us out of it and down to the 7 course. Odd...

                            My biggest impression is that there is a huge difference to a restaurant where the chef owns and concentrates on a single restaurant vs opening 10 restaurants of different styles, there is just a different vibe. I took a friend to Craigie on a Wednesday night just for burgers at the bar (by the way THE most awesome burger you will ever eat!), and there was Tony standing at the front of the kitchen helping plate and serve. I doubt Ken was even in the restaurant the day we went.

                            Hope that helps!

                            1. re: kimsrobot

                              well darn! i was hoping it would be the opposite, but hey, we obviously need to get ourselves over to craigie. thnks much.

                        2. For my money, I would try Clio, particularly if you haven't been there. Make sure you do the tasting menu, as we have never had a good experience ordering off of the menu. Personally, i think the 12-course menu is worth the money, and is a wonderful experience.

                          You asked a question earlier about the comparison between Clio and Craigie on Main, and which was more inventive. Clio is unquestionably more inventive. The menu changes frequently, so you're not likely to have the same experience. But it also changes deliberately, that is, the dishes are driven by what's fresh, and what's in season, but they are also "engineered." This is in contrast to Craigie on Main where the menus is always changing based on current availability. For myself, I have yet to be impressed by Craigie on Main. That said, I am not a foodie of the hyper-local stripe. I like chef's to take advantage of a full range of food. Certainly, using what is fresh and in season, but not overly limiting it by that. Craigie on Main always feels constrained to me by that aspect of their philosophy. Where Clio soars, taking advantage of live sea urchin when its in season, or the appropriate produce. Craigie on Main does do a lot of good stuff with pork, but with a father-in-law who is Cajun and makes some of the best meats around--and particularly pork products--whenever we visit Louisiana, I have never really been wowed by CoM's.

                          The one piece of the tasting menu at Clio that has always been the same, and is always welcome (to me) is the "tomato water martini" that they start with. It is tomato water, served with a tomato popsicle, some basil oil, and usually a very small slice of pickled jalapeno. It is a telling shot over the bow, as you get a sense for both how the "essence" of the ingredients will feature, as well as how innovatively they will be used. This particular innovation is at least seven years old, as that was the first time I had it, and yet it is still wonderful. But as I said, the menu has never been the same. It has been about two years since we last went, so I need to go again to see if it is still as it was. Some friends of ours went and didn't like it. But I'm not 100% sure I trust their judgement (he doesn't eat fish, which is a bit of a hindrance to appreciating a place like Clio).

                          Menton and O Ya were also thrown out. I think Clio is a better overall experience than either, to my palate, the food is better at Clio than at either,and you will pay less at Clio than either of the other options. We went to Menton shortly after it opened, and while the service and the technique were exceptional, nothing about the food really wowed or impressed me. The wines were very good. The overall price was around $800, too, so it was a very pricey meal. I just wrote about a fairly disappointing experience at O Ya--but that was my second time. For your first time, and if you don't get the tasting menu, O Ya can be a good experience, particularly from a food perspective. The tables are a little close, and the overall noise level is fairly low, so your neighbors can hear your conversation, which always irks me, and makes me not want to talk.

                          While Oleana and Clio are not comparable restaurants, I think value/$-wise they are. Personally, these are my two favorite restaurants in the Boston area. Oleana has exceptional food that is very inventive, and the wines are wonderful, particularly when you get help from the sommelier. Their wines are very different, and very well chosen (e.g. an amazing Croatian wine). The wine is one of my favoriate things about Oleana. Also, while it is true that the room is not amazing, it it not bad per se, and the patio is very nice. Oleana is my favorite place to take out-of-towners, because it is such a different place, and the food always wows people. And Oleana usually comes in around $200 for two people.

                          If you do go to Clio, ask for one of the corner seats; they are the most intimate and comfortable.

                          Good luck and have fun!

                          -----
                          O Ya
                          9 East Street, Boston, MA 02111

                          Oleana
                          134 Hampshire St., Cambridge, MA 02139

                          Craigie on Main
                          853 Main Street, Cambridge, MA 02139

                          Menton
                          354 Congress St, Boston, MA 02210

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: divinemissmoe

                            divine, i am so glad you took the time to post this. this is a watershed for me because i think it is your taste that is mine, and now i know where i'm headed for our next special evening . i hope you will continue to post as much as you have lately; i don't remember seeing much from you before.

