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So Cal 'hound looking for high end experience for celebratory dinner

mcgrath Jan 31, 2014 12:55 PM

My wife and I are coming to town in a couple weeks to celebrate a significant professional accomplishment of our adult son. There will be four of us and all four have substantial experience with and appreciation for great cuisine. (OK, we're foodies, but I hate that term.)

Here's what we're looking for:

a) Fabulous, inventive preparations of cuisine with (hopefully but not necessarily) a New England influence;

b) Not Asian or Italian;

c) A refined, quiet ambiance, but not stuffy;

d) Within a 15-20 minute drive of downtown Boston;

e) Price not an issue

Oh, and this is probably a dumb question for you locals, but I'm from Calif. and need to ask if it's legal / acceptable to bring in a bottle of very special wine for the occasion. Thanks!

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  1. hotoynoodle RE: mcgrath Jan 31, 2014 01:29 PM

    byob is illegal in boston, brookline, cambridge, somerville.

    quiet is getting harder and harder to find, but i'll start your list with asta, salts, tw food, craigie st bistro and bergamot.

    2 Replies
    1. re: hotoynoodle
      Bob Dobalina RE: hotoynoodle Jan 31, 2014 04:35 PM

      Craigie ain't quiet. I would look at the tasting menu at TW Food.

      1. re: Bob Dobalina
        hotoynoodle RE: Bob Dobalina Jan 31, 2014 05:02 PM

        i know. i have other issues with it as well and it's not usually on my list. feh.

    2. c
      Capeannetoo RE: mcgrath Jan 31, 2014 01:39 PM

      2nd Salts and add Hamersleys.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Capeannetoo
        mcgrath RE: Capeannetoo Feb 2, 2014 09:36 AM

        Called Salts and they're closed for several weeks due to a major flooding issue.

      2. f
        Fort Point RE: mcgrath Jan 31, 2014 01:41 PM


        1. t
          teezeetoo RE: mcgrath Jan 31, 2014 01:46 PM

          Asta is the most interesting new high end restaurant in Boston. I found Menton overrated when we ate there but I understand it has a new executive chef so it may have stepped up. If you love wine, Troquet for its wine list (food is very good but, imo, not up to Asta's).

          2 Replies
          1. re: teezeetoo
            cambridgedoctpr RE: teezeetoo Feb 1, 2014 07:58 AM

            I also recommend Asta; they have odd and interesting wines though they are weak on the classics. I also like Craigie though again the wine list is not exceptional. Some people complain about the service; I have never had a problem.

            Summer Shack (Jasper White) is a low end clam shack, but i love the pan-fried lobster, the best lobster preparation I have tried.

            Torquet is the place to go for wine.

            1. re: cambridgedoctpr
              celestialmundane RE: cambridgedoctpr Feb 1, 2014 04:29 PM

              Trouquet's cellar is a conservative one. Mostly French (& I like French wine), at excellent prices by the bottle. But don't go to Troquet looking for an interesting list.

          2. m
            Madrid RE: mcgrath Jan 31, 2014 02:17 PM

            look at the Oleana menu, also Sarma. These are not high end places (but they do cost) but offer unique middle eastern/turkish tastes. Sarma in particular is not quiet. Oleana is in Cambridge, Sarma in Somerville.

            We don't have many places here that are refined and quiet without being stuffy. You've already gotten the names of those that fit refined and quiet.

            You might want to enjoy your very special wine in your hotel with some cheese and other condiments....if you tell us where you are staying, we can give you some recs for charcuterie and cheese and bread places. Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge and the South End are often at the top of the list here. The alcohol laws here are crazy, but we have to live with them.

            Congratulations to your son. If he lives here, let us know what restaurants he has enjoyed in the past.

            There are no dumb questions.

            8 Replies
            1. re: Madrid
              mcgrath RE: Madrid Feb 2, 2014 10:06 AM

              Thanks Madrid, but if I can't get my wine opened at the restaurant, then we just won't take the trouble to transport it on the plane.

              When we were in town a year ago, he did take us to Oleana, which we enjoyed immensely. Nothing like that where we live, although we did have a similar experience in S.F. at a Moroccan themed place a couple years back.

              After reading all posts, my first choice was Salts, but it's closed due to a flood. Next, Clio (menu JUST what I'm looking for) but we can't get in on Sat. the 15th and they look to be closed on Sunday. Now looking at Chef's Table at L,Espalier.

              1. re: mcgrath
                Parsnipity RE: mcgrath Feb 2, 2014 12:48 PM

                I think you would have an wonderful experience at L'Espalier. I would rank it way above Salts anyways, so don't bother regretting the flooding.

