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How do I replace Hamersley's as my "go to" special occasion restaurant? (Very detailed list of criteria inside!)

I *love* Hamersley's Bistro.

I live a little over an hour away, west of Boston, and for every special occasion, or when I just want a great evening out, I book a table at Hamersley's. Now that it is closing, what would you recommend as possible alternative?

I am really fussy, so please consider the following:

1) What I love about Hamersley's is the convenient location, beautiful ambiance, professional waitstaff, stellar wine list, gracious service, comfortable dining room, great food, and Boston institution.

2) Before Hamersley's, L'Espalier was my go-to place, until they moved from their romantic townhouse to a boring generic hotel. I hate hotel restaurants with a passion. I loved the ambiance of eating in a brownstone; in a hotel, no way.

3) I love Ten Tables in Jamaica Plain, but it's a pain to drive there.

4) I've been to Sorrelina, Troquet, DeuxAve, Mistral, Toscana, and Menton, and I liked them; I'm happy enough to eat there. But none of those places has the comfortable special occasion vibe that Hamersley's has. Sorrelina is too trendy, Troquet is a little off, DeuxAve too casual, Mistral too formulaic, Toscana not special enough food, and Menton is a pawn in an business empire.

5) I liked Lumiere in Newton, but it didn't feel special enough. More like a place that I would go to all the time if I lived in Newton, but wouldn't travel far to go to.

That being said, here are my criteria for my next "go to" restaurant:

- It cannot be in a hotel, or a second restaurant of a famous chef. I want this to be a standalone restaurant, not part of an empire.

- It can't be a "seafood" restaurant, or asian. It has to be American, French, or Italian please.

- It has to have excellent service. No exceptions.

- It should have a good wine list. It should have Champagne by the glass.

- I am not crazy about the Cambridge dining scene, and would greatly prefer to avoid Cambridge. Suburbs of Boston are acceptable, such as Newton, etc. But the more convenient to the Mass Pike, the better.

- It has to have great ambiance, and feel romantic. Definitely dark, definitely not "family friendly". Noisy is fine. Again I should point out that I consider Ten Tables in Jamaica Plain to have great ambiance, and I consider Hamersley's to have great ambiance.

- I have to be able to wear a jacket and tie, and not look like a freak. I understand that every restaurant nowadays has someone in a t-shirt and jeans, but I shouldn't look out of place wearing a tie.

- It should feel like Boston. If I'm in a restaurant that looks like NY, Chicago, or Miami, I'm not interested.

- I'm considering these places, based on a list of "best" restaurants in the area that I haven't been to yet...
Bondir - Pros, looks cool. Cons, Cambridge, worried it's a "scene".
Bergamot - Pros, looks cool. Cons, Cambridge.
Asta - Pros, location, sounds awesome. Cons, website is secretive, no idea what it looks like inside.
Erbaluce - Pros, location. Cons, not sure it's a special occasion type place.
Sycamore - Pros, seems nice. Cons, looks a bit casual. Wine list is weird, and not in a good way.

(I considered Ribelle, but it looks too much like a cafeteria. Also checked out The Gallows, but they don't take reservations, and they sound super obnoxious on their website.)

Based on all of that, I am leaning toward trying Asta. Maybe Sycamore. Maybe Bergamot. Otherwise, I may need to get used to making the trek to Ten Tables.

Any advice? Let me have it!

Thanks in advance...

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  1. Boston: what are your specific issues with La Voile or Bistro du Midi for French, maybe Lucca for Italian, dunno what fits your American criteria? I'm going to guess Sorellina is too Miami-feeling, Stella too casual for your tastes?

    Can you explain your preoccupation with Cambridge being a "scene" requiring scare quotes? What's wrong with the Harvest or Rialto, for example?

    24 Replies
    1. re: youngho

      Ah, La Voile, especially Bistro du Midi, probably Rialto, possibly Harvest are all probably too well-lit, sorry. Good luck with your search.

      1. re: youngho

        I had lunch at La Voile today, and I thought that the room to the right was quite dark. In fact, we were a bit worried that our "event" might not have enough light.

        1. re: youngho

          Notwithstanding the lighting, I was going to suggest Rialto, which seems to check all the right boxes, is plenty formal enough if you want it to be, has great food, has been around for decades, etc., etc.

          1. re: cjd260

            It's also in a Cambridge hotel, which seems to be a no-go for whatever reason.

            Otherwise, I agree too.

            1. re: cjd260

              cjd260: I'll check out Rialto, but yeah, if I liked hotel restaurants, I'd probably just go to L'Espalier.

              1. re: johnblacksox

                I guess that's a question: what's a "hotel restaurant"? If it means "a restaurant that's an integrated part of a hotel, with foot traffic between the restaurant and the lobby, a shared aesthetic, and the dumbing-down necessary to accommodate the common denominator taste of travelers getting off of long-haul flights," I understand - but Rialto is none of those things (though, I'd argue, nor is L'Espalier for the most part). If it means "a restaurant that happens to share rent with a hotel," it seems like an odd approach, but to each his own.

                Anyway, I think you should be pleased by Rialto. Try the duck.

                1. re: cjd260

                  Add Meritage, Clio/Uni, Island Creek Oyster Bar, Brasserie Jo, The Bristol, Artisan Bistro, Scampo, Cafe at the Taj, and (hopefully) Hojoko and Bar Boulud to that list.

                  http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                  1. re: MC Slim JB

                    Not to mention that some on your list are the second or third restaurant of a famous chef or ... part of a chain ...

                  2. re: cjd260

                    A hotel restaurant is a cold business venture. It has nothing to do with the heart and soul of a chef cooking for people.

                    I'll try to explain like this:

                    L'Espalier was in a gorgeous brownstone, with romantic exterior, and interior, fireplaces, odd quirky rooms. The kitchen was a claustrophobic nightmare, I've heard. But, as a diner, it was insanely romantic.

                    They moved to a hotel...

                    I'm sure they spent millions of dollars on the new dining room. It's opulent, comfortable. There is a faux library room. You enter through a stainless steel and glass elevator. There are no windows on the street. There is a faux gas fireplace. There is faux paneling. The food and service are the same as the old place. IMO, the original L'Espalier was a labor of love, and the new one is a soul-less corporate business venture.

                    I am actually really happy for the L'Espalier owners that they cashed in on a great business deal. But for me, personally, I would never go the new place again. It's fake.

                    1. re: johnblacksox

                      I'll try not to snicker too loudly when I think of this broad-brush-tarring the next time I enjoy a lovely meal at Brasserie Jo, which I consider the warmest, coziest and most enjoyable-as-a-room restaurant in Boston.

                      1. re: Jenny Ondioline

                        I checked the website for Brasserie Jo, and it looks like a corporate hotel restaurant. It actually touts the fact that the chef owns the "Eiffel Tower Restaurant" in Las Vegas.

                        So...Yeah, not what I'm looking for. But if you enjoy it, great.

                        1. re: johnblacksox

                          Well, as we all know, looking at a website is an exact equivalent of an actual experience, so...good luck with your choice. I'm sure you'll be absolutely delighted and won't find any kind of fault at all.

                          1. re: johnblacksox

                            It *is* a hotel restaurant, but very good of its kind. The original and only other one is in Chicago. I quite like it: it's a versatile crowd-pleaser with a good bar in a corner of town with scant worthy options, e.g., if you're heading for or coming from Symphony. I don't use "underrated" very often, but I think it fits this one.

                            Somewhat workmanlike, unpretentious fare, e.g., one of the better steak-frites in town, helped by wonderful frites. Nice version of Alsatian flatbread, called by the French name tarte flambée here. Good liver and onions: who else does that? The choucroute is better at Sandrine's, but that's a quibble. A fine onion tarte, steak tartare, frisée salad. Good private dining rooms for groups of 20 or so, too.

                            That said, it might be a bit too Generic Brasserie for your very specific purposes. But I think it's far truer to the traditional concept than the Americanized urban "bistro" notion to which most our our mid-priced French places hew.

                            http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                2. re: youngho

                  Doesn't necessarily have to be dark like a cave. I just meant nice ambiance. So for instance, I prefer tablecloths, though it's not a deal breaker.

                  1. re: youngho

                    I just checked out La Voile, and it looks very nice. I may check it out. Not sure it's special enough though. It looks more like a great place to eat if I happen to be in Newbury St. area.

                    The wine list posted on-line is unusually sparse. They don't even list wines or Champagne by the glass.

                    1. re: johnblacksox

                      i like la voile's food, but you're right it is not a a special occasion kind of place and it's tiny so the tables are on top of each other. wine list is small, nothing great. obvz they do have wine and champagne btg.

                  2. re: youngho

                    In spite of the lighting (warm, but certainly not dark as the OP requests), I think Bistro du Midi is a fabulous choice. It's our special-occasion restaurant and so lovely. Excellent food, lovely service, great view of Boston Common. In spite of not being dimly-lit, we find it romantic and certainly special.

                    1. re: marketpeach

                      I agree, I would have thought it would have filled the major criteria expect for the lighting issue. Perhaps the chef's table at Bistro du Midi could be adjusted to fit

                      1. re: marketpeach

                        marketpeach: Thanks for the additional recommendation for Bistro du Midi!

