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Four days in Boston

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dndicicco May 12, 2014 06:24 PM

I'll be in Boston for four and am mapping out my culinary experiences. I'm a foodie and run the gamut from ultra ethnic Ethiopian, Green Smoothies, and Natto-touting Japanese to fancy degustation-menu French and no-frills Seafood.

In the past, I have done L'Espalier and Menton and enjoyed them both VERY much. Boston has great French food. My favorite food is Japanese. I tried O Ya, which I loved even thought I'm a traditionalist at heart, and I've tried Oishii which I found ridiculous (glowing sashimi plates?) and not really Japanese at all (wasn't expecting that at O Ya).

Anyway, here's what's on my itinerary, and I have a lot of holes. Let me know what you'd recommend to fill them in:

Monday evening -- Ostra. This was last minute, since I had just arrived. I loved it. I'll leave a little review below. I really like how they display the fish, and I found the atmosphere lively.

Tuesday lunch -- Life Alive Cambridge -- thinking about trying a Vegan place prior to a bigger meal.

Tuesday dinner -- O Ya omakase -- can't resist a second time, but is it still as good? It's been a couple years, but I remember people claiming it was Boston's best foodie destination

Wednesday lunch -- Toraya -- this is the only semi-Japanese restaurant I could find on Yelp. Is it legit? (Legit to me is Japanese chef and more focus on traditional items over crazy rolls)

Wednesday dinner -- Sarma -- figured I throw in Mediterranean. I couldn't get a reservation at Oleana. Is Sarma as good? I do like upscale for dinner when I can.

Thursday lunch -- West Bridge -- will be in area, looked good and business-y which I need.

Thursday dinner -- very open to suggestions here. Was considering Nepture Oyster bar just to say I did it, and I do love shellfish, however, I'm worried it's a tourist trap and I don't like the idea of waiting although I'll be flying solo or with only one other person

Friday lunch -- Jugos -- was considering doing the green smoothie route on my way out as a weak attempt at feeling okay about overeating all week.

Other restaurants floating on my radar screen are Atlantic Seafood and Toro restaurant.

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  1. l
    LilBrownBat RE: dndicicco May 12, 2014 06:39 PM

    I dunno about Neptune, but have you considered Island Creek Oyster Bar?

    3 Replies
    1. re: LilBrownBat
      d
      dndicicco RE: LilBrownBat May 12, 2014 06:53 PM

      No, it wasn't on my radar screen, but thank you for the mention. It looks like a much more sophisticated choice than Neptune!

      1. re: dndicicco
        hungrytommy RE: dndicicco May 12, 2014 07:39 PM

        Agree with LilBrownBat that Island Creek is much better than Neptune. I like Eastern Standard too. It's next door to ICOB and not as heavy on the seafood, but feels more Boston to me.

        www.hungrytommy.com

        1. re: hungrytommy
          q
          qianning RE: hungrytommy May 14, 2014 08:16 AM

          You might also check out "Row 34".

    2. d
      dndicicco RE: dndicicco May 12, 2014 06:41 PM

      First review: Ostra.

      I really liked how they mixed old-school charm (fish on display) with new-school ambiance and creativity. This was definitely more on the new side to be fair.

      Service was pleasant, if on the slow side considering how busy this place got by 8 pm. Water and wine was always filled, but my waiter was not around a ton.

      The seafood was standout to me and was a perfect blend of focusing on the freshness of the fish while adding an element of creativity to the dishes. I wanted to try a lot, so this is what I did:

      1) Half dozen oysters (mixed) -- first off, the oysters were plump, juicy, and oh so perfectly fresh, as one would expect. The house-made cocktail sauce with fresh horseradish, mignonette (best ever award?), and of course tabasco sauce and lemon brought this to another level.

      I complemented all my dishes with a Riesling that went very well. The white wine list is one of my favorites ever.

      2) Grilled octopus -- Extremely fresh, perfectly cooked octopus that is not overly covered in oil or cooked too long so is no longer tender. Loved the hint of spice and onions here, too

      3) Seafood bouillabaisse -- This was a special, and a rare misstep in my meal. I thought the sauce was too heavy, being cream based, and while the seafood, especially the clams and prawns were tasty, the side of garlic bread and cream sauce was way too much for an appetizer. Too heavy for this rarefied air

      4) Whole sea bream -- deboned and head removed, but cooked perfectly with a crispy exterior and succulent white fleshy interior. It is served with a generous portion of root vegetable sides and I added some sautéed greens, which were very sophisticated up to the bitter side considering they wove in some mustard-type greens, which was surprising

      1. c
        coriolis RE: dndicicco May 12, 2014 07:21 PM

        Nice list! Wish I were your traveling companion. Toraya is legit--no frills, straight forward sushi and Japanese food (donburi, yakimono, etc). Very different from O Ya! It's a very tiny spot, but it'll likely be OK for a weekday lunch.

        You might also look into Shiki in Brookline (Coolidge Corner). Also legit Japanese food. Their "kaiseki" lunch sets are so pretty: tiny bits of different things laid out on a lacquered tray. Only for lunch though. Their dinner menu is more izakaya-style: lots of little bites, like tapas. They have sushi but they aren't exactly sushi specialists, though.

        Ittoku further west in Brookline more distinctly advertises itself as an izakaya, but I haven't been yet.

        Cafe Sushi on the outskirts of Harvard Square has more obscure fish with a highly seasonal menu. You can get traditional nigiri/sashimi (plus their sushi rice is made well and their dashi stock doesn't taste like it came from a powdered mix), but I think they really shine in their special Chef Signature creations with different paired condiments and sauces (no, not eel sauce and mayo on everything!). Since I've never been to O ya, I'm not sure how it would compare.

