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Mr. Swank and I need a "new" special occasion place!

OK, something happier than a post about mistresses! Mr. Swank and I have a mega-anniversary coming up in January, and we'd like to dine high(ish) on the hog. We can't afford Menton nor can we afford O Ya; mainly we'd just like something romantic, comfy, and most of all delicious. However, we're tough to please!

Problem One: We eat out a fair bit and have enjoyed lots and lots of places already. We want something brand new to both of us. Places we've been and enjoyed, either apart or together, include: TW Food, Hungry Mother, Clio, Puritan, Island Creek, Scampo, Coppa, Trade, Toro, 51 Lincoln, Lumiere, Via Matta, Taberna de Haro, Estragon, East Coast Grill, Casa B, Area Four, East by Northeast (was actually totally unimpressed - sob), Craigie on Main, Rialto, La La Rokh, L'Espalier. I know, I know, first-world problems.

Problem Two: The menus at some of the nicer New American or Northern Italian spots don't thrill me. I prefer high-end ethnic food, with lots of sauces or curries, like Indian or Mexican, so I'm fairly stumped. Therefore venues like Bergamot, Bondir, Deuxave, or West Bridge -- while no doubt lovely -- just don't pack that special punch for me. Essentially, my dream restaurant is something like the Helmand (atmosphere and cuisine) or Oleana -- but we go there all the damn time.

We've been to Strip T's and loved it, but it doesn't really have a "mega anniversary" feel to it. Right now, I'm considering Erbaluce (maybe not "saucy" enough for me--too precious?), Pomodoro (though Mr. Swank hates parking in the North End with the hot head of 1,000 sweltering suns), No. 9 Park (again, I fear it might be a bit too ... staid? ... for my tastes), Cinquecento (anyone know how it is?), Yakitori Zai (any good?), or ... or....?

So concludes the most self-indulgent first-worldy post ****ever****, but if anyone has recommendations, please, let me know. Note: It does not have to be a "splurgey" splashy fancy place -- more romantic/comfy/delicious than high-end.

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  1. My suggestion would be White Barn Inn, Kennebunkport. Worth the drive.


    1. I feel like I'm constantly pushing Empire (I promise I don't work there!!) but it is awesome Asian fusion. Don't leave without trying the Singapore Street Noodles--you will love the madras curry. They have quite a few saucey/ spicy/ curry items on the menu. The room is beautiful. I enjoy the sushi bar but they also have an open kitchen bar and a beautiful dining room.

      Cinquecento is good--however might not be really what you are looking for. We had the buratta, which was ok, bolognese which was good but didn't knock my socks off, and arugula salad--good again but nothing mind blowing. We went once and enjoyed it but have not gone running back.

      Erbaluce is excellent although the room leaves more than a lot to be desired. Also, I don't know if this would matter to you but they don't have a full liquor license so wine/ cordials only. But again, might not be up your alley.

      I completely agree with you on No.9 park. It's a bit too pretentious for me. the service, the menu, the food...and I usually leave there hundreds of dollars poorer and still wanting a sandwich.

      1. Tough request with all the great places you have visited but I will throw in in a few suggestions.

        We visited CInquecento the second weekend and had a great meal with another couple, the sausage rigatoni and swordfish were really solid as was the grilled calamari. I was impressed with the quality of the pasta's and sauces, and I really like the new layout of the place.

        I would also recommend IL Casale in Belmont, you would want to request a corner table maybe toward the front or back but I have been a few times when visiting family and I always come away impressed.

        Myers and Chang might also be fun, the mussels and Nasi Goreng are two of my favorite dishes in the city. While not a traditionally romantic place it always has a warm comforting feel in the Winter Months for me.

        Not sure if these will work but good luck. I was in the process of hunting around today for info on No. 9 Park as we are headed there tonight.....always wanted to try it...will report back current thoughts as I haven't seen much posted recently on it.

        1. Funny - I'm not all that familiar with Boston restos, but when I saw your post, my first thought was Erbaluce. I really, really enjoyed my meal there, and the cocktail bar is nice, too.

          I did not find the food to be precious, and both a rabbit and quail dish were absolutely fantastic.