                        Again, I think I may have overstated the lighting issue when I said "definitely dark". I didn't mean that I want to wear a miner's lamp on my head, I just meant "pleasantly lit". I like warm lighting, maybe a candle on the table. As opposed to a place with awesome food, but set up like a brightly lit counter-style seating.

                      2. re: youngho

                        youngho: Thanks for the recommendations of La Voile, Bistro du Midi, and Lucca! I will check them out. (I have no reservations about them, have never been.)

                        I don't have a preoccupation about Cambridge. I said I'd prefer to avoid Cambridge and the suburbs, but if there was an amazing place that was a clear winner, I would go to Cambridge or the suburbs.

                        1. re: johnblacksox

                          Sorry, I had assumed that you had done your research and already discarded these three options. I would certainly suggest the La Voile and Bistro du Midi based on personal experience. Although Bistro du Midi is not a Boston institution, the space it occupies certainly is. No tablecloths, either, but I think it fits your other criteria quite well. Images at https://www.google.com/search?q=bistr.... Both Sorellina and Lucca are multiples, rather than only children.

                          Sorry again, I misunderstood "I am not crazy about the Cambridge dining scene, and would greatly prefer to avoid Cambridge" meaning that your number concern about Cambridge was the dining scene, which is why I wrote "Can you explain your preoccupation with Cambridge being a "scene"?" You had seemed to virtually cross off two places without even having tried them, apparently, for the single con of "Cambridge" (plus "worried it's a "scene""). Harvest is a Cambridge classic (or institution) that would, I think, also fit most of your criteria, including the tablecloths. Rialto, except for the hotel setting, too.

                          1. re: youngho

                            Well, my impression of Cambridge dining is that there are more restaurants that are a scene than normal. Honestly, the same can be said of the South End these days. Still, you can't deny the comments I've heard about dining in some of the trendy Cambridge restaurants.

                            Logistics are also a major concern. It is so incredibly easy to get to Hamersley's, and the old L'Espalier. It's a pleasure to go there.

                            Cambridge is a PITA to drive in. If I have to get off the Mass Pike, sit in traffic for 30 minutes, then illegally park on a distant side street, that is a deal-breaker. Any place that has valet parking automatically gets moved to the front of the line.

                        2. Not in a hotel, yet not odd to be well-dressed is a tough combo in Boston. I will ponder when I'm home.

                          http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                          1 Reply
                          1. I hate to steer anyone away from Asta, because it is awesome and seriously putting out some of the best food in the city right now, but the ambiance is probably not what you are looking for.

                            Bondir is the closest you are going to get based on your criteria. Not sure what the Cambridge thing is all about, but I would not call it a "scene" type place at all.

                            8 Replies
                            1. re: Matt H

                              Agreed. I think if you prefer great indie chefs, crossing off Cambridge and Somerville, though they do lean casual, is a serious mistake. Dress up anyway -- I almost always do, and near as I can tell, nobody gives a damn -- and go for the terrific food and (often informal but generally quite skilled) service and beverage programs.

                              Without a lot of deep consideration, I'd say Bondir Cambridge (for one) comes pretty close to Gordon's sensibility, albeit on a much smaller, more intimate scale: it's not remotely scene-y. The food is similarly unshowy, intently focused on ingredients and straightforward technique, and often sublime. I see a lot of folks who are clearly celebrating occasions there. Tiny room requires making weekend reservations weeks in advance.

                              I'd look at parking some place easy and using UberX to get to/from Camberville places with tough nearby parking.

                              A shame for Boston proper that its ridiculous startup costs have driven so many indie talents across the Charles, but that's the reality.

                              http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                              1. re: MC Slim JB

                                I've not been to Bondir since the Concord outpost opened. Has the food quality changed at all?

                                1. re: jgg13

                                  Only been back to the original once since the new place opened, but I'd say its virtues remain intact.

                                  http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                                2. re: MC Slim JB

                                  Thanks for the Bondir's recommendation. I'll check their website again. There was something about it that didn't appeal to me the first time, but it sounds like there is a consensus that it fits the bill.

                                  (That's why I appealed to CH, because I know you guys can give me info that I can't get on my own.)

                                  As a side rant: Why do restaurants post almost no pictures of their dining rooms? All restaurants do this. Some literally have zero. They have fancy websites, no pictures of the room. They'll have a "gallery" that shows 200 pictures of a piece of lettuce on a white plate. Or a blurry chef throwing something in a pot. It's like, yeah, thanks, I know what lettuce looks like. You spent a million dollars creating a restaurant space, and then don't put one picture of it on your website.

                                  1. re: johnblacksox

                                    If you do a Google Images search for the restaurant, you will often find dining room photos, a mix of press coverage, food blogger shots, and amateur photography. Sometimes OpenTable, Yelp, and UrbanSpoon have pics, too.

                                    For example, Google "Bondir Cambridge" and click on "Images": tons of interior photos there.

                                    http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                                      1. re: MC Slim JB

                                        Yes, MCslimJB, I agree. But since the restaurant spends boat loads of money on marketing, photos, and a website, why don't they show pictures of the decor? Why do I have to rely on some tourist with an iPhone to take a grainy blurry picture of the dining room, and post it on Instragram? It's insane, really.

                                        1. re: johnblacksox

                                          I don't know: preserving the mystery? I can think of a lot of rooms with great ambiance that doesn't translate well to still photos. Likewise, many rooms with slick professional photos on their websites don't measure up in person.

                                          Small rooms and rooms with purposefully dim lighting are tougher, I think. For one example, Bogie's Place is really cozy, but the photos I've seen of it don't begin to capture its intimate charm.

                                          http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                                3. TW Food and Bondir were the first places that came to mind, but alas...the Cambridge dining "scene", whatever that means.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. Bergamot is not in Cambridge.

                                    What does a Chicago restaurant "look" like to you (for that matter, what does a Boston one look like? Are you talking about local ingrediants or something else?)

                                    4 Replies
                                    1. re: LeoLioness

                                      I meant look and feel. There are restaurants in NYC that have a style that would never fly in Boston, and vice versa. There are no restaurants like the old L'Espalier in NYC, for example. Nor in LA or Miami.

                                      1. re: johnblacksox

                                        Nor are there really any left in Boston....

                                        1. re: LeoLioness

                                          I never went to the old L'Espalier, but if the defining characteristic was townhouse, could Mamma Maria be similar?

                                          1. re: addiez

                                            Good call. I haven't eaten there in years, but yes, it is a lovely old room.

                                    2. What do you think is happening in Cambridge? As in all of Cambridge? Or do you just prefer not to dine near Liberals? They can be an acerbic bunch, can turn food into some political *statement*...Does Ten Tables Cambridge suffer from this effect also?

                                      I think TW Food is a great recommendation.

                                      And I think you ought to go wherever you like with a jacket and tie - the hoi polloi might learn a thing or two.

                                      5 Replies
                                      1. re: Bob Dobalina

                                        It actually sounds to me like the dressing-up concern is not so much about the OP's own clothes, but about the other customers'. The OP said that he wanted to be (somewhat) dressed-up and "not look like a freak", i.e., that he wanted that to be the standard level of dress among the customers.

                                        If the OP is worried that he'd stand out in a negative way if he were significantly more dressed-up, well, I can't think of any restaurant where he'd be given a hard time for being overdressed: think of all the people who go out to eat when dressed for work or other formal events, regardless of the restaurant's standard of dress. I don't reckon anyone gives a toss, quite frankly. But it might be that he wants everyone else to be dressed-up with him because that contributes to his sense of Event - he's looking specifically for a special occasion restaurant, and the formal-dress atmosphere might be a part of that.

                                        And if that's the case... eesh, good luck with that in Boston. We do not care, like, as part of our local social contract we do not care, and that's going to be an extremely limiting factor when trying to find a new place.

                                        1. re: TimTamGirl

                                          TimTamGirl: Yes, 100% spot on, thank you for expressing more eloquently what I was trying to say.

                                          A rule of thumb is, I don't want to be the only guy in the restaurant wearing a tie.

                                        2. re: Bob Dobalina

                                          Bob Dobalina: You sound eager to be outraged about something. Not that it matters, but I'm a capital L liberal. I just don't like the drive to Cambridge. And it reminds me of a foodie/trendy vibe going on there, that I'm not entirely into. As Obama said, sue me. ;-)

                                          1. re: johnblacksox

                                            Outraged?! No way - just being cheeky. :)
                                            But I still say you should wear your ties wherever you like. Lead, don't follow.

                                            1. re: Bob Dobalina

                                              If I had a backyard bbq on paperplates and redcups and tacky print vinyl clothed picnic tables and invited Ralph Lauren, do you think he would dress down?

                                              Would I notice the man next to me in a tux at a Bruins game - unlikely, unless I thought he should loosen his bow tie in the last period.

                                        3. Well, Bergamot is actually in Somerville so I nominate that. You can thus avoid the dreaded Cambridge scene. In all seriousness, give it a try. Their service is excellent. On the other hand, I only went to Bondir once because I was kind of turned off by some snotty-sceney comments made by the waitstaff and underwhelmed by their food so I get what you mean.