                While I love Oleana and Sarma, they are not New Englandy. And I would not call Sarma special occasion. Oleana, maybe.

                Based on your description of what you're looking for, I would also look at No 9 Park.

                1. re: mcgrath
                  opinionatedchef RE: mcgrath Feb 2, 2014 09:59 PM

                  count yourself lucky NOT to have a res at Clio. ugggh. I cannot tell you how disappointed i was after giving it 3 shots (and i too was sooo excited by the menu) but all i can say is that the food was a show and tell of unusual elements in flecks and dabs, but there was no greatness to back them up.

                  Asta would be my rec.; we're headed there this wk. From very sophisticated palates, I have read raves for l'Esp. Chef's Table but i have no experience there.

                  Have you looked at Deuxave?

                  Btw, the atmosphere is not what you want for the special dinner, but if you find yourself available for another dinner, or brunch (sat and sun) I think some of/the most innovative food in Boston is coming out of Ribelle in Brookline. No web presence yet ( but regularly packed w/ fans ) and menus that do not describe the amazing and complex nature of the food. Do a CH search for it to read accolades.

                  1. re: opinionatedchef
                    hotoynoodle RE: opinionatedchef Feb 3, 2014 05:40 AM

                    oc, you're always very vocal here about how much you hate clio, but i will just allow for the op that you're in a distinct minority.

                    1. re: hotoynoodle
                      Infomaniac RE: hotoynoodle Feb 3, 2014 06:15 AM

                      I agree....there are many more raves for Clio than this constant need to put Clio down by just one.

                      1. re: Infomaniac
                        opinionatedchef RE: Infomaniac Feb 3, 2014 09:15 PM

                        Just no accountin' for taste.

                        But really, i hate the thought of an L.A. food person having a bad meal on a special night, and in MY TOWN. I mean, we may not be L.A. or NYC, but we have some pretty darn talented chefs here.

                      2. re: hotoynoodle
                        MC Slim JB RE: hotoynoodle Feb 3, 2014 06:19 AM

                        I had a pretty lukewarm feeling about Clio for a few years -- good, but overpriced, was my attitude -- but it was rehabilitated by a very strong meal on my last visit. (But I dislike the dining room makeover -- Uni got all the benefit of that one.)

                        I'm just always impressed when people have two bad meals in a row at a very expensive restaurant and still go back for a third. I've done that, but never on my own dime.


                    2. re: mcgrath
                      Madrid RE: mcgrath Feb 9, 2014 09:02 AM

                      Oh, I understand about the wine. No reason to bring it if you can't enjoy it in the best atmosphere with the best food. Boston is still the land of the puritans. Glad you enjoyed Oleana, and good luck....let us know what you decide and how your family liked it. Congratulations to your son.

                  2. e
                    easybreezy RE: mcgrath Jan 31, 2014 03:47 PM

                    I *love* Casa B and recommend to pretty much everyone I know. In Union Square, Somerville. It's not necessarily "refined" in a typical way, but it feels special. Great cocktails and decent wines. Food tastes wonderful and rooms have a hip feel, but service is really, really great.

                    Edited to add: I was at T.W. Food recently and found it to be stuffy, actually. Food was nice, service was nice, but it felt like we were the youngest (read: most laid-back) people there... and we were celebrating my husband's 44th birthday!

                    1. hungrytommy RE: mcgrath Jan 31, 2014 05:13 PM

                      Stuffy is a hard thing to pin down. The line between quiet ambiance and stuffy is very thin. So at the risk of suggesting stuffy I will say No 9 Park, Menton, and Clio.

                      Craigie and Oleana are casual IMO. Hamersley's is just bad.

                      The only other place I could imagine is L'Espalier, but I haven't been a big fan lately and if anywhere is stuffy it's probably there.


                      11 Replies
                      1. re: hungrytommy
                        Capeannetoo RE: hungrytommy Jan 31, 2014 09:07 PM

                        Just curious re Hamersleys comment....why do you think just bad?

                        1. re: Capeannetoo
                          hungrytommy RE: Capeannetoo Feb 1, 2014 04:20 AM

                          I've been twice, which admittedly might not be enough to form such a strong opinion but it was awful both times. The worst part of it was the service. The first time I was there I asked how a fish was prepared the waiter told me grilled and it came out pan fried. The fish itself was also bad. Tons of salt and I over-salt everything so for me to complain I can't imagine how anyone but my grandmother could have enjoyed it.