        I've heard good things about Ebi Sushi in Somerville, but I haven't tried it yet. (Their menu looks awfully authentic. They have a raw grated yam+natto set!)

        Definitely not a destination sort of place, but one or two booths in the Porter Square mall have Yoshoku-type dishes like curry and tonkatsu sets along with udon, noodles, etc if you're into having everyday sort of Japanese food.

        P.S. I also like Island Creek Oyster Bar.

        3 Replies
        1. re: coriolis
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          dndicicco RE: coriolis May 13, 2014 06:14 AM

          Wow thank you so much. You know exactly what I want! Ebi sushi's menu looks promising with those set menus, such as grilled sanma. I might sneak them in for a lunch too and report back. They seem to be Korean / Japanese judging by the characters on their menu.

          1. re: dndicicco
            Small Plates RE: dndicicco May 13, 2014 12:22 PM

            The Chef Owner is Mexican - believe it or not - but is very accomplished.

          2. re: coriolis
            j
            jajjguy RE: coriolis May 14, 2014 08:08 AM

            Cafe Sushi is really quite excellent, much better than we'd have any right to expect. Do omakase for dinner.

          3. l
            lekkereten RE: dndicicco May 12, 2014 07:26 PM

            Toraya is very legit -Japanese chef, I believe he is the owner as well. Outstanding sushi and sashimi, some of the best I have had outside of Japan. He does a wonderful sashimi bento box - makes for a very satisfying lunch at a ridiculously reasonable price. Try to get there early, it's a small place and there can be a wait for lunch (and dinner). The majority of diners at Toraya are Japanese.

            1. hungrytommy RE: dndicicco May 12, 2014 07:42 PM

              West Bridge is good, but I'm not quite sure what you mean by business-y. I don't think you will find too many people with suits on in there. The atmosphere is pretty relaxed just so you are aware.

              www.hungrytommy.com

              1 Reply
              1. re: hungrytommy
                m
                mkfisher RE: hungrytommy May 13, 2014 06:55 AM

                Suits are banned in Kendall Square.

                This thread has some details on lunch options in the Kendall area. That said, I see no reason to change from West Bridge. I quite like it there.

                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/975317

              2. m
                Madrid RE: dndicicco May 13, 2014 06:43 AM

                I love both Sarma and Oleana; they are different a bit but both great, in my opinion. Are you driving? Sarma's harder to get to with public transportation.

                I also love Neptune Oyster, and I don't consider it a tourist trap. Lots and lots of locals go there, and some on this board don't love it. If you haven't been to the North End, the wait can be fun as you walk around the neighborhood (and can be fun even if you've been to the North End often). I haven't had the chance to go to ICOB, which is very popular. If the menu appeals and you can get a reservation, you'll know when you are going to eat.

                2 Replies
                1. re: Madrid
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                  catsmeow RE: Madrid May 13, 2014 11:30 AM

                  The lobster rolls at Neptune are good but some of their employees definitely need an attitude adjustment. Some of them act like they're doing you a favor by waiting on you. I avoid the place. There are places at least as good with a more pleasant attitude from the personnel.

                  1. re: catsmeow
                    m
                    Madrid RE: catsmeow May 13, 2014 01:55 PM

                    I've heard this so often, and I believe it. But it's never happened to me (I can't afford to go very often). And I always go early or late lunch. I've seen several times servers offering us or others the rest of the wine bottle once the pour is done, just for fun,and also chatting very amicably with both locals and tourists (also, I always sit at the bar, not wanting to share a four top with strangers).

                    I find the food quite sophisticated, with lots of nuances, beyond the lobster rolls. Yes, it is expensive, but so is seafood. There are also lots of places around Boston where the servers seem to act as if they are doing you a favor. I just haven't seen it at Neptune. Even calling back to ask what's the deal when the time was up for waiting, we got very courteous and prompt response.

                    Again, not around dinner time, and anyone who needs to know when they are going to eat needs to go elsewhere!

                2. d
                  dndicicco RE: dndicicco May 13, 2014 10:30 AM

                  Life Alive -- very cool ambiance, laid back yet sophisticated. There are two floors to this Cambridge location, so decent amount of seating despite the restaurant being perennially packed. There was a line out to the door when I arrived around 1 pm, but it does move fairly quickly and the food comes out within 5-10 minutes.

                  I had the full portion of the Green Goddess, which they list as their signature dish. I thought it was very good but overly garlicy. I also had the Harvest smoothie, which seemed to be the only smoothie that was green. I get the sense they're more focused on juicing than smoothies, as they're missing certain smoothie elements that I, as a Vitamix adherent, are more aware (e.g., need something such as bananas or pears to add creaminess).

                  Overall, it was a light lunch which was healthful feeling and higher on the taste quotient than one would usually expect at a veg restaurant.

                  8 Replies
                  1. re: dndicicco
                    Small Plates RE: dndicicco May 13, 2014 12:25 PM

                    You have a nice itinerary. I eat fairly regularly at Sarma, and it is very, very good. However, I would not call it "high-end" per se. It is what I would call a neighborhood spot with a somewhat larger dining room. The music can be loud and conversation can be challenging. I prefer to sit at the bar, where you can hear each other better than you can in the vast dining room. The chicken gets lots of raves, but I love the vegetable preps!

                    1. re: Small Plates
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                      LeoLioness RE: Small Plates May 13, 2014 02:00 PM

                      I've only eaten at the bar at Sarma (though several times, always on a weekend) and always find it to be one of the more conversation-friendly places around, from a noise perspective. Is the dining room so different?

                      1. re: LeoLioness
                        Small Plates RE: LeoLioness May 13, 2014 02:02 PM

                        I think the dining room is really loud. I have only eaten in the dining room once (compared to about 20 times at the bar). I think there is a difference. I love the bar. It is pleasant.