                                          1. My first instinct was to recommend Sycamore before I even read far down enough to see you already had it on your list. Not sure why the wine list is weird? There may be some guests dressed casually but it's not a casual place. Convenient to the Pike, delicious, seasonal food and excellent service. Romantic lighting with candles and cool overhead light fixtures. Very neighborhood feel in Newton Center, nothing like a hotel vibe.

                                            1. Bondir meets almost all of your criteria, although:
                                              - the chef has opened another restaurant in Concord
                                              - it is, unfortunately, in Cambridge

                                              Other than that I would not hesitate to recommend it, except for my fear that you are hard to please. It does not have a "scene" that I can tell, although I'm not certain what you mean by that, and you wouldn't look out of place with a jacket and tie.

                                              Of the other places on your list that I have been to, I love Asta but I bet it would be too casual for you, and Bergamot might be acceptable (maybe too open and non-dark enough, though), especially since it is actually just over the Cambridge line into Somerville.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: dfan

                                                dfan: Haha...I'm actually not that hard to please. First, one needs to put specifics when asking for CH recommendations. Otherwise, we read 100 thread titles of "What's a good restaurant in Boston?" Second, this is for a special occasion type place, so yes, I'm more fussy about that. If it's a one-off night out for dinner, I'll go anywhere, no problem.

                                                Thanks for additional rec of Bondir! And Bergamot.

                                              2. What about Concord. It's not as far a trip for you as Boston, and it's not Cambridge.
                                                The new Bondir in Concord is a lovely space and, I think, meets your criteria for dark, not family friendly, and cool.
                                                Also I'd take a look at 80 Thoreau.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: justbeingpolite

                                                  jbp: Awesome, I will check both of those out. I do tend to shy away from a second restaurant of the original, but sounds doable!

                                                  And I know nothing of 80 Thoreau, I'll definitely look that up. Thanks again.

                                                2. Hamersley's is closing??!! How did I miss that? I somehow just assumed it would always be there...

                                                  Anyway, on topic, get over your dislike of Cambridge and you will greatly expand your options. Each restaurant is different, there is no unified "dining scene" and the people eating in Cambridge are more or less the same as the ones eating in the rest of greater Boston.

                                                  1. Hm, as others have noted, there are some odd reservations on this list. I'd suggest Rialto, or No. 9 Park if you need something darker and definitively in a brownstone. Based on your criteria, I don't think that Sycamore or Bergamot would do it - both have excellent food, but Sycamore will be entirely too loud and cramped for someone looking to replace Hamersley's, and Bergamot strikes me as nothing so much as a superlative neighborhood restaurant.

                                                    One other suggestion: if you're already an hour west of the city, have you thought of heading the other way on the Pike? They're doing some great stuff in the Berkshires.

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: cjd260

                                                      cjd260, thanks!

                                                      No. 9 Park is actually the front runner.

                                                    2. What about Bogie's Place? I haven't been yet but I have been saving it for a special night out. Perhaps it is too meat focused, but it is chef owned, dark, kid free...

                                                      Definitely not Gallows. I tried it last week and it is a scene and the food was mediocre at best.

                                                      I think that Ribelle is probably too casual and does not have a great atmosphere, it is more like a NY dining room with tables very close to one another. Food is fantastic though.

                                                      20 Replies
                                                      1. re: sekelmaan

                                                        we had such a miserable experience at the gallows i have never returned. it's also way too casual for the op's criteria.

                                                        other than being in cambridge, am unsure why rialto wouldn't be a serious contender? formal but unobtrusive service with a great dining room manager. chef-owned and not part of an empire -- jody is on-premise even on holidays. hell, she worked for gordon. wine list and cocktail program are both well-considered and fairly priced. lovely space, even if in a hotel, and many of the patrons come in jackets/ties since they are walking over from hahvad.

                                                        1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                          I think the food at Asta meets the criteria but perhaps not the ambiance (it is the most interesting new restaurant of the year to me). I do not like Bondir: the space is not romantic and the place has the hushed air of pseudo-reverence that I do not enjoy. I love Erbaluce but it is not a romantic space. TW is very good and might work but for location. Hamersley is very hard to replace.

                                                          1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                            Since so many people have mentioned Rialto, I'll definitely check it out. Thank you, hotoynoodle!

                                                            teezeetoo: What does TW stand for?

                                                            1. re: johnblacksox

                                                              TW Food, named for Tim Weichmann, the chef and owner. Pity he doesn't fit your list of requirements, because his other restaurant, Bronwyn, is one of my favorite places in the city.

                                                              1. re: johnblacksox

                                                                Yeah, well, this thread makes it seem like there is consensus for Rialto, but there isn't. I'd put TW Food and Bergamot above Rialto. But in many ways Rialto does fit your criteria, so you should try it for yourself. There is a hint of hipster at Bergamot.

                                                                ("Still, it's Jody Adams!" So freakin' what?)

                                                                Another No. 9 Park vote for the Boston side, but I'm really confused about why Cambridge seems difficult to get to. Brookline is the place that is impossible to get to, unless you live right on that northeast-southwest mile-long line segment or are coming from inner Boston on the green line. Coming from the north or south to Brookline... you can't get there from here!

                                                                1. re: Alcachofa

                                                                  It may be a *little* more out of the way than some places, but Brookline is not that hard to get around once you're there and parking is easier than many places.

                                                                  I think both Lineage and Fairsted Kitchen -- two places I don't think have been mentioned -- have nice atmospheres, great service, and excellent food. Perhaps they are a notch below Hamersley's in terms of being special occasion places, but I still think they could be contenders.

                                                                  Fairsted may be a little too sceney like Cambridge and Lineage may be more seafood focused than the OP wants (and the chef has multiple projects).

                                                                  Of the Cambridge suggestions I think TW Food is the closest you'll get to Hamersley's, although the room is not as beautiful.

                                                                  I still love No. 9 Park, but it's less special to me personally since Ted Kilpatrick left.

                                                                  1. re: Alcachofa

                                                                    Living mere blocks from the Brookline/Allston town line, I'm puzzled by this statement about Brookline being inaccessible from the north/south axis. Harvard Street (as its known within the Brookline city limits for some reason) gets you anyplace you'd want to go, and given that it starts at Route 9 and ends on Cambridge Street, the feeder for the Allston/Brighton tolls, it couldn't have easier access.

                                                                    1. re: Jenny Ondioline

                                                                      I agree. I moved from the South End to Brookline Village a little over a year ago, and while I miss the easy access to 93 and the Pike, it's still pretty convenient.

                                                                      1. re: Jenny Ondioline

                                                                        If I lived in, say, Burlington, you're right it wouldn't make much of a difference. But, I currently live in a "middle zone" where I am actually, as the crow flies, VERY close to Brookline. But the time it takes me to travel there is out of proportion to the distance traveled. Driving those north/south streets are a joke (average speed is probably no more than 10MPH on a good day), and taking the T requires a major "V" shaped trajectory, going into Boston, and coming out again.

                                                                        P.S. It is funny that those who are saying Brookline is convenient either live there or right next to it.

                                                                        1. re: Alcachofa

                                                                          Funny, this is how I feel about getting to just about any place in Somerville...

                                                                          1. re: Allstonian

                                                                            And I would add to this list of dreaded Brookline destinations Lineage - though they are connected to Island Creek and Row 34 I never find them anything but personable and lovely to visit.

                                                                            1. re: Allstonian

                                                                              Because it is! There are these places that are just hard to get to from other specific places. I find East Somerville to Brookline or Allston to be a really tedious journey. Takes way too long for the benefits.

                                                                              Allston to Somerville is the same problem in reverse.

                                                                              The same way Allstonian doesn't pop over to Union Square for an off-the-cuff supper, is why I don't decide at the last moment to head to Allston for a it-is-Tuesday-and-I-don't-want-cook kind of dinner.

                                                                              1. re: smtucker

                                                                                Agreed. Especially if you are taking the T.

                                                                                1. re: smtucker

                                                                                  Maybe I have a high pain threshold (at least for getting good chow). I've just never let traveling across town be much of a limiting factor. I've always found it odd when I run into people I know at a restaurant in, say, Somerville, and they say, "I thought you lived in Boston??" I now get the same when I run into old neighbors in the South End: "Didn't you move to Brookline?!?!"

                                                                                  Bottom line is that all of Metro Boston is kind of a chore to get around, but sometimes the best life experiences require a little investment along the way. If the challenge of getting there is a significant inhibiting factor, especially for a special occasion, you're going to miss a lot of good choices.

                                                                                  1. re: Nolapants

                                                                                    I agree with this in theory, but then....there's the B Line on a Saturday night and NOPE.

                                                                                2. re: Allstonian

                                                                                  That's pretty how it is from either side of the city to the other one. I loathe going to Brookline or AllBright (or god help me, JP). But at the same time my friends in those places loathe going to Camberville.

                                                                                  Sure, it's not *that* bad, but the transit time is often not worth the hassle. No place is all *that* unique that a reasonable facsimile couldn't be had much easier on your own side of the river.