          I recommend it to everyone I know who visits Boston.

          1. Have you been back to Taberna de Haro since she doubled the size of the space and added cocktails?

            1. I personally love Bergamot, but it's more of a nice-casual sort of place with brilliant cocktails than somewhere I'd go for a special occasion meal.

              1. oh gosh, I had to read your post twice before I saw Oleana as one of your favorites. We don't have the $$$ or the child care to go there near often enough, but that would be my choice (yes I know guys, it's crowded and not romantic but the food is swoonworthy...to us at least).....so I'll be watching responses as your tastes are definitely similar to mine but our looming anniversary starts with a 4 and ends with a zero...(meeting at age 18 and adopting a child just "recently")....

                1. Considering your back catalog, you've probably been, but I really really like Catalyst.

                  Have you been to Muqueca? Brazilian/clay pot cooking. Not spendy splurgey but delish, cozy and certainly saucey! Advised: Liquor up nearby only beer/wine/faketinis/fake-caprinhas here.

                  Or any of the Portuguese places along Cambridge Street? I like Casa Portugal - cozy & romantic. I like Portugalia as well but wish the main room were better lit (check out the bar side on a not as special occasion)

                  La Posada (mex) in Arlington is excellent


                  Its unfortunate that you are discounting Bondir or Bergamot if you havent been....

                  GOOD LUCK!

                  1. I like Yakitori Zai. Also Japanese, there's Sushi Island, Oga's and Shiki, which are also not low-end but not very expensive, and Uni which can be affordable.

                    Atasca might be another option for you, in Cambridge.

                    The closest restaurant to the Helmand and Oleana is probably Tangierino, a quite good modern Moroccan restaurant in Charlestown. Very romantic atmosphere too. Tamarind Bay is also nice.

                    Finally, you could go a bit a out-of-town --- there's always Blue Ginger in Wellesley and Maxwell's 148 in Natick.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: lipoff

                      idk... atasca has fallen. Been twice since the move years back and the clams were rubbery boges.

                    2. If Italian is acceptable, how about La Morra or Pomodoro in Brookline?

                      I'm not sure if the Brookline Pomodoro is related to the North End one - and either way, they have both picked the least-trustworthy name for an Italian restaurant that doesn't involve the word 'Mamma' - but it is fantastic, and the environment is classy, cozy, and romantic all at once. Also, the tiramisu is a thing of beauty.

                      La Morra's environment is a bit less flash, but I reckon the food there is a little better and more interesting, and I don't know why they don't get mentioned here more often. It's a really special place.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: TimTamGirl

                        Second for La Morra. That was my thought when I read the OP. Very romantic space and the food is great.

                      2. How do you feel about tapas? I've been to Estragon twice recently, the couches in the back area would fit your comfy requirement and the overall feel of the place is kind of sexy, in an offbeat way. I thought the food was delicious but I studied up on previous posts so went in with a prepared list of what to try :)

                        ETA also thought of Rang Indian Bistro in Stoneham. Pretty room, good food. Maybe not quite special-occasion-worthy but a step above a typical Indian restaurant atmosphere, IMHO.

                        1. First, for a mega Anniversary I would opt to travel a bit and either spend the night or swing for a car service. If you are willing to do that your options more than double.

                          I for one would love a room at the Chatams Bars in the winter and have them arrange for wonderfully romantic meal en suite, ideally in front of the in room fireplace. Or as another poster suggested to the White Barn Inn in ME.

                          Secondly, I know you said you "can't afford" places like Menton or O Ya but boy! it does seem like you eat a lot, or at least in your own words a "fair bit". Why not take a couple of months off from eating out and add that money to whatever is in your anniversary fund already and really go to town?

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: foodieX2

                            Mr. Swank dines out a lot for work [clients], as do I -- however, our own **personal** dining budget tends to go toward cheap ethnic spots ... which we love, though perhaps not for an anniversary sup. :)

                          2. I think Cinquecento might actually be a really good option for you. Very good upscale Italian, free parking, and most important: somewhere you haven't yet tried.

