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Jul 6, 2012 08:39 AM

birthday dinner on a budget

I know this question gets asked a lot, and I've looked at many old posts, but I still can't quite make up my mind... so thank you for humoring me.

My boyfriend's birthday is in a few weeks, and I'd like to take him to a special dinner... but I'd like to keep it under $150, including a few drinks / tax / tip. We'll probably split an appetizer and dessert and each have an entree, or maybe split 4-5 appetizers / small plates, depending on the restaurant.

He especially loves sushi, oysters, steak, and all kind of ethnic food (especially asian / indian / mexican), but does not like anything too fancy or fussy. His favorite restaurants are Oleana, the Painted Burro, EVOO, Mooo, East Coast Grill, etc.

I'd love to take him for great / fancy sushi at someplace like Oishii / Uni / O Ya, but I don't think it's in my price range. Other places I'm considering are Bergamot, Island Creek Oyster Bar, T.W. Food, or Hungry Mother.

Oh, and we live in Cambridge, so somewhere in Cambridge / Somerville / Boston is best.

Any ideas or suggestions?


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  1. To throw a new name at you, how about West Bridge in the One Kendall building. We've been quite a few times and it's been terrific on each visit. Devra First recently said it was one of the more interesting restaurants to open here in the last few years and Slim just gave it a pretty glowing review (in the Phoenix?). They have lots of small plates to share, some really solid larger options, and a solid cocktail program.

    5 Replies
    1. re: mkfisher

      Good suggestion. Also like Hungry Mother. TW Food is great, but too "fancy" for your boyfriend's tastes - save that one for your birthday dinner, perhaps.

      I was also going to suggest Journeyman, although the five course menu is $65, without drinks, tip, so would be pushing your limit. You might consider dinner at Casa B in Union Square, the new tapas place, followed by clandestine adult beverages at the Back Bar, down the same alley as Journeyman. I think you can make reservations at both.

      1. re: Bob Dobalina

        Another vote for Hungry Mother.
        It's quickly becoming my one of my favorite places.

      2. re: mkfisher

        mkfisher, would you mind giving some highlights from the menu? I want to visit on the basis of the bar alone, but unfortunately their website isn't running yet so I'm unsure of the menu/pricing.

        1. re: LeoLioness

          The menu is here

          We've had the cauliflower, lamb sausage, lobster, egg in a jar and scallop to name a few. The smaller plates might be a tad expensive. The large and to share dishes seem to be a better value. The lobster dish might be the best thing we've had to eat in 2012.

      3. Casa B in Union Square? Terrific food and great bartending. I'd sit downstairs though, I find upstairs sort of sterile and un-interesting (whereas the downstairs space is lively, cool and interesting).

        1. Have you tried Catalyst in Kendall Square?? It is delicious, beautiful space, and a great value.

          4 Replies
          1. re: BellaBoston

            I hadn't thought of Catalyst but that actually looks perfect... thanks for the idea!

            1. re: BellaBoston

              I really enjoy Catalyst, but how on earth do you find it to be a good value? Pastas are over $20 with un-American portion sizes. Meat entrees are at or above $30 (had a wonderful spit roasted pork special for $30 that had 3 really small slices of meat). Don't get me wrong, the food is great, but it's definitely not a great value.

              1. re: mkfisher

                My boyfriend and I always eat there for right around $100 before tip--plenty of food and a couple glasses of wine each. We very rarely get a bill for dinner that comes under $100 before tip...and when it does with food/ service/ atmosphere as exceptional as Catalyst's I definitely look at it as a value. There are certainly places much less expensive but by value I meant taking into consideration your experience/ food for the price. OP will be able to have a great meal there for her parameters of $150 price range.

                1. re: BellaBoston

                  Value is obviously in the eye of the beholder. Going back to that spit roasted pork loin I mentioned I had for $30. It was literally 3 thin slivers of pork on top of mustard greens. It was a great dish, but to me not worth $30. I can totally see how others would disagree. Just my opinion (though I do recall one of the professional reviewers in town making a similar comment).