                                                                                  1. re: Allstonian

                                                                                    I agree about Somerville. I hate having to go there to eat!

                                                                                  2. re: Alcachofa

                                                                                    Fair enough. I had assumed that like the OP, you lived further out than that.

                                                                                    I guess my position is that if you're willing to drive in the city at all, you have to accept that there's going to be traffic and that sometimes that's going to take time. There are certainly parts of the city I don't like driving in (Kenmore Square and the Arborway leap immediately to mind), and after over 12 years, there are still areas where I literally have no idea how to get from Point A to Point B, even if they're both parts of town I know fairly well on foot or via public transit. I swear it's only been within the last couple years that I've realized that it's a relatively straight shot from Allston to Union Square Somerville.

                                                                                    1. re: Jenny Ondioline

                                                                                      Right. And I came across a similarly counter-intuitive route to fine tune the trip to Brookline. My first response was really mostly beef tongue in cod cheek.

                                                                                3. re: Alcachofa

                                                                                  Aclochofa, thanks...

                                                                                  Based on my web research, Bergamot looks a little too casual for a special occasion type place. And Rialto is in a Canmbridge hotel, so two strikes there. The website looks a little heavy on the celebrity chef angle too.

                                                                                  No. 9 Park is my leading choice, even though I was kind of "blah" about Menton. The ambiance at No. 9 Park looks warmer.

                                                                          2. Sorry, just an overly long note to pile on with respect to Cambridge.

                                                                            When I was a kid growing up in Newton in the 70s and early 80s, Harvard Square was the coolest place on earth. I would spend all day walking a mile to the Newton Centre T, riding the Green Line into Park Street and switching to the Red Line just to be able to spend some time in Harvard Square. (The vast, vast majority of my vinyl record collection was purchased at the Harvard Coop!) As I got older, I discovered Central Square and Inman Square, too, and later Somerville.

                                                                            After graduate school, however, I packed up and moved to NYC, where I still live. About 10 years ago, when life events made having a place in the Boston area desirable, I had it in my mind that Cambridge had lost its cool, and that Boston (the Back Bay and South End, in particular) was where sophisticated, grown ups live, not Cambridge, and I rented a place on the Back Bay/South End line.

                                                                            Several years of paying exorbitant rents made me rethink my living arrangements, and although I didn't plan to move to Cambridge, I ended up doing so when I found a fabulous townhouse for rent at a very reasonable price in Mid-Cambridge (equidistant to Central and Inman Squares on the north/south axis, and Harvard and Kendall Squares on the east/west axis). Over the past five years, I have totally fallen in love with Cambridge again. Not only would I not think of moving back to the "other side," but it's rare for me even to cross the river to dine; there are just too many great options on my side of the river.

                                                                            I have no idea what anti-Cambridge biases the OP may have, but I am pretty sure they are unwarranted. Yes, there are cultural differences between Boston and Cambridge, and that translates (in general, of course; there always are exceptions -- lots of them) to more formal restaurants in Boston and more casual restaurants in Cambridge, but as many people here are correctly observing, there are many great restaurants in Cambridge where one can dress up and have a delightful celebratory dinner without feeling out of place for wearing a tie and not having a Brooklyn beard.

                                                                            10 Replies
                                                                            1. re: Blumie

                                                                              I will not be particularly eloquent here, sorry in advance. Let's see ... further disclaimers ... one should not generalize, it's intellectually lazy ... I think that's it.

                                                                              Boston (where I live) and Cambridge (where I spend a ton of time) are *different*.

                                                                              They are both wonderful but I love that johnblacksox is willing to declare a preference in his (her?) ridiculous, arbitrary, and engaging list of criteria. He's (she's?) not asking for feedback on his (her?) criteria, he's asking for recs.

                                                                              Rialto is in a hotel people.

                                                                              No. 9. Seriously. (people beat me to it above and below)

                                                                              1. re: Carty

                                                                                If the OP disqualified Menton as "a pawn in a business empire" I am not sure No. 9 Park is what he is looking for. Or is it only chefs' 2nd, 3rd, 4th etc. restaurants that are out while their original restaurant remains a possibility?

                                                                                1. re: Gordough

                                                                                  Fair enough Gordough. That is a weird criterion johnblacksox, let it go :).

                                                                                  1. re: Gordough

                                                                                    Gordough: You are astute. To clarify...I had a nice dinner at Menton, but I've never felt a burning desire to return. The best I can describe it is to say it's "soul-less". Everything is good, but in a calculated way.

                                                                                    I should say that I really like B&G Oysters as a casual bar/restaurant. So I'm not opposed to Lynch.

                                                                                    I am considering No. 9 Park. But you make a valid point...Is it in the same mold as Menton?

                                                                                    Carty: I'll let go my preferences when you give up your personal dining preferences. Think of some genre or style that you really don't like, and I'll tell you to get over it. :-)

                                                                                    1. re: Gordough

                                                                                      BL Gruppo is indeed a business empire. Menton has its plusses and minuses. The fact that it is part of a larger group of restaurants strikes me as entirely irrelevant.

                                                                                      Remember the brilliance of the original Olives fondly, and forget that pretty much everything English has done since has been adequate at best, and mostly a series of awful, cynical shitshows.

                                                                                      Toro and Coppa and Uni and Clio are each extraordinary in their own way: the fact that KO Prime and La Verdad were mediocre in the end shouldn't be held against any of the others.

                                                                                      We have a lot of chefs who have built uneven empires: think of White, Shire, Schlow. I think some of the places they've done were / are godawful, but you can't take away my adoring memories of Biba, Jasper's, or the first couple of years of Radius.

                                                                                      Judge a place on its own merits.

                                                                                      http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                                                                                    2. re: Carty

                                                                                      Carty...Thank you! You summed up exactly what I am talking about.

                                                                                      We all have unique likes and dislikes. I don't want people to try to convince me that I should eat in Cambridge, when I specifically said I preferred not to.

                                                                                      And again, you're spot on with No. 9 Park, I'm going to try that...

                                                                                    3. re: Blumie

                                                                                      Blumie: You're baffled why I refuse to prefer Cambridge, and I'm baffled why you can't accept my criteria.

                                                                                      Cambridge is a PITA to travel to. And parking is often a PITA also. There are also hyper-trendy restaurants there that are part of a foodie-scene that I really don't enjoy. The trendy part can also be said for South Boston, and yet I like Hamersley's, because it bucks the trend.

                                                                                      You say there are "many great restaurants where one can dress up for a celebratory dinner". But you didn't list any.

                                                                                      1. re: johnblacksox

                                                                                        the economics of liquor licenses in boston vs cambridge means that much of the new food is happening on that side of the river and the days of heavy cutlery, draped linens and discreet dining captains are twinkling into memory, so you may need to budge on some of your parameters.

                                                                                        that being said, there are all kinds of dining "scenes" within the city of cambridge. i get a much different vibe at rialto than i do at, say, west bridge or hungry mother.

                                                                                        1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                                                          We ended up at Rialto somehow the other day, but wished we'd gone to Henrietta's after the fact and $300 later

                                                                                        2. re: johnblacksox

                                                                                          It's not a function of whether or not I accept your criteria; they're yours and you can make any decisions you want. It's just that your view of Cambridge -- such as the difficulty of getting around and parking -- make it clear that your criteria is based in part on incorrect information. So I tried to write about the misinformation I had about Cambridge and how I came to find that I was wrong as a way to suggest that, with an open mind, you might reach a similar conclusion. Feel free to ignore my story if you want, and feel free to continue to make decisions based on incorrect information. Doesn't trouble me any.

                                                                                          On "the other" side of the river, I echo the No. 9 Park recommendation. Although I haven't been since I've been on "this side" of the river, I've always loved the cool, elegant vibe there.

                                                                                      2. I have a question: Is this list of criteria in order of preference? Which points are you willing to concede on and which are absolute deal-breakers?

                                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                                        1. re: LeoLioness

                                                                                          LeoLioness: Good question...Mainly, imagine a "special occasion" such as a 10/20/25 year anniversary, where you want to go out and have a special wonderful evening regardless of cost. That's my #1 criteria.

                                                                                          I didn't list anything in order, but I'd say the American/French/Italian is a deal breaker. No sushi bars, sorry. Also, bad service is a deal-breaker.

                                                                                        2. How about No.9 Park? That seems to fit a large majority of your criteria

                                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                                          1. re: bostonbroad

                                                                                            Yes, I think that may be worth a try. I've been to Menton but not No.9 Park, how would you contrast the two?

                                                                                            1. re: phatchris

                                                                                              yeah, I love Prezza but service can be a little weird, e.g. had a young turk recently who seemed to be pushing $ wines.

                                                                                              1. re: phatchris

                                                                                                Prezza might be a little bright and loud, at least compared to Hammersley's. In the North End, I think Mamma Maria or Taranta should be looked at--both generally better than Lucca.

                                                                                                1. re: phatchris

                                                                                                  Agree that Prezza can be a little loud as compared to Hammersleys, but it certainly hits many of the requested criteria.