                          Second trip was to try the chicken. It was a sloppy dish. The chicken was sitting in way to much sauce? broth? I don't know what the liquid on the plate was supposed to be but there was a ton of it and it was very greasy. The chicken on the other hand was dry, like bad Thanksgiving turkey dry. The vegetables it came with, and there were not many, were limp and flavorless. I also asked the waiter about "red oak salad" which sounded very strange to me as I don't often eat oak leaves. He had no idea and it was't till after I had ordered something else and was finishing my chicken that he came to tell me it was just the "company that made the lettuce."

                          I know a lot of people really like it there. I want to like it because I find the space charming and the location good. I just have had poor service and worse food. Over two trips and trying 7-8 dishes (eating a bite of other's as well as mine) I never had anything that made me say this was good I'd get this again.


                          1. re: hungrytommy
                            hotoynoodle RE: hungrytommy Feb 1, 2014 06:08 AM

                            wow. have eaten there countless times and have always had great food and service. my only quibble is the wine mark-ups, but that's a common issue in high-end dining here.

                            1. re: hotoynoodle
                              hungrytommy RE: hotoynoodle Feb 1, 2014 06:22 AM

                              It's ok. I'm also the only person on here that doesn't like Strip-T's so what do I know? I'm glad other people have enjoyed it.

                              1. re: hotoynoodle
                                C. Hamster RE: hotoynoodle Feb 1, 2014 07:02 AM

                                I've only had outstanding good and service at Hamersley's too.

                              2. re: hungrytommy
                                BostonZest RE: hungrytommy Feb 1, 2014 02:36 PM

                                I've been eating at Hamersley's for 20 years and I've never had an experience that even slightly resembles what you describe.

                                In my experience, excellence is in this restaurant's DNA.

                                Of course you have your opinion and have every right to like what you like and express your feelings about any place. I totally dislike a few restaurants that other people think are great.

                                I just wanted to agree with others who love Hamersley's and have a different view of it.


                                1. re: BostonZest
                                  hungrytommy RE: BostonZest Feb 1, 2014 03:54 PM

                                  I know a lot of people love it. I asked for help before my second visit ( http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/880617 ) and got a lot of good feedback, but it just wasn't good. As I said, two visits isn't really enough to fully know a place but I'm 0-2.


                                  1. re: BostonZest
                                    kewpie RE: BostonZest Feb 11, 2014 05:38 PM

                                    + add me to the Hamersleys fans. prob have had 40 dinners there(& a few brunches as well)

                              3. re: hungrytommy
                                treb RE: hungrytommy Feb 1, 2014 04:39 AM

                                yes to your first 3 recs. While BYOB is not allowed in Boston, I'd call the place and ask if they'll allow you in with a special bottle, and check for corkage fees. While you're in town get a good lobster roll, nothing like it in So CA.

                                1. re: treb
                                  hungrytommy RE: treb Feb 1, 2014 05:44 AM

                                  +1 lobster roll


                                  1. re: treb
                                    The Chowhound Team RE: treb Feb 10, 2014 08:56 AM

                                    Some great info on dining in Portland was split over to the Northern New England board at: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/963673

                                    Check it out.

                                2. Beachowolfe RE: mcgrath Jan 31, 2014 05:25 PM

                                  +1 for TW Food and Salts.

                                  Will also toss out L'Espalier, Bistro du Midi, Troquet, and Bergamot. Depending on your age, Hammersley's as well. Definitely the most "adult" atmosphere.

                                  I know other people don't think Troquet is quite as focused on food as the rest of the top tier but I've always had great meals there.

                                  5 Replies
                                  1. re: Beachowolfe
                                    hotoynoodle RE: Beachowolfe Feb 1, 2014 06:09 AM

                                    troquet suffers from the dining room -- so bare bones. but i have always had fantastic food and it has one of the best wine programs in the city.

                                    1. re: hotoynoodle
                                      hungrytommy RE: hotoynoodle Feb 1, 2014 06:23 AM

                                      Completely agree about the dining room. I would eat there much more if the space were more welcoming.


                                      1. re: hotoynoodle
                                        Beachowolfe RE: hotoynoodle Feb 1, 2014 01:51 PM

                                        Agreed on the dining room.

                                        My point in suggesting Troquet is usually that the food is soooo much better than people give them credit for. I would eat there over say, Clio, any day. They get a lot of love for the wine but to me, their food is every bit as good as BDM, Erbaluce, Salts, etc.

                                        1. re: Beachowolfe
                                          hotoynoodle RE: Beachowolfe Feb 1, 2014 02:31 PM

                                          troquet beats the pants off bdm.

                                        2. re: hotoynoodle
                                          cambridgedoctpr RE: hotoynoodle Feb 1, 2014 06:06 PM

                                          i would go further than that; it has the best wine program in the city though i am less enamoured of the food. It is very good but not that interesting.