                            I posted a brief review after eating a meal there right when it opened, (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/880334) and I have been back since and enjoyed myself even more. I do like Erbaluce, but find that it takes itself a bit too seriously. Personally, I'd rather celebrate something at Cinquecento.

                            1. My suggestion is Black Trumpet in Portsmouth. Dark brick 18th c. , lots of candles. Broad influences; I always learn something there; and very farm and sea to table.

                              11 Replies
                              1. re: opinionatedchef

                                I was thinking about a spa special at the Moroccan themed Duda Spa in Portsmouth, followed by dinner at Black Trumpet.

                                Or an indulgent night at the Stonehedge Inn in Tyngsborough, don't know anything about the food though.

                                1. re: opinionatedchef

                                  The menu at Black Trumpet's kind of amazing. Is there anything in particular you'd recommend to start with?

                                  1. re: Boston_Otter

                                    Wow, this Black Trumpet menu looks tasty as hell! Thanks for the rec.

                                    1. re: Swankalicious

                                      Not to rain on anyone's parade, but Cinquecento is not nearly as good as La Morra, is pricier, and twice or three times as loud (the room however is pretty, the service not pretty at all). Black Trumpet's menu is great fun to read, often good, but sometimes exceeds it's grasp: great descriptions not always beautifully executed and, depending on when you are there, also very loud. So there's an exciting element of "risk" in eating there. If you like Asian and want elegant, the room at Oishii has a lovely serenity to it and I like the food.

                                      1. re: teezeetoo

                                        Interesting. I've never understood the La Morra acclaim. Don't really like the space and find the food to be underwhelming. What do you particularly like there? Personally think Cinquecento is considerably more solid.

                                        I do like the Oishii suggestion though, especially if one can splurge for the omakase.

                                        1. re: teezeetoo

                                          +1 to Oishii--great suggestion that I didn't think of. Great space, food, and service.

                                          1. re: BellaBoston

                                            Mr. Swank is afraid of raw fish -- do you think there's enough non-sushi options on their menu to satisfy him? It sure looks like what I had in mind!!

                                            1. re: Swankalicious

                                              Absolutely!! They also typically have specials that where there are 1 or 2 cooked items.

                                              On a separate note however...you need to get him over that!!!

                                              1. re: BellaBoston

                                                I don't gravitate to raw fish and I have no trouble finding alternatives at Oishii - also love their cocktails. Keith, La Morra's menu changes but the staples I love include their duck and chicken liver, tuscan meatballs, their current take on a frisee salad, and I generally like their pasta particularly the homemade pasta bolognese. When it is on the menu, I love the rabbit dishes I've had here and he frequently does a great skate. To be fair to Cinquecento I've only been once and the experience was marred by the loudness of the place (I really can't abide spending that kind of money and not being able to hear my tablemates no matter how good the food is) and by the strange peculiarity of finding them unable to supply us with bread until well after we had finished our appetizers. It may be that the service will smoothe out but at the pricepoint it won't draw me back because of the noise alone.

                                              2. re: Swankalicious

                                                i am a fan of Uni for raw fish, but since Uni is next to Clio; that might work. I will vouch for Uni but have not eaten at Clio for years. That said, you do like Toro and Coppa, two other K.O. restaurants.

                                                StripTs is opening up a branch in Brookline; perhaps that restaurant will be more upscale.

                                            2. re: teezeetoo

                                              hmmm, we always eat downstairs there at Bl Trumpet and it's never been really loud ( we do usually go early so we can catch a show at the Music Hall or walk around the beautiful town afterwards.) Haven't had too many 'meh's there. really like his paella and seafood soups,stews etc. and he does some neat things w/ diff starches.
                                              That said, in late Sept.,the standout knock-it-out-of-the-park dish was a Special medium plate- a pork belly with heirloom beans and clams. that title can't begin to reveal the depth of unctuosity of this dish; the sauce created between those elements and garlic and............was truly a beautiful thing.

                                              Here are 2 detailed threads:


                                      2. Second Il Casale for the atmosphere and fresh pasta specials. They are doing good things in that old firehouse.

                                        1. did you consider Tephida Khmer in Lowell? The food is excellent; the decor is pleasant, not particularly romantic but it does have white tablecloths and a clean bright look.