                                                                                                2. Unless I missed something, Craigie definitely belongs on your list. Its Cambridge location is, I think, the only potential disqualifier. People differ on the ambience and service, but it's definitely going for special.

                                                                                                  If I were in your shoes, however, I'd probably cultivate TW Food as my special place. It's very small and very personal. Not a scene. Neighborhood but very crisp and upscale. Parking might be difficult, definitely ask their advice. It's very close to the end of Route 2, so that might be convenient for you. Yes, that's Cambridge.

                                                                                                  8 Replies
                                                                                                  1. re: jajjguy

                                                                                                    OMG Craigie precious, for me the definition of how Cambridge differs from Boston not in a good way.

                                                                                                    1. re: jajjguy

                                                                                                      jajjguy: I looked at the TW Food website, but they have zero pictures of the interior (one of my major pet peeves). I saw a couple random shots on Yelp that looked pretty good.

                                                                                                      But yeah, I have considered trying Craigie, but I often hear comments such as Carty says, that's it's a weird scene there. That's my main reason for avoiding Cambridge. When you, as a proponent, say that "people differ on the ambiance and service", that is a huge red flag to me. I will never go to a place where they say the food is great, and the service is iffy.

                                                                                                      1. re: johnblacksox

                                                                                                        TW Food is what I meant (sorry for the shorthand). It is in Cambridge but I generally have been able to find parking in that particular area. I believe the chef does own one other restaurant (Bronwyn, which is German more or less, and I haven't been there). I like the food, consider it very good value, and find it has a personal style and touch.

                                                                                                        1. re: johnblacksox

                                                                                                          This boston.com article from 2008 has an excellent shot of the interior:

                                                                                                          http://www.boston.com/lifestyle/food/...

                                                                                                          The space is small, but warm and cozy with tablecloths and a window into the kitchen.

                                                                                                          Parking in the neighborhood is quite plentiful and easy, one of the few sections of Cambridge where there are few big apartment buildings and lots of driveways. Park in a neighborhood spot, or get a metered spot on Concord Ave.

                                                                                                          I think TW Food or No. 9 Park are your two best options.

                                                                                                          1. re: johnblacksox

                                                                                                            The service at both places is excellent. Some people find Craigie icy, or something. To me, it's highly professional.

                                                                                                            1. re: jajjguy

                                                                                                              Agreed. There's an old-school Parisian bistro quality to Craigie's service: workmanlike, detail-oriented, but not smiley and ingratiating like typical American service. It works for me in that particular context. (But mostly I dine at the bar, which has a completely different vibe.)

                                                                                                              http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                                                                                                              1. re: MC Slim JB

                                                                                                                And with no intention of being obnoxious, I just want to address the OP's concerns about Cambridge with respect to Craigie: from the MassPike, it's about a mile up River Street to Central Square. A right on Mass Ave and a left on Main St. and you're there. They have valet parking, although there also is metered parking nearby. The only hangup from a traffic perspective is that sometimes the Allston/Cambridge exit (the "River St. downramp") from the Pike can backup significantly. They've recently repainted the lines dividing the lanes, which has improved traffic flow, although if it's still backed up significantly, you can go towards Allston rather than Cambridge, go to the next traffic light, and pull a u-turn (by taking a right at the light, turning around, and then coming back).

                                                                                                                From the exit on the Pike, it's about 5 minutes with little or moderate traffic. The backup can add another 5 minutes if you have to do the Allston u-turn.

                                                                                                                1. re: Blumie

                                                                                                                  The U-turn after the light is actually verboten (with a big "no U-turn" sign right at the median), but that's not a relevant constraint when searching for proper chow.

                                                                                                        2. Absolutely second TW Food and Rialto. Not a fan of Bondir--to me, the food is so determined to stick to its hyper-local seasonal concept that it ends up being boring. Also, Bondir has a very casual feel even though it's high-end.

                                                                                                          Rialto, for me, is the most reliable experience in the entire Boston area. Food is always great, service is always great. But it is in a hotel. Still, it's Jody Adams!

                                                                                                          TW Food is tiny and very personal, as people have said. Definitely a labor of love on the part of the owners. I will say that driving to and parking at TW Food will probably be everything you hate about navigating Cambridge...

                                                                                                          3 Replies
                                                                                                          1. re: eviltwinjen

                                                                                                            Parking at TW food isn't bad easy once you realize that they rarely, ticket in Huron Village after 5p (it's Cambridge, not Boston). You can just park in a residential spot within a few blocks of the restaurant.

                                                                                                            1. re: eviltwinjen

                                                                                                              eviltwinjen and black_lab: Thanks for the comments! I will definitely consider Rialto, and maybe TW Food. I laughed at your mention of the nightmare of parking in Cambridge. YES! If I want a relaxing dinner out, all dressed up, on a rainy winter night, why do I want to drive in circles on one way streets, then illegally park, walk a mile in the rain, and hope that I don't get towed?

                                                                                                              Valet parking? Ideal. Walkable safe on-street parking? No problem. Illegal parking three miles away? That's a problem.

                                                                                                              1. re: johnblacksox

                                                                                                                Your unfounded perception is vastly different from reality.

                                                                                                              1. Timely post, johnblacksox, so thanks for the post. I suspect that there will be many Hamersley's lovers consulting this thread when looking for that special place with a warm glow, wonderfully consistent food, and top-notch service. There are a few months until my next anniversary dinner and the dining scene will probably change a bit before then, but it helps to get so much input into finding a new special occasion home. Please let us know both pluses and minuses if you try someplace new.

                                                                                                                1. This is such a great topic. Thanks for starting it.

                                                                                                                  I feel your pain over the closing of a favorite fancy restaurant. Locke-Ober's passing hit me particularly hard, and the closing of the Oak Bar was also a tough blow. I feel like a lot of great go-to places have closed in the past couple of years, but that the new places don't match them in terms of service and ambiance - it's all rustic, or trendy or corporate.

                                                                                                                  I like Hammersley's a lot but it has never been a super-favorite. I share many of the same criteria as you: wanting to dress up without being the only person not in jeans, avoiding Cambridge to the greatest extent possible, excellent service, romantic ambiance, etc., etc. For the time being Eastern Standard, Lumiere and Sorellina (resolutely ignoring the silly hostesses) are my favorites. Bergamot, Bondir and Erbaluce just do not feel pampering enough and the smaller places are a hassle to get into on short notice. I do not understand the fuss over the food at Menton (nor 9 Park). I have not tried Asta but based on this thread that's where I'll look next.

                                                                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                                                                  1. re: peelmeagrape

                                                                                                                    peelmeagrape: Thanks for the kind words. I feel like a dinosaur at times because I like nice ambiance and service.

                                                                                                                    And yes, I like Sorellina. But it feels more like a nice place to have dinner, and less like a destination, special occasion place.

                                                                                                                  2. its in cambridge, its afgan not french american or Italian and does not have champagne by the glass but the Helmand is easy to get to, has parking nearby, and is an intimate classy space.

                                                                                                                    the food is consistently good, service has always been great, lighting is low-key and personal. I would only be comfortable dining there in skirt/dress and heels and I don't think my husband has ever dined without a jacket. To us, its that kind of place.
                                                                                                                    Maybe it this is an opportunity? Expand the perimeters?

                                                                                                                    http://helmandrestaurant.com/index.html

                                                                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                                                                    1. re: grumpyspatient

                                                                                                                      It looks nice, I'd love to eat there. Just that I'm not sure it fits the bill as a destination restaurant for a special occasion.

                                                                                                                      If I lived in Boston, I'm sure I'd try it. But my excursions to Boston are very limited, so I'm looking for a really consistently special experience.

                                                                                                                    2. Just went to Sycamore for our 23rd anniversary. I really love the atmosphere and creativity of the food. It's not a scene and the place is too tiny to even think of corporate anything. I really enjoy it.

                                                                                                                      That being said, if you are going to drive an hour, why not go to Providence (depending on where you are starting from). There are so many places with great atmosphere, creative cooking, and zero corporate vibe. New Rivers was our anniversary place until we moved up here. Since we left, the dining scene has just gotten better and better.

                                                                                                                      4 Replies
                                                                                                                      1. re: Scruffy The Cat

                                                                                                                        I like Providence.

                                                                                                                        Just that Boston is the preeminent city in the area, and I love Boston. I enjoy visiting the city. Seems like I should be able to find a special, comfortable, up-scale restaurant there.

                                                                                                                        1. re: johnblacksox

                                                                                                                          You can. People have suggested several. If they don't appeal to you, specifically, for whatever reason (parking situation, interior, neighborhood), that's not the fault of the restaurant.

                                                                                                                          1. re: LeoLioness

                                                                                                                            Leo...Well yeah, actually, parking, interior, and neighborhood are all part of going to a special occasion restaurant.

                                                                                                                            1. re: johnblacksox

                                                                                                                              I'm sure the perfect restaurant for you exists and we just haven't thought of it yet. Good luck!

                                                                                                                      2. Totally forgot about Eastern Standard! That's a good choice as well (although also a hotel restaurant, technically). Great service.