                                      2. Beach Chick RE: mcgrath Feb 1, 2014 07:23 AM

                                        Hi McGrath!
                                        Too bad Locke-Ober is closed..that was a thing of beauty that you don't see in So. Cal.
                                        Friends loved Deuxave.

                                        Next day, brunch at the Langham is lovely with the chocolate bar and drinks at Bond or Clink.
                                        Neptune Oyster is a classic.

                                        3 Replies
                                        1. re: Beach Chick
                                          hotoynoodle RE: Beach Chick Feb 1, 2014 01:10 PM

                                          clink is in the liberty hotel, not the langham.

                                          1. re: Beach Chick
                                            mcgrath RE: Beach Chick Feb 2, 2014 09:38 AM

                                            Thanks Chica…you do get around!

                                            1. re: mcgrath
                                              Beach Chick RE: mcgrath Feb 2, 2014 10:15 AM

                                              Have a fab time in a great city!

                                          2. 5
                                            5thAndNowhere RE: mcgrath Feb 1, 2014 08:56 AM

                                            Craigie - arguably ultimate "celebratory" spot in the area, Cambridge entry
                                            Clio - arguably ultimate "celebratory" spot in the area, Boston entry ;)
                                            Puritan & Co - modern New England
                                            West Bridge - not quiet but fits your other bills
                                            Island Creek Oyster Bar - seafood, also not very quiet
                                            Oleana - creative Middle Eastern/Med - the things this woman does with spices!

                                            While good to excellent, I wouldn't put some of these in the high end/celebratory category - Casa B, Neptune. Neptune is fantastic but beyond loud, crowded, tightly packed, no reservations, etc.

                                            1. s
                                              shaebones RE: mcgrath Feb 1, 2014 11:41 PM


                                              1. m
                                                mcgrath RE: mcgrath Feb 2, 2014 09:42 AM

                                                Thanks to everyone for chiming in.

                                                I see that L'Espalier has a Chef's Table set up right in the kitchen, which looks like fun. Have any of you tried it or heard anything about it?

                                                3 Replies
                                                1. re: mcgrath
                                                  hungrytommy RE: mcgrath Feb 2, 2014 10:55 AM

                                                  It's been a couple of years but I had a great experience there. It was one of the best chef's tables I've ever been too. I haven't liked l'Espallier as much the last couple of trips but I would still recommend it. It would be their food without their stuffiness so that sounds like it is just what you are looking for.


                                                  1. re: mcgrath
                                                    wandergirl RE: mcgrath Feb 3, 2014 03:15 AM

                                                    This out-of-town visitor enjoyed the Chef's Table and wrote a detailed review of the experience (but note that the review is from 2011):


                                                    1. re: wandergirl
                                                      Beachowolfe RE: wandergirl Feb 5, 2014 07:57 PM

                                                      uhockey's detailed posts here and on the blog are generally very good

                                                  2. SLL1065 RE: mcgrath Feb 9, 2014 09:21 AM

                                                    Ruth's Chris Steakhouse

                                                    3 Replies
                                                    1. re: SLL1065
                                                      hotoynoodle RE: SLL1065 Feb 9, 2014 09:58 AM

                                                      it is a beautiful renovation, but a national steakhouse chain hardly qualifies as "inventive cuisine", per the op's request.

                                                      1. re: SLL1065
                                                        cambridgedoctpr RE: SLL1065 Feb 9, 2014 10:29 AM

                                                        i am sure that he can go to a good steak house in LA including Ruth's Chris.

                                                        1. re: SLL1065
                                                          MC Slim JB RE: SLL1065 Feb 9, 2014 02:40 PM

                                                          I crossed luxury steakhouses off the list the moment the OP's request said "inventive".


                                                        2. m
                                                          mcgrath RE: mcgrath Feb 13, 2014 06:12 AM

                                                          OP here, and thanks to all for the panoply of thoughtful posts. We are currently in Portland, anticipating the coming snowstorm, and hoping the drive back down to Boston tomorrow(Friday)won't be too challenging for a rookie. We do at least have a 4 wheel drive.

                                                          For the Big Night Out in Boston we've decided on L'Espalier. Wanted the Chef's Table at first, but further research showed it to be a tad cramped for 4, two of whom are big guys, so opted for regular dining room. Will certainly report back. I was able to get an agreement from the Somme to allow my special wine, but after reviewing their wine list, decided not to risk transporting it in checked luggage--their selections are excellent and very fairly priced.

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: mcgrath
                                                            smtucker RE: mcgrath Feb 13, 2014 06:41 AM

                                                            Safe travels! Roads should be fairly clear by tomorrow. Enjoy your dinner.

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