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Mar 27, 2013 06:32 PM

Why Does Everyone Pick on the Seaport?

Just came across this piece by Frank McClelland (L'Espalier): The point is essentially that the Seaport has sucked the wind out of Boston dining--that the scene is churn-and-burn, pack 'em in and ship 'em out, with less focus on the "Experience." I've seen other writers decry the Seaport because it's mainly chains or big glitzy spots without that indie feel.

I'm not trying to be pointlessly contrarian here, but I have had some very excellent meals at the Seaport. I could give a hoot if they're chains. I just want good food and service, and a nice view doesn't hurt. I had an excellent breakfast at Rosa Mexicano the other week. Strega Waterfront -- which I scoffed at initially, thinking it'd be the epitome of High Cheese--was exceptional (and a gorgeous room to boot). Loved the lobster fra diavlo. Mr. Swank recently did business over sushi on the third floor of Legal Harborside. He reported that the service, atmosphere, and most of all food were top-notch. If Batali moves in, I'll be happy too. I don't care that he has an empire and that he's a friend of Gwyneth. No, I just like the guy's pizza.

I'm unclear as to why and how any trouble within the Boston dining scene can be pinned on Seaport restaurants, which certainly serve their purpose, and often quite well. Anyone who's followed me on this board knows that I enjoy independent spots, down-and-dirty dives, and I'm certainly not a shill for any big-box chain. All I care about is good food and service, and I don't much care where I get it. Is that so wrong?

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  1. I don't think anyone is going to gainsay you liking what you like. But the only Seaport restaurants I've had really impress me are Menton (a maybe-once-a-year kind of place for me), Sportello (good, but odd for parties of more than two or three), Drink (one of the best craft cocktail bars in town), and the new Tavern Road (of which I have limited experience).

    Most of the places on Seaport Boulevard have severely underwhelmed me, bored me, or not impressed me as good values. Don't like the sports pubs, the faux-Mex joints, the steakhouses, Schtrega, the hotel restaurants, or Empire much at all. I need to give Sam's another try and 75 on Wharf a first try.

    I like the roof bar of the Legal Harborside, but the second-floor prices are shocking. I have yet to try Blue Dragon, but I expect it to be too crowded most of the time to be enjoyable. I'm looking forward to the Batali joint, if it's like his Otto concept (which it sounds like -- I think he changed the name as a goodwill gesture to the Portland pizza chain that got here first), a very good value and good wine bar.

    I've heard many a restaurateur complain that the Seaport is sucking away suburban weekend trade that they used to get, and I believe them. Cheap parking and easy highway access are tough to compete with. The Seaport is clearly giving a lot of customers what they want; it's mostly just not what I want.

    8 Replies
    1. re: MC Slim JB

      It's not what I want either.

      Despite being in Southie 4 or 5 times a week, I hardly ever head there.

      Something about the Disneyworldish vibe of Seaport Blvd. sort of repels me.

      Admittedly, I haven't been to that many spots there, but havent had any enjoyable experiences in the Seaport.

      I'm hoping to hit a spot there that changes my mind. But first I have to save up.

      1. re: C. Hamster

        I agree -- the food choices here in the Seaport remind me of a nice mall. Like the Prudential Center. You can have decent food, and it's in a nice setting, but it's kind of bland.

        I do like Larry's Q in the middle of the park across from the Renaissance Hotel, though, if it's still there.

        1. re: Pia

          The mall and disneyworldish comments here strike a chord with me, the development of Seaport doesn't seem organic, it seems forced.

          1. re: xerxes_xerxes

            It's funny, something about the newness of the Seaport appeals to me for a non-Bostonish-night-out. I love Boston's history and charm, but I think the Seaport provides a more futuristic big-city contrast without being soulless. After all, some old-school places are also sandwiched among the newer spots, like Yankee Lobster, JJ Pace, and yep, even Anthony's, which I hope they preserve somehow (with a food upgrade). And the parking doesn't hurt.

            1. re: Swankalicious

              The current Anthony's Pier 4 site is scheduled to be razed and developed into a new mixed-use behemoth: Anthony's claims it will relocate somewhere TBD in the Waterfront, maybe in the new Pier 4 hotel, but I don't believe that will happen. I think if you like it, you should go before it disappears.


              1. re: Swankalicious

                as development continues, those sprawling parking lots will disappear. the one behind the seaport hotel is now being built up as condos. the anthony's lot is all but gone and the one closest to the seaport hotel, on seaport blvd., just was signed on for a building deal.

                one of the things i have always appreciated about boston is that the density of the buildings and population didn't allow for national chains to build. the necessary real estate footprint was nearly impossible to find, so it was ripe pickings for local chefs and independent thinkers.

                now the seaport has how many chains all in spitting distance? but for the view that location could be anywhere, usa.

                1. re: Swankalicious

                  Great review
                  Anthony's is still open btw.

          2. re: MC Slim JB

            The sports bars drive me crazy. It shouldn't be so hard to find a high quality sports bar in downtown boston. The cocktails at Remy's are tiny and poorly made, but the space is fairly well set up for a sports bar. Such a waste (and yeah, it is packed on a Saturday or Sunday but I expect that in a sports bar and frankly that's part of the fun if you are in the right mood)

            But Remy's is better than Atlantic Beer Garden, which isn't run like a sports bar, but like some weird southie version of cask n flagon. The food might be a touch better than Remy's though that isn't saying much. TVs are not good and there is a ton of wasted wall space.

          3. The original comment has been removed
            1. I sometimes like the roof bar of Legal for sushi, drinks and water view on a nice summer day. Otherwise, the area to me seems like a strip of mega restaurants arbitrarily plunked down on an available slice of waterfront real estate. There's no neighborhood feel and the area is really not conducive to a pleasant after dinner stroll.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Kat

                Agree with your comments about the restaurants, however the harbor walk can be a nice stroll in the area.

              2. It is what it is, IMO. The restaurants along the waterfront are obviously big hits with a lot of people, and that's fine, but there are too few lower-priced independent spots over there, and the crowds can be overwhelming. I won't knock the restaurants over there, but personally, I'd rather go to a quiet, cozy little place in the South End, JP, or Inman Square. It's all a matter of preference, really.

                1. It is possible that the Seaport District will make other parts of Boston better Chow destinations. If you take the people who choose restaurants for reasons other than food– harbor views, parking, being seen, heavy drinking, and getting on the highway fast out of the mix, we could see more restaurants on the city side of the Fort Point channel that are about the food.

                  Plus, it already looks like the Fort Point district is setting itself apart from the Seaport with the start of a community and some independent restaurants. That can be a buffer zone of sorts.

                  I don't think the Seaport is hurting the restaurants I care most about. The article says L'Espalier is growing. Quality still counts.

                  I think it's hurting the chains and the something for everyone places. A shake out in that sector, and the possibility of some local chefs moving into slightly bigger spaces could be a good thing.