                                                                                                                        2 Replies
                                                                                                                        1. re: eviltwinjen

                                                                                                                          Eastern Standard has decent service and a great drinks program, but it's a far cry from Hamersley's in terms of ambiance, and a good couple of steps down the ladder in terms of food. I'd consider it a good jumping-off point for a night out, and a great place for a likely-to-be-raucous event like a decent-sized birthday dinner, but it's not what I'd think of based on the OP's criteria.

                                                                                                                          1. re: cjd260

                                                                                                                            That's true, and the fact that it didn't come to mind at first is probably telling.

                                                                                                                        2. I'm a little curious about you disqualifying Deuxave. I've been there twice and it seems like it should fit all your criteria. I actually find it much less casual than some of the other places on your list (Bergamot, Bondir in particular). I went one time after a Red Sox game, so was dressed very casually, and I felt out of place. I went for my husbands birthday, and he wore a coat and tie, and we did not feel uncomfortable at all. I've found the service there to be very professional and the wine list definitely lends itself to a special occasion.

                                                                                                                          I think you should at least consider Clio. I know the fact its in a hotel is a minus. But the Elliot is one of the least corporate and most romantic hotels in the city, and the dining room doesn't feel fake the way you describe L'Espalier. I think the same about Rialto, so either of those could suit.

                                                                                                                          Restaurants in Cambridge will almost invariably be more casual. That is part of the so-called "scene" I think. And I get where you are coming from, in that it is a bit of a pain to get to and park. I also live west of Boston, and while Cambridge doesn't bother me, I can't stand trying to get to Arlington or Somerville. But Harvard square is better than some other parts of Cambridge.

                                                                                                                          No one yet as mentioned the Watham places, I don't think. But maybe Il Capriccio or La Campagna would fit the bill. Both have good service, are easy to get to, and have nice ambiance. Perhaps parking at La Campagna is a little bit annoying.

                                                                                                                          3 Replies
                                                                                                                          1. re: ChinaCat

                                                                                                                            ChinaCat...I've been to DeuxAve recently.

                                                                                                                            It was "ok". No tablecloths, on the corner of a busy street. Huge walkup crowd at outdoor tables.

                                                                                                                            Food was EXCELLENT. I mean really, everything I ate was awesome. That was the best part of the evening. Wine list was great.

                                                                                                                            The service was a little too familiar, and the space wasn't warm. It reminded me a lot of Sorrelina in terms of crowd and ambiance. Great place to grab dinner spur of the moment, but I wouldn't mark my calendar to eat there.

                                                                                                                            1. re: ChinaCat

                                                                                                                              We have always found Arlington easy to get to. It is directly off Rt2, has one central street (Mass Ave) running through it and a nice handful of neighborhood places.

                                                                                                                              1. re: RollingDoughnuts

                                                                                                                                What places in Arlington do you find remotely comparable to Hamersley's? Nothing special occasion, dress up, or with any type of buzz IMHO).

                                                                                                                                The only things close in my mind would be Scutra (haven't been in while - curious what other think recently?), Flora (have been - unfortunately - not great food at all, except maybe for brunch), and Tryst (sterile and corporate space with mediocre food but friendly bartenders well-versed in the basics of both cocktails and hospitality) - anywhere else I am missing?

                                                                                                                            2. A slightly off-the-wall suggestion: Top of the Hub. I can't see it becoming a true replacement for Hamersley's as a place you'd want to go to over and over, but if you're looking for a fix for your next anniversary, this could tide you over and meet your criteria until the next great Boston restaurant opens.

                                                                                                                              - Stand-alone, not in a hotel
                                                                                                                              - Super-easy parking in the Prudential garage, which you can get to directly off the Pike
                                                                                                                              - Good, formal service
                                                                                                                              - Big wine list
                                                                                                                              - Definitely wouldn't be out of place in a jacket and tie
                                                                                                                              - Romantic, reasonably dark room
                                                                                                                              - And the most obviously "in-Boston" restaurant you could find, with the views a real treat if you're not in the city that often

                                                                                                                              Where's it lacking? Well, the food is perfectly fine upscale-ish American - I've never had a complaint there - but it's not going to knock your socks off. It's obvious from the places you like that you care about the food, but it's not specifically on your list of criteria - so I wonder if you'd compromise on the food to meet the other requirements.

                                                                                                                              5 Replies
                                                                                                                              1. re: kenner83

                                                                                                                                Top of the hub is just awful. If you want to pay $70 for a pre-portioned frozen Sysco steak and stand in line for the elevator like tourist cattle, be my guest. The place is shamefully gouging with it's price:quality ratio and the service and hospitality is amateur at best

                                                                                                                                1. re: Clos Vougeot

                                                                                                                                  I agree: the food stinks. But I disagree about the hospitality being amateurish: more like aggressively nasty. Luckily, I haven't had any visitors suggest going there lately. If I have to, it's a quick pop at the Hubcap Lounge bar, a whirlwind coach-class look at the nearby rooftops, and then GTFO of there.

                                                                                                                                  http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                                                                                                                                  1. re: MC Slim JB

                                                                                                                                    I guess that any mention of Top of the Hub on this board almost qualifies as trolling. To me, if parking, proximity to the Pike, and only-in-Boston are as high on the OP's list as it seems, then an easy trip into the city, a drink with a gorgeous view, and some overpriced but decent food wouldn't be the worst idea. But obviously you two have had very different experiences there than I have (particularly on the service front) - and I haven't been in 2+ years - so thanks for warning him away.

                                                                                                                                    1. re: kenner83

                                                                                                                                      My latest dining experience there isn't any fresher than yours.

                                                                                                                                      But I do find the service repellent every time, right from the host stand. You operate a stale old tourist trap with a nice aerial view and overpriced, mediocre food and drink; you're not guarding access to the effing Sacred Temple of Athena.

                                                                                                                                      http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                                                                                                                                2. re: kenner83

                                                                                                                                  kenner83, thanks for the idea...I hadn't even considered that. But based on the replies, they sort of confirm my fear that the service and food would be a problem.

                                                                                                                                  It's too bad a knowledgeable restaurant group doesn't take over that spot. It would be a fun location.

                                                                                                                                3. What about Aquitaine in the S. End?

                                                                                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                                                                                  1. re: dori_pm

                                                                                                                                    dori_pm...I checked the website, and it looks a little casual.

                                                                                                                                  2. Ps- no I don't work there or have any affiliation with the company at all.

                                                                                                                                    1. Thanks for initiating this thread - many of us face the same dilemma. My two cents, based on the thread so far:

                                                                                                                                      Meritage deserves more love. Excellent wine program, many options by the glass. The attention Frankel lavishes on small plates means you can always construct a lovely tasting menu. The room is very pleasant - tables generously spaced, wall of glass overlooking Boston Harbor, and you won't feel out of place wearing a tie.

                                                                                                                                      Harvest, too. Park at University Place. Though it is owned by Grill 23 folk, so I understand, they seem to appreciate the legacy they inherited. Mary Dumont is a credible heir. Cambridge, yes, but the flavor-of-the-month crowd doesn't frequent Harvest.

                                                                                                                                      Sycamore deserves serious consideration. The room is small, but the mix of diners is eclectic enough that a jacket won't seem out-of-place. As idiosyncratic as you find the wine program, I find it expands my horizon. Trust the staff for suggestions. The cocktails deserve mention - Scott invented Ghost of Mary while at Great Bay, and brought it with him to Sycamore. The rotating "boards" will keep you coming back - inventive riffs in the snout-to-tail vein, they can be as thought-provoking as they are savory.

                                                                                                                                      Good luck, and keep posting your thoughts as the quest continues.

                                                                                                                                      13 Replies
                                                                                                                                      1. re: MaxEntropy

                                                                                                                                        You've triggered all of us thinking about what made the vibe at Hamersely's so special. So though I've already put my two cents in I'm going to add Guilia, though it fails your "not in Cambridge" test. It is a "true" kitchen in that it reflects a single cook's palate and it is an excellent one, serious about its food and yet not oppressive. Probably not going to be a lot of "suits" but several wouldn't be surprising. I put it out because of its excellent individuality.

                                                                                                                                        1. re: teezeetoo

                                                                                                                                          teezeetoo...From the Guilia website: "Parking in our neighborhood can sometimes be a challenge -- we recommend taking public transportation if you can!"

                                                                                                                                          So...yeah...No way, for a special occasion.

                                                                                                                                          Lots of people have given examples of really good, nice, neighborhood restaurants. If I lived in the area, I would love to go to 90% of these recommendations. It's a different story for a special occasion place, where I don't want to deal with traffic, parking, maybe "iffy" service, maybe a not so great wine list, maybe most people wearing t-shirts, etc.

                                                                                                                                          1. re: johnblacksox

                                                                                                                                            Please do let us know how you find No. 9 as a substitute for Hamersley. I used to like No.9 very much but stopped going a number of years ago when I found the prices were getting too steep and the portions a little precious but that's really too old an experience to be in any way reliable. I did not like Menton: I felt the food was predictable, the service pretentious, and the room sterile. But I loved the old L'Espalier (and still like the new one though I do mourn the missing ambiance) and I really liked Hamersley so I'm truly interested in how No. 9 stacks up as a replacement. Good luck.