                        1. re: Small Plates
                          j
                          jajjguy RE: Small Plates May 14, 2014 08:10 AM

                          I would call it medium loud. Louder than Bergamot, quieter than Gaslight.

                          1. re: jajjguy
                            Small Plates RE: jajjguy May 15, 2014 08:51 AM

                            Well played - I agree.

                            1. re: Small Plates
                              d
                              dndicicco RE: Small Plates May 15, 2014 12:30 PM

                              Very helpful. I think I'm going to try ICOB for something different. While I loved Oleana, I suffered a little from all the garlic later in the evening!!

                              1. re: dndicicco
                                pikawicca RE: dndicicco May 15, 2014 03:36 PM

                                You won't go wrong with ICOB.

                        2. re: LeoLioness
                          m
                          Madrid RE: LeoLioness May 13, 2014 02:06 PM

                          only tried it three times, but no, but also we were also early. I'm really sensitive to noise and it never bothered me. I love the decor and the lights.

                          I'm not sure what "high end" means since I will never go to Osta or Menton or O Ya, but the food is unusual and fantastic, to my tastes. Then, I love Oleana, too. So, the food for me is "high end" but it's far from high end service, I guess (I haven't been to France since 1984 and that sure set a standard). That's part of the reason I like it so much.

                    2. pikawicca RE: dndicicco May 13, 2014 12:50 PM

                      Oleana, Oleana, Oleana!!! Incredible food.

                      32 Replies
                      1. re: pikawicca
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                        UnclePH RE: pikawicca May 13, 2014 02:04 PM

                        Ditto! I vote for Oleana.

                        1. re: pikawicca
                          rlh RE: pikawicca May 13, 2014 04:00 PM

                          My understanding is that when the Oleana patio is open, those tables are unreserved and first-come, first serve, as is the seating in the (smallish) bar area - you might have to wait, but it is worth it. If it's packed, try waiting at Lord Hobo a block away over some interesting beer or solid cocktails.

                          Toraya is a real, small, simple Japanese spot that I love, but I don't consider it a destination, and there is usually a wait of no more than up to 30 minutes at peak dinner times. (just don't try to order takeout sushi...)

                          Neptune is awesome for both raw bar and the main menu - and totally different from Island Creek - if you can go and get in, perhaps off peak, it will be memorable - I do not consider it touristy AT ALL, just tiny and hyper popular.

                          1. re: rlh
                            opinionatedchef RE: rlh May 13, 2014 04:59 PM

                            i am completely on rlh's bus here. Oleana and Neptune and Island Creek (for TWO amazing things- honey glazed biscuit and Lobster Roe pasta with lobster, chanterelles, oxtail and madeira glaze. I absolutely cannot eat there w/o ordering those 2 things.

                            Oleana Oleana Oleana. I cannot stress it enough. They serve food you will never see anywhere else. If the crispy duck is on the menu, the broth alone is worth a plane trip. Show up early and you WILL get a seat, i'm sure. Sarma is also a fascinating menu.

                            If you are a big Ankimo fan, on Wed night, East by Northeast (Inman Sq., near Kendall Sq.)does a ramen that is ethereal for me: hand made noodles, pork +fish fumet broth, smoked pork, pickled daikon, nori, egg, ankimo butter. Owner/chef Philip Tang does alot of very innovative things- take a look at his menu.

                            http://exnecambridge.com/
                            -----------------------------------------------------
                            Guide to Boston by Areas and Restaurants:

                            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/781155

                            ---------------------------------------------------------------

                            Dinner Spots that I would highly recommend :
                            If Creative, unique one-of-a-kind food experiences are a priority for you, I would hop to Oleana and Ribelle in a heartbeat. And Asta and OYa for much higher tickets.


                            Oleana- predominantly Turkish, w/ a lot of creative riffs. One of the 3 or 4 Boston restnts where you will have truly unique food that you will not have elsewhere. Spices and grains. beans and greens, a world to discover and savor. Many feel the mezze are the strong point, but entrees can be unforgetable as well. As the menu is always changing, the only way to do it right-- is to go back often. If I were a visiting foodie who had 'been there, eaten that', I would happily alot 2 nights to Oleana during my Boston stay Blazing winter hearth , and charming patio in season. Cambridge

                            Ribelle- new outpost for Strip T's owner/chef. A very broad menu of small and large plates w/ two or three times more components than you would likely see on other menus. The preps of these dishes are more complex than anything I have seen. With dishes this inventive and full of surprises, the food is the focus for the night, and the starches, veggies and condiments are as exciting as the meats and seafood. *The menu descriptions are almost NEVER good, because so much more is going on than can be explained in a small space. Brookline

                            -----------------------------------------------

                            Erbaluce- unusual inventive No.Italian Piedmontese. South End

                            Sycamore- 30 min car or train ride West to affluent Newton Centre and this welcoming veteran- run spot with many unique twists on Mediterranean ideas.(see the Daily Duck, Lamb or Pork board- with four mini entree ,starch and veg.medleys !
                            )
                            OYa- v.v.expensive Japanese American inventive. South Station

                            Neptune Oyster- crowded tiny, always a line, top quality raw bar; inventive seafood along w/ trad.Leave your name and stroll the fascinating North End. (no resvtns-NR)

                            Island Creek Oyster Bar- the BEST service, large room yet intimate, more trad but some inventive.
                            I cannot eat there w/o ordering honey glazed biscuit and Lobster Roe pasta with lobster, chanterelles, oxtail and madeira glaze. Kenmore Sq.