                            1. re: opinionatedchef

                              I hope you like it! It always feels like a lot of responsibility to suggest to someone where to spend $300-$500, or even where to use up one meal in what is unfortunately a finite number of meals for all of us :)

                              As for posting, I had to make up for my first two posts being negative, to show that I wasn't one of the "slice of stubborn people who refuse to enjoy anything or who are looking to extort a meal," as one poster put it. And I've been procrastinating writing a whitepaper at work ;)

                              1. re: divinemissmoe

                                This is excellent info.I must admit I am a little hesitant on Clio as it seems like a place where the meal could be out of this world or too over the top in a bad way. I love CoM but have only had the experience of sitting at the bar for a burger and way too many cocktails.

                          2. Reporting back on the trip to Clio. It was excellent and expensive and I was fine with it.

                            We went with the 7 course tasting menu with wine pairing. I will say that all the dishes were great, some were really memorable.

                            I'll start with Service. As a rule, I rarely let service ruin my night. However, if i were someone that was easily annoyed by poor service, I may have been a bit aggitated by our waitress, Denise. She was mostly unhelpful and there was just something off-putting about her style.

                            Example-

                            Us: we'll have the tasting menu

                            Her: I knew it, you're getting the 10 courses, right?

                            Us: no, the 7 course with wine pairing

                            her: oh, Ok.

                            Something about her being presumptious annoyed me a bit. she also did not explain or detail any of the wines she poured (The most we got was, this is a nice Syrah. She would then pour it and in a flash she was gone.) and the few dishes she delivered, she did not explain in depth. I found myself asking other staff what was in the dish I was eating. We didn't really see her much at all but we did see a lot of the other staff and they were excellent. One young runner named Seth was particularly impressive. You could tell that he loved working at Clio and that he genuinely wanted us, as guests, to love dinning there.

                            I don't remember all the finer points of the meal but I'll list what i do recall.

                            Amuse: a little green round dome of Almond, Roquefort, and Arugula- all made into a paste. Sweet, tangy, salty. good.

                            Tomato water martini- I think they've been doing this for a while so it's not a surprise to many but I was blown away by the flavor. They strain tomtoes until the juices are as clear as crystal then pour the juice over a caperberrry and diced jicima. Basil oil is floated on top. It was the best tomato I've ever drank.

                            1st: sashimi, don't remember the fish. But it was excellent and topped with a garlicy sesaeme oil.

                            2nd: Two Island Creek oysters with a sweet and sour mingonnette. very good presentation and the flavor was excellently balanced

                            3rd: Tomato salad- I wish I knew better what was in this. It was incredible. I found out from the runner clearing my plate that there was freeze dried black olive in it.

                            4th: half a Lobster tail in a lobster and soy broth with Chantrelles. excellent

                            5th: Thai inspired corn chowder- corn chowder poured over peanut brittle, dried coconut custard, jalapeno. this was a bit of a miss for me. It was good but the only thing I found really interesting was the brittle.

                            6th: Beef tenderloin. What made this memorable was not the beef but all of the garnishes on the plate to swril the beef in. There was one balck spot on the plate and when I tasted it, I almost fell out of my chair it was so good. It was a reduction of some sort, super concentrated flavor. When the waitress came by to pick up our cleared plates I inquired and she said there may have been black truffle in it. That was the best explaination I got.

                            7th: Elephant Heart Plum, olive oil Ice cream, hazelnut crumble- This was awful. the plum was not sweet, not sour, just kind of bland. The olive oil ice cream had very little flavor but the consistency of motor oil. What a dissapointment this was. However, Seth overheard my conversation around this and came over to ask for feedback. He then brought out a more standard dessert of Vanilla ice cream, peanut butter powder, and choclolate crumble. It was delicious if not very inventive.

                            All in all, a great meal. It would have been much better if the service was a little more attentive. I will also say that the wine pairings were spot on. They all accentuated the flavor of each dish really well.

                            1. a cliche, but if wine is the focus, then Troquet is the best place in Boston.

                              I like to eat at Uni Bar which is expensive but not O Ya. Sashimi goes well with Champagne or Riesling or even Pinot Noir in my opinion.

                              Clearly too late to be of help to the O.P..

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                              O Ya
                              9 East Street, Boston, MA 02111

                              Troquet
                              140 Boylston Street, Boston, MA 02116

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: cambridgedoctpr

                                Couldn't agree more about Troquet. For some reason, I always forget about it except for pre-theatre, and then we go and say "we need to come here more often." Though I am not gettting the suckling pig again--I think I got it the last two times, and while it was good I think I have gotten a little too much pork belly done too often the same over the past few years. I am always absolutely floored by their pastas/gnocchis, oddly enough.

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                                Troquet
                                140 Boylston Street, Boston, MA 02116