                                                                                                                                            1. re: teezeetoo

                                                                                                                                              having attended numerous wine dinners at no 9 as a vip and dining there often on my own dime (and well-known by staff) i had to give up on the place. the wine mark-ups feel like prison rape and at this price point the dishes should be firing on all cylinders, however most nights it was good for 2 out of 3, with one being an utter fail.

                                                                                                                                              after suffering my WORST and most offensive service experience ever in boston at b&g i will never set foot in another of lynch's places. nor have the 3 industry friends with whom i had such an atrocious dinner that night.

                                                                                                                                              op: she has 4 restaurants, a cooking school and numerous book projects. how hands-on do you think she still is?

                                                                                                                                              have fun!

                                                                                                                                              1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                                                                                                                My "worst and most offensive service experience ever in Boston" was also at B&G, and it hurt me like h*ll to have to declare that I would never set foot in the place again. The arrogance of those human-like waste forms manning the bar was offensive, assaulting, and reeked of self-importance. I was crushed, because I always loved popping in at lunch for oysters, lob roll, chowder, and a nice bottle of wine - even though it was going to end up costing me $200 for 4 of us. Never again. There are too many other nice places where I can have that experience sans the assault. Good riddance.

                                                                                                                                                1. re: Small Plates

                                                                                                                                                  Small Plates: I understand what you're saying. I've had good to very good experiences at B&G so far, so I guess I'm willing to still go with it. If/when I have a bad experience, I'm sure I'd be in your camp.

                                                                                                                                                2. re: hotoynoodle

                                                                                                                                                  hotoynoodle: I know what you are saying. I guess I'm willing to take a beating on wine if the place feels special.

                                                                                                                                                  Interesting about B&G...I've been there numerous times for oysters, and I've found it to be very professional. It's actually a selling point for me when I was considering No. 9.

                                                                                                                                                  But yeah, if I had a terrible experience, I wouldn't go to another of that chef's places. I understand.

                                                                                                                                                3. re: teezeetoo

                                                                                                                                                  teezeetoo: Thanks, I'm going to No 9 in early October. I'll check in back here afterwards, so people can either cheer or excoriate me. :-)

                                                                                                                                                  Honestly, I didn't dislike Menton. It just felt a little contrived. Like they started out with a zillion dollars and made a nice restaurant. I suppose you could say the same for No 9 Park, but the location seems a little warmer to me. I dunno, we'll see!

                                                                                                                                            2. re: MaxEntropy

                                                                                                                                              MaxEntropy...Thanks...Good idea with Meritage. I do sort of like the Rowes Wharf area, but the restaurant looks like a typical nice hotel restaurant. Still, it's an interesting idea, and I'll look more into it.

                                                                                                                                              If it was the type of place I could get dressed up and have a beautiful view of the harbor, I might be able to get over my hotel-restaurant-phobia.

                                                                                                                                              Harvest is less likely, as I'd probably be more likely to consider Grill 23 in Back Bay than their outpost in Cambridge. And I'm not a big steakhouse guy. ;-)

                                                                                                                                              1. re: johnblacksox

                                                                                                                                                It's been an interesting discussion to follow, and really drives home the point that restaurants are a bit like snow flakes - no two every exactly alike. My SO concurs with the proponents of No. 9 Park.

                                                                                                                                                1. re: MaxEntropy

                                                                                                                                                  MaxEntropy: Yes, I know. And I realize I'm increasingly a dinosaur in dining terms. The trend is extremely casual, counter service, "small plates", etc. I'm more of a linen tablecloth and jacket & tie type. Youth must be served, though, I get that. :-)

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: johnblacksox

                                                                                                                                                    JBSox: thanks for revisiting the thread. Enjoyed your thoughtful replies up and down.

                                                                                                                                                    Since last posting, I've had a change of heart about my Sycamore recommendation (been there at least 4 times in the interim). It is NOT the Hamersly's replacement we are looking for - only in the sense that it should not be reserved for special occasions. It lacks formality - bare wooden tables - but the food is alluring. My SO and I have come to the conclusion that it is our new "Rendezvous".

                                                                                                                                                    And I concur that the trend is toward informality - though I miss the theatricality of places like Maitre Jacques, Maison Robert, Locke Ober. What's wrong with a starched linen table cloth now and then?

                                                                                                                                                    That said, I think I have a new suggestion, long a favorite but it didn't occur to me to suggest it. Unfortunately its a bit of a drive, but worth it for those once or twice a year special occasions. Simon Pearce in Quechee, VT. In an old mill building, overlooking falls and a covered bridge (new since the floods, but still charming). Lunches are informal, but at dinner the linen comes out. As romantic as the setting is, the food is what keeps us going back. A few of their classics - they've tried to remove them, but can't - include roasted cod topped with crispy leeks (not doing it total justice - check their menu) and a dessert of walnut meringues with raspberry sauce. Excellent wine program too. A bit over two hours from Boston, so it requires an overnight stay, but that only adds to the specialness of the occasion.

                                                                                                                                                    Looking forward to my last visit to Hamersley's in a couple of weeks, which reminds me of a couple of Hamersley's anecdotes. Before the move to their current digs from across the street, Deanna worked the front of the house and dated Nick of the Blue Room. In my bachelor days I was in a bit more frequently. One evening I brought a date to the Blue Room. Nick looks up with a big grin as I enter and says "So you're slumming tonight? Heard you were at Hamersley's last night!" As much as I love Nick, that was awkward, as it was a different date the night before.

                                                                                                                                                    The VERY LAST NIGHT in the old location, Hamersley's had two seatings. When I arrived for the second seating, it turned out Julia Child and company had the same table at the first seating. We chatted at the cross-over - standing in the middle of the restaurant - for close to 15 minutes.

                                                                                                                                                    Let us know your decision on a Hamersley's replacement, and Bon Appetit!

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: MaxEntropy

                                                                                                                                                      MaxEntropy: Great post, thanks! And yes, I love the restaurant at Simon Pearce! My brush with culinary fame was when I saw Mario eating lunch in there one time. Anyway, food and wine at Simon Pearce are excellent, and the space is beyond romantically beautiful.

                                                                                                                                                      It's just a little far away, and there are times when I want the ambiance of a beautiful world class city like Boston, as opposed to the remote bucolic wilderness of Vermont. I live in the country, so the city is more of a draw to me. Boston is my closest drive-able major city for dinner.

                                                                                                                                                      I too have one last reservation at Hamersley's. I still remember my last dinner at the old L'Espalier too. :-) As bummed as I am for me, I'm glad both chefs had a long storied career, and moved on when it suited them. Special restaurants are backdrops to many happy moments in our lives, right?

                                                                                                                                                      Have a great time at Hamersley's. I'll definitely check back in here after my No. 9 dinner in October.

                                                                                                                                                      With all the "spirited" comments in this thread, both for and against me, I truly appreciate all the well-informed advice and passionate debate. That's why I like this site!

                                                                                                                                            3. Well, another vote for Prezza in the North End. It is noisy, but dark enough and great food and wine.

                                                                                                                                              If the suburbs are still OK with you, I have always loved Il Capriccio In Waltham. Dark and tie and jacket would not be out of place, not that it should matter. Also, free parking, great food, extensive wine list...

                                                                                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                                                                                              1. re: Northender

                                                                                                                                                Northender...Prezza looks great. I'm just not convinced it's a special dinner type place. Again, if I lived in the area, I'd love going there.

                                                                                                                                              2. I should probably post a wrap-up, since so many people were nice enough to share their personal recommendations.

                                                                                                                                                The restaurants mentioned here all look really good in their own rights. If I lived or worked in the Boston area, I'm sure I'd eventually try most of them.

                                                                                                                                                But as I said, there are certain restaurants that "feel" like a special occasion type destination. You don't eat there all the time, but when you do, you want everything to be perfect and, well, special. The bar is set higher, across the board, than just eating good food.

                                                                                                                                                For me, the old L'Espalier in its brownstone location was the perfect example. Recently, Hamersley's was my go-to special occasion restaurant. What do I love about it? I love that the chef is there, cooking, almost all the time. I love that he's not a celebrity on TV with 5 other Hamersley's outposts in various shopping malls on 495. I love that it was in South Boston before South Boston was cool. I love the valet parking, and easy access to/from the Mass Pike. I love the brick exterior. I love the tablecloths, carpeting, warm lighting. I love the numerous great champagnes by the glass. I love the wine list. I love the classically prepared seasonal food. I love the warm welcome, and the warm proper service. I love that it's always crowded, and that most of the people are well-dressed. The servers seem happy, the diners seem happy.

                                                                                                                                                Anyway...I did actually look at the websites of *every* place mentioned here.

                                                                                                                                                For my next special occasion dinner (in October), I'm going to try No. 9 Park.

                                                                                                                                                Pros: Location is ideal. Valet parking. I'm sure the food, wine, and service will be great. Restaurant looks beautiful inside. White tablecloths, etc.

