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What sets Boston apart as a dining city?

I'd be curious to know what other CH'ers think. I think it's our bounty of ethnic neighborhoods. I don't think we're hitting on all cylinders with fine dining, innovation, or service (I'm generalizing--I do think some spots are superlative). However, you can't beat our neighborhood eateries, the little ethnic pockets that just ooze charm and authenticity and honesty and deliciousness. You?

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  1. well swank, negative attributes can also set apart Boston as a dining city. On that side, i offer:
    -Our overabundance of Italian restaurants.
    - Our lack of even one thoroughly excellent SW, Mexican, or Indian restaurant.
    -Our lack of an elegant kaiseki restnt.
    --Our lack of elegant ethnic restaurants.

    On the positive side:
    -- One or two pizza places that are hard to equal, much less beat.
    -- A growing percentage of Nationally famous women chefs.
    --A broad representation of very good ethnic restaurants.
    -- A healthy 'farm and sea to table' awareness and presence among chefs and their clientele.
    --Local access to some of the country's best seafood.
    --Our 'No Smoking' laws for bars and restaurants.
    -- A fairly sophisticated and supportive food knowledgeable food community that , because of our abundance of colleges, continually regenerates itself and expands the food-knowledgeable population throughout the country.

    3 Replies
    1. re: opinionatedchef

      Now you got me curious. What are your one or two hard to equal pizza places?

      1. What sets Boston apart from where? Is this going to turn into another "is Boston in any way better for food than NYC" thread?

        1. For a city of its size one thing that sets Boston apart in a bad way is the lack of excellent dining in the mid price range.

          Almost everywhere in the US, and more than you might think internationally have similar smoking restrictions.

          5 Replies
          1. re: Gabatta

            i actually think we have particularly good dining in the midpriced range: Strip-Ts, prix fixe at Ten Tables, Rendezvous and many others, dollar oyster nights, Cognac Bistro, and I could go on. Since I think very few people eat enough in lots of cities to really play this game, I'd just say that no one who enjoys food is going to starve here.

            1. re: teezeetoo

              I'm not starving, but I travel domestically and internationally quite a bit and my opinion is that the restaurants here are generally overpriced for the quality of food you get.

              Cognac is very uneven from my experiences. Rendezvous is great but not mid priced (at least for my budget), the prix fixe deals are OK but regular dinner and drinks there isn't cheap. According to AMEX our last dinner there cost over $150 with tip for two people having about one drink each.

              1. re: Gabatta

                There's a couple pretty obvious reasons that the baseline restaurant price will be higher in Boston than most places in the country. Boston is among the highest in real estate prices for US cities. It also has highly restrictive liquor licensing, making it that much more expensive to open and operate than other places (at least for restaurants in Boston itself).

                Plus of course there's a good number of people in Boston with money, just look at the luxury condo market.

                1. re: Gabatta

                  I didn't mean to suggest you didn't have a "compass" of experience and I do apologize Gabatta if that's what I conveyed. I'm an "ex Ny'er" so the place to which I'm knowledgeable enough to make comparisons is generally more and not less expensive than Boston and I think most of my NY friends would be thrilled to have places like ESK, Rendezvous, etc. available in their neighborhoods. Mid-priced to me means around $100.00 to 125.00 a couple - quality below $100,00 with liquor is reasonably hard to come by except for our very excellent ethnic restaurants. Fish and shellfish here are a bargain in quality, price and range compared to most cities I've experienced but, again, and this isn't directed at you, I always think these comparisons can't be all that valid because you really only "live" in one city: we eat out in Boston about 100 times a year. We travel a lot but the next closest comparator would be NY, where we eat out maybe 15 times a year?

              2. re: Gabatta

                i like places such as rendezvous, craigie, et al, that i would consider mid priced; I like them. i think that Boston fails on the high end.

              3. I'm not exactly a world traveller but Boston proper has a few distinctions. I agree that the no smoking laws make it desirable to go out to dine.
                The parking as much as some think is a nightmare, is actually pretty easy to achieve.
                Mostly I like the ease to get from Faneuil hall to the north end, china town or beacon hill.
                I agree about the ethnic pockets.

                1. These threads are tough because a lot of comes down to if we are comparing ourselves to NYC or SF or more equally sized cities like Portland, Seattle, or New Orleans.

                  I'd say my biggest gripe about Boston in comparison to other cities is price. I would have a much more favorable view of a lot of places if they were slightly cheaper. It seems like the majority of non-ethnic restaurants or even pubs these days all start entree's in the mid twenties and go from there. Of course there are a few exceptions (Tupelo, Highland Kitchen). I realize a lot of this is real estate and expensive liquor licenses but I'm still surprised eating in NYC how comparable places can be cheaper (isn't real estate pretty expensive there? and food costs?)

                  That said I like to think that where Boston excels (as opposed to where it beats other cities) is in small, chef-driven baby bistro type places. Small restaurants with focused menus (generally farm to table) that offer a high end dining experience in a casual atmosphere. Places like Craigie, TW Food, Bondir, Strip-T's, Hungry Mother, Salts, Rendezvous, Bergamot, Oleana. Ironically none of these places are in Boston proper but you get the idea. I'd even lump Island Creek in here even though it is a large format restaurant.

                  I think our drink options, be it cocktail or coffee, have greatly improved in the past five years. Even wine is getting better. Places like Eastern Standard, Drink, Backbar, The Hawthorne, can stand up to great examples in other cities. Coffee is interesting because while we don't have one superlative, name brand, third wave shop dominating the landscape (think Blue Bottle, Intelligentsia, or Stumptown) we have a host of smaller places that offer great espresso and coffee.

                  My wish list would incude accesible wine bars like Terroir in NYC that could help build up demand and that aren't super expensive (cough cough Belly Wine Bar).

                  For the glut of Italian restaurants we have, I've yet to find one that really bowled me over. I'd also kill for better, more soulful French and more quality seafood places in Boston/Cambridge (yes, I am a regular at ICOB and Belle Isle). And a higher caliber of waiters and waitresses. We have an exceptional group of service industry professionals in the city, but sadly that group is overshadowed by the number of eateries.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: Klunco

                    FYI, Stumptown coffee is available at Thinking Cup on Tremont St by the Common with a second location on Hanover that just opened.

                    For me, 1 of the big things that sets Boston apart as a dining city is the same thing that sets it apart from most places to live. It's easy to get around by walking or public transportation. It's relatively easy to get to the nearby suburbs. The same is not true in LA or many of the larger Western cities. Living downtown, and vehicle challenged..:) I like the fact that I can get to restaurants in Revere, East Boston, Cambridge, Malden,etc and visit a lot of the places I read about here.

                    1. re: Klunco

                      Completely agree on price. People are really surprised when I tell them that restaurants here are overpriced considering I'm from NY, but the same type of food is cheaper in NY. I'm talking the mid-level restaurants, not the higher level. I was actually shocked at how low the price of my friend's tasting at Bondir (with wine pairing) was. That type of place would be pricier in NY, and yet native Bostonians commented on it being pricey!
                      The places that I find are over-priced are the ones a level below. I went to Butcher Shop and I couldn't believe the bill or the price of hanger steak a la carte. You can get that type of food for cheaper in lots of places in NY.
                      I find myself eating at casual ethnic places here not just because it's tasty, but because there's no middle ground in price range.

                        1. re: Gabatta

                          ^^ Same here. Boston is pretty good in general. We are the envy of the world in dirt cheap lobsters. We need more cheap food carts and roach coaches. The few trucks here are outlandishly priced in comparison to other cities.