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Help me decide where to cry about my advanced age.

I'm almost another year older and another year swankier. Mr. Swank and I are planning my birthday meal, and we have several contenders. For reference, I've enjoyed prior birthday outings at Coppa, Craigie, Oleana, Strip T's, and Pescatore (before it began a downward slide). I love weird, funky, spicy foods ... the weirder the better, really. We've enjoyed Hungry Mother, ExNe, Toro, and Sarma lately.

Here's what's on our list:

1. Ribelle: I've heard exceptionally mixed things, but it seems to be the rage right now.
2. Row 34: Menu looks fun and more varied than at ICOB. However, I have never been blown away by ICOB...
3. Sycamore: People absolutely love it here. This is probably our top choice, except I'm not sure that it fits the "funky/spicy" prerequisite.
4. Sarma: Fits the funky/spicy desire, except I've been several times already and it's a bit too casual for a special night out.
5. Shanghai Social Club: I dunno -- I'm curious?
6. Bronwyn: We're both longtime fans of TW Food. But I'm not a huge sausage-phile. Is there enough to sate me?
7. Kirkland Tap and Trotter: Because we love Craigie on Main. Again, though, I'm wondering if it's quite casual.

Enlighten this old Swank, whippersnapping Hounds.

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  1. I noticed you are careful to leave out how much crying is in order. Smart move!

    1. Just consider yourself another year wiser. BTW -- my birthday is soon approaching, never celebrated it because it's so close to Christmas.

      1. Have you tried AKA Bistro in Lincoln? We like to sit at the bar which overlooks the chef's station (asian side) and do the tasting menu. If you tell him you like funky/spicy, he will accommodate.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Duster17

          Thanks for the AKA recommendation. I'm a fan of AKA, but we've been a few times. Love their brunch in particular.

        2. I'd go with Ribelle, it's tops on my list at the moment, love Strip T's.

          1. None of these places has a special, celebratory feel to me in terms of ambiance or formality of service, so I wouldn't count out the Kirkland on that score. Just note that more casual than Craigie doesn't equal a whole lot cheaper.

            I think Ribelle, of which I am a big fan, comes closest to your food criteria. (So does Sarma, but you've been a bunch.) Sycamore does pretty straightforward New American, but is terrific of its type; the board for two always feels special to me.

            Bronwyn has a lot more than sausages going on, and has unique atmosphere. (See the current BoMag review, a good one, and mine in the Improper.) All three have very strong cocktail programs, if that's important.

            Shanghai Social Club has an American chef doing well-executed American-Chinese in a nightclub-like setting, with a few dashes of creativity and respectable Tkik drinks. It's fun and useful for Allston, but the food is probably a tad conventional for the occasion.

            Row 34 is high on my to-try list; I'm a big fan of ICOB.


            1 Reply
            1. re: MC Slim JB

              I think Ribelle, too, based on what you said and what I've read, although I haven't been.

              I have been to Kirkland and Row 34. If you are not an ICOB lover, I don't think Row 34 is the place for your birthday. Your stance on ICOB has got to be the most predictive indicator there can possibly be as to what you will think of Row 34. I liked it quite a bit, particularly the starters.

              I was very impressed by Kirkland. I think that's likely the runner-up on your list. I posted my thoughts on it at that thread. Not everyone appears to agree.

              I don't think Bronwyn is as special occasion-y as TW Food. I like German food and I like Bronwyn, but I adore TW Food.

            2. What mixed things have you heard about Ribelle? I've heard nothing but good things since they worked out some early bumps.

              We had an absolutely spectacular meal there a few weeks ago which somehow managed to demolish our very lofty expectations, so I'd recommend that.

              1. Ribelle for sure. We are big fans of Sycamore, but Ribelle for sure.

                1. The food at Ribelle is certainly delicious, but it will only be a birthday treat if your hearing has kept its youthful perfection. Shortly after opening at least, the acoustics were awful and I left feeling decidedly ancient because I couldn't hear my partner. Does anyone know if they have made any changes to the ambient sound?

                  1. I too have a painful reminder of aging coming up in a few weeks. Plan to shed my tears at Deuxave. Hope you have a Happy Birthday.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: takeoutgirl

                      The only alternative to aging is dying young. I celebrate every new year I have at Oleana.....and mourn my friends who didn't make it. I go for the apps/meze and skip the entrees. Never fails to make me happy to be alive and eating.

                      1. re: Madrid

                        In keeping with Madrid's sentiment, i remind myself from time to time of George Burns' response when asked how it felt to turn 90,: "It's not so bad when you consider the alternative". happy birthday and have a great dinner.

                    2. Why not O Ya? Get Mr. Swank to pony up the $$$.

                      You'll love Sycamore - the "boards" run toward funky. And the cassoulet has a seriously satisfying funk. Start off with Scott's "Ghost of Mary".

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: MaxEntropy

                        Plus O Ya has some new dishes that are delicious! The chicken skin one comes quickly to mind...

                      2. If we could swing it, for a special occasion I'd do O Ya and sit at the bar to watch the chefs do their thing.

                        I personally liked Sarma better than Ribelle, but you've been already. As a point of reference, I found Ribelle possibly even more casual than Sarma. They tried mightily to force us to a communal table at Ribelle, despite our special occasion reservation made weeks in advance. To me, there's nothing special occasion about a loud communal table where you're much closer to the neighbors on either side than your dining partner across the way.

                        1. Thanks everyone for your recommendations! O Ya would involve selling the Younger Swanks, but it does sound intriguing. Looks like we have narrowed it to Ribelle, Sycamore, or Kirkland.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Swankalicious

                            one of my dad's fav New Yorker cartoons showed a large family seated around a dining room table and the father (who looked very much like my dad) was saying, " I have brought you all here together to say that this has been a very tough year for everybody, but unfortunately it has not gotten any better and I'm going to have to let some of you go."

                          2. I haven't been to Ribelle yet but we love Sycamore and I think it's a good place for a celebration. Wonderful soft lighting, relaxed small dining room, excellent service. The food is not particularly exotic but always truly delicious, we've never had a bad meal there. I also remember every cocktail I had there like I drank it yesterday, which is more than I can say about any other place I go to!

                            1. sorry, I have to ask...can I indulge you...what is old, Swankalicious? Just curious...old is a state of mind...

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: hydraaa

                                Let's just say I'm old enough to have used a pay phone regularly, recall Saturday mornings with nothing on but cartoons and striped bars before 7am, and I regularly frequented the old Joyce Chen restaurant. Old enough to have alphabetized mixed tapes -- but young enough to still listen to them in the car and sing along. :)

                                1. re: Swankalicious

                                  Yeah, but did you listen to 8 tracks in the car (of your own)? If so I'm guessing 50.

                                  1. re: soylent_greens

                                    First present I ever gave my husband was an 8-track. He wisely exchanged it for a cassette player. That was back when we thought Papa Gino's was a date-night place. I think your age estimates for that era are too low!

                                    Swank talks about little tiny Swankettes, so I'm pretty sure she's not truly of crying age.

                              2. Kirkland and Sycamore would be my top choices for a birthday celebration, as much as I love the other places!