                            Craigie on Main- famous for offal but also seafood. Cambridge

                            Toro- possibly the loudest room in Boston, full-out Tapas (the inventive often more successful than the trad) yet their Paella is unbeatably unctuous. South End .NR

                            Aquitaine- THE spot in the So. End when you're exhausted and you want to be taken care of. Classic French Bistro food beautifully done in a beautiful room, w/ gracious top notch service. South End.
                            ---------------------------
                            Strip T's (in a 'suburb', 10 min cab from Harvard Square) Casual small treasure for serious foodies; Momofuku chef but also exc.fried chicken and unusual terrific burger. Watertown.

                            1. re: opinionatedchef
                              p
                              phatchris RE: opinionatedchef May 13, 2014 05:34 PM

                              Last time I had the lobster roe noodles at ICOB it was with short rib, did they change to oxtail recently?

                              1. re: phatchris
                                opinionatedchef RE: phatchris May 13, 2014 06:25 PM

                                right you are-shortrib.

                              2. re: opinionatedchef
                                d
                                dndicicco RE: opinionatedchef May 14, 2014 07:43 AM

                                Wow, this is outstanding information.

                                I'm having trouble getting a reservation on Opentable for Oleana or ICOB. Do you think it's possible to get a seat at one of these places for solo dining if I call later?

                                Is Oleana the choice above Sarma? I notice I can get a table at Sarma without issue.

                                Finally, I'm thinking about a degustation menu at L'Espalier, maybe pescetarian or vegetable to switch it up and so I don't feel as heavy. ;). It's been a year since I've been, should this be on the itinerary or not necessarily as foodie-cool as those other spots?

                                I really want to try the Triton platter at Neptune, would that be weird for a party of one!!

                                1. re: dndicicco
                                  h
                                  huuvola RE: dndicicco May 14, 2014 07:57 AM

                                  Oleana is definitely the choice above Sarma. They usually have seats at the bar and, as others have said, if the patio is open, the unreserved seating opens up quite a bit more. Stop in before 6:30 on a weeknight and you've got a good chance of getting seated without a reservation.

                                  1. re: huuvola
                                    j
                                    jajjguy RE: huuvola May 14, 2014 08:12 AM

                                    Both are good, with a real style difference between the two. I prefer Sarma. The preference split seems pretty even.

                                  2. re: dndicicco
                                    rlh RE: dndicicco May 14, 2014 07:58 AM

                                    ICOB has a huge bar, including a raw bar section (excellent place to sit for me!), with a separate waiting list maintained behind the bar vs. the walkin dining list at the front desk. The place is so large that you will definitely get seated as a solo diner, but potentially with a wait. You can wait in The Hawthorne next door and they will call your cell phone. It is one of the most elegant bars anywhere, with top notch mixology and hospitality to boot.

                                    Sarma and Oleana are the same owner and type of food, but Oleana is a much higher level of execution and service IMHO (but I love Sarma for a more casual night out) - the menus are distinct and different with a bit of overlap. Oleana prices are not nearly as high as the level of dining experience from there - great value.

                                    Alone at Neptune, I would craft a huge a la carte order of varied oysters vs. the platter (you can get non-local shrimp and crab claws in lots of places - the oysters are what really shine there) and if still hungry order a special (great crudos!) or menu item (warm lobster roll is a must for many, the burger is really outstanding, and I like pretty much everything I have had there - ever - and it's been a lot of times.) The Crab Louis salad is awesome if you're in that kind of mood. Ask about wines by the glass that may not be listed - I had a Christian Moreau Chablis ($16 glass - heavy pour) this way once that I still remember as the epitome of oyster pairing wine.

                                    Friends I trust recently went with the (lunch)tasting menu at L'Esaplier and they are still raving about it's greatness (at a price, of course).

                                    1. re: rlh
                                      d
                                      dndicicco RE: rlh May 14, 2014 08:11 AM

                                      That does it, I'm going to try to sneak into Oleana and ICOB my last two nights, and maybe try L'Espalier for lunch.

                                      1. re: dndicicco
                                        pikawicca RE: dndicicco May 14, 2014 11:22 AM

                                        Wow. Three home runs. Enjoy!

                                    2. re: dndicicco
                                      pikawicca RE: dndicicco May 14, 2014 08:05 AM

                                      Had a wonderful lunch at L'Espalier in February, ending with a splendid cheese course.

                                      1. re: dndicicco
                                        m
                                        Madrid RE: dndicicco May 14, 2014 08:23 AM

                                        If no availability is showing on open table, call the restaurant now. My last two dinners at Oleana, OT showed nothing and I had no trouble getting a reservation over the phone for the same night.

                                        1. re: dndicicco
                                          opinionatedchef RE: dndicicco May 14, 2014 01:49 PM

                                          I have eaten frequently and recently at both Oleana and Sarma, and I agree w/ rlh on their excellent description of the 2 places, w/ Oleana being THE place. all of rlh's advice, below, has me nodding vigorously.

                                          I can't remember if anybody else mentioned this, but re: Open Table: restaurants keep some tables aside, so if open table doesn't show the time you want, CALL the restnt and ask. Never hurts to ask is def my m.o.!
                                          Boy are you going to have a great time!

                                          1. re: opinionatedchef
                                            d
                                            dndicicco RE: opinionatedchef May 14, 2014 05:16 PM

                                            Just had a FANTASTIC dinner at Oleana. Thank you all so much for the prodding. I got a table near the front, and the hostess happened to be the same one from O Ya the prior night (haha), so she gave me the inside scoop on some dishes and definitely made me feel comfortable.

                                            I ordered a bevy of mezzes and was in love from first bite.