            2. How about East by Northeast? I think the 8 course tasting menu is $39.00 - it fits his interest in ethnic food and it is quite unique - it's also a sweet little place with a nice intimate feel to it and its in cambridge.

              7 Replies
              1. re: teezeetoo

                This is a good suggestion given his interest in asian and inventive, but i think it's not a special occasion place and not many seafood options on the menu are there?

                We found the food at casa b , and the decor, to be very good- but not enough to return. Also not special enough for this occasion, imo.

                i wrote up our recent westbridge dinner in an earlier thread and , while mk's lobster rave has me so tempted to return for that dish, we just felt too disappointed at high price/ too small small plates that made up our dinner; and only one 'wow' dish out of 5 or 6 iirc. i also find the decor major boring. I really want to try Catalyst but we will def avoid that pork plate, mk, so thx for that warning. (what else did you have- that wowed you, that is?)

                op-when i read your descr of you BF's food tastes, I felt very simpatico w/ it. I think you would so likely love the room, service and food at ICOB- justdo a 'search' for it and look at all the many and consistent raves it gets on this board. The oysters choice and the lobster roe noodles w/ oxtail and chanterelles etc has your BF's name all over it. And their (changing) scallops dish is usually exc.

                We just went to bergamot and wrote it up; not worth it imo. Hungry Mother a big no- just o.k. imo, but there are legions of vocal fans for it. TW Food gets consistent but not plentiful CH praise; i've not tried it.

                Won't he just love this special night and the trouble you're going through to find the right place. Terrific!

                1. re: opinionatedchef

                  The best thing I've had at Catalyst recently is the goat cheese tortellini with braised short rib. It's definitely a little rich, but it does a nice balance between salty and sweet. Sadly, it looks like this is no longer on the menu.

                  1. re: opinionatedchef

                    Thanks for the detailed and thoughtful response. I'm currently leaning toward Catalyst or ICOB, though will probably go to Catalyst since it's lot easier to get to from our Cambridge apartment. And it looks delicious!

                    1. re: nyc_to_ma

                      oh boy! and wherever you go, plse share the details!

                      1. re: nyc_to_ma

                        I agree with mkfisher on the pastas there---they are some of the best around. It looks like their menu is pretty new. They used to have a very basic homemade garganelli with butter, fresh parm, and chicken oysters that was to die for! They serve them all in half portions so you can try more than one--on a couple occasions we have wound up ordering a second round of pastas--they are so good!

                        1. re: nyc_to_ma

                          Also--just to chime in here--we might drink more at ICOB, i'm not sure, but from a bill perspective, island creek usually winds up being double, if not more, than we spend at Catalyst.

                        2. re: opinionatedchef

                          I've never been to Catalyst, but I wanted to chime in on ICOB. We had an anniversary dinner there a couple of months ago and absolutely loved it. I'm thinking we came in around $150 with tax and tip and got a fair amount of food and drinks.

                          To start, we split 1/2 dozen oysters and some shrimp cocktail. We also got a couple of the oyster sliders since they get such high praise. I'd go back just to eat the sliders. They were great. I had the lobster roe pasta that op-chef recommended. Very good. My wife went with the seafood casserole and really enjoyed it. We each had 2-3 drinks with dinner (me - beer, her - some kind of sparkling wine). We are not dessert people, but the waiter heard us talk about our anniversary and brought out some sorbet with happy anniversary written on the plate in chocolate which was nice. The atmosphere was fun. A sox game had just let out, so the bar was packed, but the noise in the dining room was still low enough to have a nice conversation. It definitely fits your "special but not fancy" requirement.

                      2. How about the Rendezvous Sunday night pre-fixe ($40 I believe)? My DH and I order it and then are extra piggy and order an additional course on top of it. It is fabulous every time and just talking about it reminds me that we haven't been there in a while...