                                            1) Avocado and Dukkah -- lovely, creamy, sophisticated. Nice way to start

                                            2) Chickpea Terrine -- this may have been the highlight for me, since I have a soft spot for sweets and matching the chickpeas apricots and pistachos was pure bliss

                                            3) Fatoush + Spinach Falafel -- everyone was recommending the falafel and combined with the fatoush which was very sophisticated I was in foodie paradise. This could have been a stop to the meal but since I wanted to try more (and skip dessert), I had...

                                            4) Octopus Shish + Greens w/ Toum side -- very good flavors, I loved the tomatoes and fava beans. The octopus was cooked well, but didn't match O Ya's masterpiece last night!

                                            I opted to skip dessert, since I was feeling quite full.

                                            One ding to Oleana was that the service, while pleasant, was a major step down from L'Espalier, which I enjoyed for lunch. There were long gaps in service, my server seemed rushed (I noticed he asked the table next to me to "wait a minute" before placing their order), and my utensils were never refreshed. That said, the price point is very reasonable and the vibe is fun but loud. There was a loud guy telling a story, through which everyone in the dining room had to suffer. It was unbearable for his table-mates, I'm sure, and all the more worse for us strangers!

                                            1. re: dndicicco
                                              b
                                              bear RE: dndicicco May 14, 2014 05:19 PM

                                              Oleana is a real gem. Thanks so much for your detailed reports so that we may briefly dine vicariously! Very fun.

                                              1. re: bear
                                                d
                                                dndicicco RE: bear May 14, 2014 05:48 PM

                                                I liked it so much I'm very tempted to try Sarma as my last in Boston for this trip.

                                                (Debate is between Sarma, Island Creek Oyster Bar, or something else such as Meritage, Hammersley's Bistro, etc.)

                                                1. re: dndicicco
                                                  opinionatedchef RE: dndicicco May 15, 2014 12:42 PM

                                                  wellll, when faced with a decision like that, i ask myself what i'm likely to order at @ place and that helps me decide where to go. So for me, in this case, it would be between ICOB's Lobster pasta etc and honey glazed biscuit, and oysters // v.s. Sarma's turkish style meats,legumes,veggies (and the best fried chicken i've ever had), all small plates. And room-wise, ICOB is really a lesson in hospitality and the room is so visually impressive; while Sarma's 'decor' is completely unmemorable(imo of course.)and i hate the lighting there.

                                                  p.s. if you choose ICOB, i think you would really enjoy asking the owner, Garrett, to sit w/ you a few minutes. He is really something, always there, and sincerely pleased to hear your comments.

                                                  1. re: opinionatedchef
                                                    d
                                                    dndicicco RE: opinionatedchef May 15, 2014 02:44 PM

                                                    thank you very much for the recommendation! i love chatting it up w/ chef owners. i have a friend who has had some success in philly's byob scene, and i find the whole industry fascinating.

                                                    boston's really a great food town, besides the obvious lobster rolls, i've loved L'Espalier, O Ya, Oleana, Ostra, Life Alive, and West Bridge. I also did a coffee joint near West Bridge Voltage was outstanding!

                                                    i'm going to do a completely haphazard ranking after tonight's dinner based on food then one on total experience.

                                                    1. re: dndicicco
                                                      m
                                                      mvi RE: dndicicco May 15, 2014 02:48 PM

                                                      I am just loving following this adventure of yours! Thanks for the updates and commentary. This is great.

                                                    2. re: opinionatedchef
                                                      hungrytommy RE: opinionatedchef May 15, 2014 03:25 PM

                                                      Just a different voice, but I recently had some of the most awful service at ICOB. After our server took our order, he disappeared. Our food was brought by other folks just fine and they were polite and friendly, but I never was able to order a second drink, I was never asked if the food was ok, I was never asked if I would like anything else. When I flagged down someone and asked for the check after sitting at a table where the dishes and been cleared for fifteen minutes, I waited another ten and then got up and asked for a manager. To ICOB's credit she was wonderful and made me feel much better about the ordeal. But I have a tough time swallowing "lesson in hospitality" after my last visit.

                                                      www.hungrytommy.com

                                                      1. re: hungrytommy
                                                        opinionatedchef RE: hungrytommy May 15, 2014 03:35 PM

                                                        funny, that sounds like exactly what happened to us on our 1st visit. really. but since then, service has earned its wonderful reputation there.

                                                        1. re: opinionatedchef
                                                          hungrytommy RE: opinionatedchef May 15, 2014 03:53 PM

                                                          I know every restaurant has a slip up now and then. I think what is important is the ability to respond well to concern and they certainly did that. Because of how they handled things, I will be back soon.

                                                          www.hungrytommy.com

                                                          1. re: hungrytommy
                                                            d
                                                            dndicicco RE: hungrytommy May 15, 2014 06:18 PM

                                                            Well, I returned back from ICOB and it may have been one of the best experiences of the trip. Sometimes you have to go where the locals go!

                                                            First off, you all are right, the ambiance here is great, if a little warm with all the bodies!

                                                            Here's a quick rundown of what I had:

                                                            1) Shellfish platter -- The oysters were out of this world. I had 8 oysters (best I've ever had, period), 2 shrimp (bland), 2 littleneck clams (good but not as good as the oysters), and the tilefish ceviche (tasteless). The island creek oysters were my favorite, nice and bright, buttery but not overly so, such that they did not sit in the mouth too long. The house-made cocktail sauce and especially the vinegar and shallots were just divine. Not necessarily as sophisticated as Ostra but more fun

                                                            2) Mixed greens salad -- cool thing here was a) the greens were from Equinox farms, and after I inquired, they were indeed from my favorite vacation spot, the Equinox in Manchester VT, and b) really cool adds such as the pistachios and fresh radish

                                                            3) Halibut and cremini mushrooms (no butter) -- Wow, this is the dish that pushed everything up a level. ICOB is real-deal foodie nirvana, with the haddock cooked so perfectly. Crisp on the outside, flakey white yet juicy interior. Loved it. It was served with fava beans (the IT bean), a little potato puree, and the cremini mushrooms were cooked to my anal-retentive specifications

                                                            4) 4 more island-creek oysters -- I couldn't get enough! This was my dessert

                                                            I had a nice Leitz Riesling with the meal, which was akin to a little peachy goodness throughout the meal.

                                                            ICOB really hit a home-run with the food. I was a little confused by comments such as ICOB setting the service standard for Boston, because I did not find it held a candle to L'Espalier, O Ya, or on my last trip, Menton. Service was adequate, but there were gaps, they delayed on clearing my shellfish platter, so I could not decently start my salad as it sat next to me, and I must have waited ten minutes to even start my order. Maybe it was an overly busy night?

                                                            Definitely a blast. I have time for a short lunch tomorrow near Copley place. I was thinking Atlantic Fish company. Would this be a horrible, tourist-trap letdown from the hallowed restaurants I've frequented above?

                                                            1. re: dndicicco
                                                              opinionatedchef RE: dndicicco May 15, 2014 08:52 PM

                                                              Some people like it, but it makes me sad to think of you eating there when you've eaten at all these excellent places. I would prob go to JMCurley's, which is endlessly CH raved for their burger and comfort food.
                                                              For cheeses and charcuterie, The Salty Pig has its fans too.

                                                              http://jmcurleyboston.com/menu/lunch/

                                                              http://www.thesaltypig.com/img/lunch_...

                                                              1. re: opinionatedchef
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                                                                teezeetoo RE: opinionatedchef May 16, 2014 05:31 AM

                                                                JM Curley's is rather a long walk from Copley place for a short lunch. Salty Pig is close and lends itself to a relatively quick lunch and it has outside tables. If the day is nice, Parish Café will have its outside tables and is very local as is Upstairs at the Rattlesnake across the street. Nothing wrong with Atlantic for fried clams or fish: it's a part of a giant restaurant group but it does what it does well.

                                                                1. re: opinionatedchef
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                                                                  dndicicco RE: opinionatedchef May 16, 2014 07:48 AM

                                                                  That's my feeling. Gut is telling me end on a high note (ICOB), so that I do not diminish the experience. I might grab a smoothie at Jugo's before heading to the airport. I feel I need to lighten up!

                                                                2. re: dndicicco
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                                                                  9lives RE: dndicicco May 16, 2014 08:02 AM

                                                                  I'd skip Atlantic Fish. You're setting up for a disappointment after ICOB.

                                                                  Love JM Curleys or Coppa in the South End would be far more interesting. I haven't read this whole thread so apology if you've already hit Coppa.

                                                                  1. re: dndicicco
                                                                    opinionatedchef RE: dndicicco May 16, 2014 10:43 PM

                                                                    dn, since you enjoy oysters so much, and ICOB>> i am in the middle of a pretty fast and enjoyable book called Shucked, about a young woman writer who spent a year oyster farming at ICOB. I am really enjoying it and it is fascinating. And no one who reads it will ever take oysters for granted again!

                                                              2. re: hungrytommy
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                                                                Gordough RE: hungrytommy May 16, 2014 07:04 AM

                                                                I once had an identical serving issue at ICOB. A "team" of waiters and none of them were ever around and we had no idea who to try and flag down when were ignored for 20 minutes. But I have eaten there probably 7 or 8 times and had average to good service every other time.

                                                        2. re: dndicicco
                                                          pikawicca RE: dndicicco May 14, 2014 05:38 PM

                                                          So glad you enjoyed the food. Service is not meant to equal L'Espalier.

                                                          1. re: dndicicco
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                                                            Madrid RE: dndicicco May 14, 2014 05:57 PM

                                                            so glad you liked it! It was so cold tonight, too cold for the beautiful outside patio. I've never had anything less than excellent mezze there, and I've been following Ana Sortun for decades now, from restaurant to restaurant.

                                                            Locals sometime complain about the price point, but given the intense prep involved, I've always found it reasonable. If you come back, the view from the back room behind the bar is wonderful for the garden lit with the fairy lights, even if it's too cold to eat outside.

                                                            Wonderful that you are enjoying Boston! Keep us posted.

                                                2. r
                                                  RoyRon RE: dndicicco May 13, 2014 04:41 PM

                                                  I also love Japanese food and like you I'm a traditionalist too. Your definition of what makes a good Japanese restaurant matches mine. No "designer rolls" , cream cheese or anything fried and put in a maki. Although I like Toraya if you have a car and are willing to take a drive to Marblehead, MA you can visit Junji's Japanese Cuisine. Junji, the itamae-san, has been making traditional Japanese sushi for many years and the qualkity of the fish and the rice are always excellent. Until late last year Junji-san ran Sushi Island but he closed it an recently opened his new restaurant in Marblehead. Based on what you said in your post I'm sure you would enjoy it

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: RoyRon
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                                                    dndicicco RE: RoyRon May 14, 2014 07:40 AM

                                                    I'm worried about Toraya, since I called and asked for omakase and they said "no" and that they do not take reservations, etc. Considering traffic, it seems to be about a 40-minute hike from downtown where I'm staying (for dinner), so not entirely sure it's worth it. Hmmmm. Great call on Junji's, it looks great.

                                                  2. d
                                                    dndicicco RE: dndicicco May 14, 2014 07:39 AM

                                                    This is great feedback all!

                                                    I did O Ya last night and had the Grand Omakase, pescetarian version. It was OUTSTANDING. I loved it so much more than their regular omakase, and I am glad I eschewed meat (I do eat meat occasionally) since the foie gras and waygu beef replacements were outstanding: house-smoked acrtic char, hamachi kama (super traditional, but done oh so well), and squid ink pasta with grilled tako. I thought some of the sashimi dishes were particularly good (e.g., sea bream and o-toro), and wish there were more of these since their sushi rice is just okay. The uni with caviar was stellar however. In fact, I thought their use of caviar was the highlight of the meal.

                                                    Service is very good and attentive, although the room is dark and loud in a slightly off-putting way.

                                                    3 Replies
                                                    1. re: dndicicco
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                                                      Gordough RE: dndicicco May 14, 2014 12:22 PM

                                                      May I ask the cost of the O Ya Grand Omakase? $200ish a person? Been thinking about splurging for an upcoming birthday but I wanted to see if I need to take out a second mortgage or sell my first born.

                                                      1. re: Gordough
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                                                        huuvola RE: Gordough May 14, 2014 12:25 PM

                                                        It's $285, but I'm sure it was awesome.

                                                        Although this reviewer might disagree...
                                                        http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-01...

                                                        1. re: huuvola
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                                                          dndicicco RE: huuvola May 14, 2014 01:28 PM

                                                          That's correct ($285 pp), it's definitely awesome. They make conspicuous use of caviar, foie gras, truffles, and even gold leaf. It reminds me of a mix between Volver in Philadelphia and Masa in NYC if that's any help. I left feeling full but not bloated.

                                                          It was quite crowded on a Tuesday night.

                                                    2. d
                                                      dndicicco RE: dndicicco May 14, 2014 01:36 PM

                                                      I did the chef's tasting degustation (pescetarian) at L'Espalier. My favorite courses were the ocean trout with morel mushrooms and the cheese plate is my favorite in the country, no joke. :)

                                                      Here's a quick rundown:
                                                      - Bread (pretzel and brioche) - very good, although sadly served cold
                                                      - Arugula-based amuse bouche - I'm not capturing the essence of this starter but it was out of this world
                                                      - Oysters - one plain, one with champagne, nice and bright
                                                      - Fried egg over potato - too heavy for me, weird
                                                      - Scallop and greens - perfectly light dish, succulent scallop in an almost sweet green sauce
                                                      - Lobster bisque - butter poached lobster bisque. This is a classic of theirs, but too staid for my palette
                                                      - Green sorbet "ice cream cone" - intermezzo was wonderfully creative. You have a house-made green sorbet over a crepe-like cone in a flower pot full of brown and black sugar, super fun
                                                      - Halibut with clam and trumpet mushrooms - sauce made this dish
                                                      - Ocean trout with morel mushrooms - highlight of the meal. The most savory dish, but still not overdoing it with maybe a 4-ounce portion of fish
                                                      - Cheese plate, five types of cheese with sweet bread, honey, and homemade jam - loved this, it went from mild vermont goat cheese to an aged Italian, an alpine Swiss, epoisse for the stink, and blue to end on a flavorful note ;)
                                                      - Berries with custard and ice cream - had this with their chemix decaf coffee. Love it too although I took a couple bites to leave room for dinner tonight!

                                                      6 Replies
                                                      1. re: dndicicco
                                                        opinionatedchef RE: dndicicco May 14, 2014 01:57 PM

                                                        dn, do you know about our famous cheese emporium, Formaggio Kitchen? there's one in the So End and one in Cambridge. Have their own aging room . They are also our most-packed specialty foods shop, importing many many things themselves, from Parisian breads to things you won't see elsewhere. Ihsan, the owner, could not be nicer or more knowledgeable (AND he was on the Turkish Olympic volley ball team long ago!!) They also provide the cheeses for the cheese plates of many restaurants in town.

                                                        1. re: opinionatedchef
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                                                          dndicicco RE: opinionatedchef May 14, 2014 05:09 PM

                                                          Sounds fantastic! I'm getting the sense that this is more and more of a foodie city than I gave it credit.

                                                          1. re: dndicicco
                                                            beetlebug RE: dndicicco May 14, 2014 05:16 PM

                                                            Formaggio also ships the cheese. Maybe you can get the names from L'Espalier and then enjoy these cheeses at home.

                                                            If you have time, it is worth a trip to the mother ship. Beware, there has been a TON of construction in the neighborhood. It's freaking everywhere. But, because of that, there is more parking for non residents.

                                                            http://www.formaggiokitchen.com

                                                            1. re: beetlebug
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                                                              LeoLioness RE: beetlebug May 15, 2014 09:15 AM

                                                              The Cambridge Formaggio store is definitely worth a trip for any cheese lover--don't let lack of parking deter you. The 72 bus (from Harvard Square) stops on the corner of Concord and Huron, or it's a 20-minute walk (and quite a lovely one) /short cab ride from the Square.

                                                              1. re: LeoLioness
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                                                                Madrid RE: LeoLioness May 15, 2014 10:28 AM

                                                                The Cambridge Formaggio is full, and I mean really full, of all kinds of food items well beyond cheese. The shelves right behind the cheese counter have lots of fascinating items (pastas, legumes, vinegar, olive oil, sauces, jarred vegetables), but it's really hard for several people, some facing the counter and some the shelves to have enough space to really browse. My dream is to go myself and take as long as I want, so I can finally see everything.

                                                                It *is* expensive, and the cheese is worth it.

                                                                The south end shop makes browsing easier,and is right next door to a totally different food shop, the long-time Syrian Grocery Importing Company, at 270 Shawmut.

                                                        2. re: dndicicco
                                                          Small Plates RE: dndicicco May 15, 2014 08:55 AM

                                                          Louis Risoli is an absolute dream and a very special Fromager. When at L'Espalier, we never have dessert, since his selections are usually what we are most looking forward to!! Soooo great!

                                                        3. d
                                                          dndicicco RE: dndicicco May 16, 2014 08:00 AM

                                                          Completely subjective, yet obsessive ranking time!

                                                          So, overall, I was blown away by the food scene in Boston. If I had come here devoid of Chow insights I do not think I would have come close to scratching the surface of this beautiful city!

                                                          Here are my categories and rankings from most to least!

                                                          Food (tastes): Oleana, L'Espalier, O Ya, ICOB, Ostra, West Bridge, Life Alive.
                                                          - This was a tough category. The flavor explosions (not in a gross way) were highest at Oleana, and L'Espalier had a few more smiles of bliss cross my face than O Ya. ICOB had an overall gastronomic delight, but it's a little hard for it to reach the intensity that I experienced at some of the other places. Life Alive wasn't even close here. West Bridge is such a medium but a healthy one

                                                          Art (Creativity/Presentation): O Ya, L'Espalier, Life Alive, West Bridge, Ostra, ICOB
                                                          -- This is where O Ya really shines, as it's artistic and very different from anywhere else. L'Espalier nails the French cuisine and does a very good job presenting greens. Life Alive is a surprise here, but the art of the room, the creativity of the smoothies, etc. place it a notch above. I liked how Ostra displayed its fish, although I give West Bridge an edge for the authentic farm-to-table vibe. ICOB was fairly pedestrian in its presentations

                                                          Service: L'Espalier, O Ya, Ostra, West Bridge, ICOB, Oleana, Life Alive.
                                                          --Not really a competition, you have L'Espalier which was absolutely outstanding, O Ya, which was great, and then everything else. Life Alive barely has service, but they do have tattoos

                                                          Fun (Scene): ICOB, Oleana, West Bridge, Life Alive, L'Espalier, O Ya, Ostra.
                                                          -- ICOB has the best energy, and seems to do what one expects from Boston at such a high, high level. Oleana has a tremendous hip energy. Love the group scene that small plates inspires. West Bridge benefits from outdoor seating and Kendall Square. Life Alive has that young intellectual thing going but quite a few suits snuck in as well. L'Espalier gets the edge over O Ya, since the former can be fun with a "juice tastings" which I saw for a little boy, while the latter is a bit dark and strange. Ostra is too stilted, and the piano, let's face it, is weird

                                                          4 Replies
                                                          1. re: dndicicco
                                                            opinionatedchef RE: dndicicco May 16, 2014 03:36 PM

                                                            dn, this report, categorized (I've never seen a visitor do that before and it's a terrific system) is so terrifically valuable; i'll be quoting it for future (food focused)visitors for sure.

                                                            dn, might you have time to name Philly restnts that compare well with the Boston ones you visited? that would be terrific, if possible. (Just names; i can look up the details myself. ) thx again and congrats on your great trip!

                                                            1. re: opinionatedchef
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                                                              dndicicco RE: opinionatedchef May 16, 2014 06:14 PM

                                                              Oh sure, that's a great idea!

                                                              Here's a translation for the Philly scene:

                                                              Food: Zahav, Laurel, Volver, Vernick's, Morimoto, Noord, Vedge
                                                              --These are the places I'd recommend for food focus. Zahav is out of this world delicious mediterranean, Laurel is the IT place since the owner won Top Chef, Volver is exquisite, Vernick's super tasty, Morimoto omakase is tops in the city, Vedge is super tasty high-end vegan, and Noord will give you Scandinavian in a fun fashion. I could go on and on with this list for Philadelphia, as this area is where Philly really stands out with taste

                                                              Art: Volver, Morimoto, Vedge, Laurel, Vernick's, Zahav, Noord
                                                              -- Volver wins this and it's not even close. It's even funny about it, calling dishes milk and cereal, but it's really asparagus milk, quinoa flakes, truffles, etc. Morimoto can be beautiful, and Vedge makes vegetables haute cuisine. The others drop off a lot. Boston wins this category hands down

                                                              Service: Volver, Zahav, Morimoto, Vernick's, Laurel, Noord, Vedge
                                                              --Volver has tons of people fawning all over you, Zahav has a team as well, but they're very personable. Morimoto has super efficient and well trained staff. The others are more affable than outstanding

                                                              Fun: Zahav, Vernick's, Noord, Vedge, Laurel, Morimoto, Volver
                                                              --Zahav has the mezze thing going and enjoys a cool, laid-back vibe. Vernick's is right off of Rittenhouse and everyone likes to party around there. Noord and Laurel occupy Passyunk, which is a very fun epicenter of the BYOB scene (better in the summer when you can sit outtide). Vedge is fun just because you're like, "oh we're vegan tonight!". Morimoto is super chic to the point of almost being cold, and Volver is so fussy that it can overwhelm unless you're a nuttie foodie like me

                                                              1. re: dndicicco
                                                                opinionatedchef RE: dndicicco May 16, 2014 07:32 PM

                                                                That's terrific; thx!

                                                                <Volver wins this and it's not even close. It's even funny about it, calling dishes milk and cereal, but it's really asparagus milk, quinoa flakes, truffles, etc.>

                                                                do you remember I mentioned Ribelle? Well, it sounds just like what you said abot Volver (except it is a joyous place, not fussy.) So next time you come to Boston, I do hope you'll try it!!

                                                                1. re: dndicicco
                                                                  rlh RE: dndicicco May 17, 2014 08:22 AM

                                                                  Love this thread, your reports, approach and reporting style - THANK YOU! You are part of what makes me loyal to chowhound - I spent month working 3-5 days weekly in Philly and enjoyed many of the fine spots you note - just wish I had found your reports while there to uncover some of these other gems - seems I need to get back there soon! Keep doing exactly what you do - just great!

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