                                                                                                                                                Cons: It's part of the Barbara Lynch(TM) empire. I had a great dinner at Menton, but it had a blah corporate ambiance, not at all "warm". It wasn't a hotel restaurant, but it might as well have been.

                                                                                                                                                I'm hoping that the Back Bay location is warmer, it looks it from the pictures.

                                                                                                                                                Thoughts on my choice?

                                                                                                                                                12 Replies
                                                                                                                                                1. re: johnblacksox

                                                                                                                                                  You seem to be quite particular, so it is worth noting that No 9 Park is not in the Back Bay but rather in Beacon Hill. You mentioned that the location is ideal, but it is not always convenient from the Pike (assuming that is how you are coming into town), as there can be quite a bit of traffic coming in on Stuart, Charles, Beacon.

                                                                                                                                                  Hammersley's will still be open in October, so why not go back to your holy grail for one more special occasion meal? Note that it is in the South End, not South Boston.

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: black_lab

                                                                                                                                                    Ha, well, yeah, I like the things I like. Who doesn't? If we all liked every restaurant in the world, Chowhound wouldn't exist, right?

                                                                                                                                                    Back Bay/Beacon Hill, semantics. Guilty as charged about South Boston though, smtucker went off on me for that too. :-)

                                                                                                                                                    Traffic to No. 9 Park is no worse than to Hamersley's. And yes, I am actually going back to Hamersley's one last time, on a random night, because I couldn't get reservations for my "special occasion night".

                                                                                                                                                    That's how I found out they were closing. I called to make reservations 4 weeks out, and they were booked. I was like...Huh? Why are you booked? And they said they were closing, and many people were reserving. So I basically asked for any date at a reasonable dining hour, and got one 6 weeks out. Crazy, but evidently, I'm not alone in liking Hamersley's. ;-)

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: johnblacksox

                                                                                                                                                      If you are coming off the Pike, traffic going to No9 is absolutely worse than Hammersley's. Hammersley's is a quick right down Dartmouth or Clarendon after the exit, and you are out of the fray and there in a few blocks. No9, however requires the slog 4 blocks down Stuart or Boylston before hitting Charles. Depending on the traffic, that can tack on 10+ min to your trip. The difference between Back Bay and Beacon Hill location is certainly not semantics in terms of travel time from the Pike. Back Bay is universally more convenient. Of course, you are aware that they have begun a long term construction project on the Pike, dropping the highway to 3 lanes after the Allston Brighton tolls and causing huge backups regularly. Ironically, due to this any of the dreaded Cambridge restaurants would actually be an easier trip in.

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: black_lab

                                                                                                                                                        black_lab: Not just traffic, but parking. L'Espalier had valet parking, Hamersley's has valet parking, No. 9 has valet parking.

                                                                                                                                                        Some people have seriously suggested driving to Cambridge, then trying to find a metered parking place blocks away. On a cold rainy night? Not going to happen. I mean, yeah, I could also take a Greyhound bus for my anniversary dinner too.

                                                                                                                                                        Back to traffic, I think it's a wash driving to the far side of the Common, and enduring the Mass Pike exit to Storrow Drive.

                                                                                                                                                        And speaking subjectively, Boston is prettier at night than Cambridge. ;-)

                                                                                                                                                  2. re: johnblacksox

                                                                                                                                                    quote " I love that it was in South Boston before South Boston was cool. "

                                                                                                                                                    Pretty sure that Hammersley's was never in South Boston. Their address is pretty solidly in the South End, where I lived long before there was a Hammersley or it was cool. 27 years ago the South End's upswing was well underway. I was pushed out by rising prices in 1982.

                                                                                                                                                    But all that aside, it almost appears that your fantasy restaurant doesn't exist in today's Boston. Any chance you could join the Union or Chilton Club, or dine at the Harvard Club on Commonwealth? Those clubs maybe the only places left where they keep jackets at the front door for men who "forget" their own. But the tradeoff for atmosphere is the food.

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: smtucker

                                                                                                                                                      I meant South End, not South Boston, sorry.

                                                                                                                                                      And let's just say that in the (late) 1980's, the South End didn't look like it does now. :-)

                                                                                                                                                    2. re: johnblacksox

                                                                                                                                                      A couple of people have suggested Mamma Maria, and I agree it's most in line with what you're looking for. I'm just curious if there's a specific reason it's not in contention.

                                                                                                                                                      No. 9 is a good choice for service and ambiance, but you might find the food more scant, precious and inconsistent than at Hamersley's.

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: pollystyrene

                                                                                                                                                        pollystyrene: Not sure...I appreciate the recommendation of Mamma Maria, it looks very good. Just not sure it feels like a "special occasion" place. Again, there are tons of places mentioned here that sound great, and if I lived in the area, I guarantee I would try most of them.

                                                                                                                                                        In my mind, there is a difference between a really good restaurant, and a place that you'd drive over an hour just to have an anniversary dinner.

                                                                                                                                                        I have really good to excellent restaurants near me. What I don't have is high end city dining.

                                                                                                                                                        1. re: johnblacksox

                                                                                                                                                          Mamma Maria is most certainly a special occasion place. Not sure what you're seeing which would suggest otherwise.

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: Alcachofa

                                                                                                                                                            Seriously. Probably the closest thing to the feel of L'Espalier's old location too.

                                                                                                                                                            And the food is better than Hammersley's.

                                                                                                                                                          2. re: johnblacksox

                                                                                                                                                            I think Mamma Maria is a great solution right now - it always feels special occasion to me, the service is highly professional, well-informed, and unintrusive, I have never felt the least bit rushed, they have valet parking, and the food has been stellar when I've gone in the past two years (it was always good to me, but it seems to have gotten better recently - different chef?). Give it a try.

                                                                                                                                                            1. re: rlh

                                                                                                                                                              Ok, seeing the love for Mamma Maria here, I will give it a shot! Thanks to everyone who lobbied for it.

                                                                                                                                                      2. These suggestions will not meet your criteria of "replace Hamersley's Bistro", but instead should simply be added to your list as "places I want to go on special occasions or a great evening out".

                                                                                                                                                        80 Thoreau in Concord, MA. Consistently exquisite food (literally never a bad dish in all my many many visits over the past 3 years since it opened). Elegant dining space (though not dark), plenty of parking, easy off Rt 2, wonderful service. Worth the trip, I promise! Expect to be thrilled.
                                                                                                                                                        http://www.80thoreau.com/

                                                                                                                                                        J's Restaurant at Nashoba Valley Winery in Bolton, MA. One of the most romantic little day / dinner trips you could ask for. The restaurant is a converted old home with wood walls and a beautiful fireplace and little tables scattered through out the several rooms. The food is surprisingly high quality foodie given the remoteness of the location (Boston plating style while overlooking western mass fall orchards = heavenly). The orchard-made wines and spirits are definitely more of a novelty than wine-snob worthy, but if you reframe your mind to just enjoy the flavors and not expect it to taste like a perfectly aged merlot, they make a lot of tasty beverages worth trying. Spend the late afternoon picking apples in a nearby orchard, head to the winery for a tour and spend some time in the tasting room / store (lots of variety to try), and then head into the house for your dinner. This place has been our Anniversary Dinner spot for 5 years and we never regret it and end each night vowing to go back!
                                                                                                                                                        http://www.nashobawinery.com/

                                                                                                                                                        As to your original request, just "food for thought", you seem to be oddly insulted by the restaurants you like being successful and mention through out this thread a desire to find a restaurant opened by the chef "for the love of serving wonderful food" and I really want to challenge you to question that. What makes you think anyone is crazy enough to take on the hell and financial burden of opening a restaurant in Boston proper without the goal of making a profit?! Restaurant are a HUGE investment, both financially and time...why on earth would you deny a chef / restauranteur that is putting in that type of effort and finance and personal sacrifice any reward for his / her efforts? Would you look them in the eye and say "Please, miss out on anything that resembles a normal life, spend every waking hour breathing your business, give yourself heart / stress / health problems, burn through several worthwhile relationships or miss your kids growing up, all to make me a nice dinner, but never get enough acclaim or make enough profit to justify opening a second location!" Really? Oh, and the hotel thing, there are so many *incredible* chefs who simply can not scrounge together the scratch to open an independent restaurant in Boston (do you have any idea how much money you need to do this in Boston these days PLUS the extra to buy off the city for a liquor license) and being head chef in a hotel restaurant is the only way you'll ever experience them. Also the hotel venture gives the chef a glimmer of hope of having a shred of a life, since they control the food, not the entire business. That small romantic seating area you enjoy with your leisurely 3 glass of wine and champagne by the glass several hour dinner experience is MURDER for profits in terms of number of table turns per evening and available number of table tops...with Boston rent being what it is, sometimes the only way to make that profitable is to spread out the rent expense across a larger business, AKA a HOTEL :)

                                                                                                                                                        10 Replies
                                                                                                                                                        1. re: InmanSQ Girl

                                                                                                                                                          What you hear is applause from me for your accurate portrayal. The truly remarkable thing about Hamersley is that it managed to reflect and sustain for so many years the personal vision of a chef-owner who avoided expanding beyond this one space. I will really miss it, as I will miss Rendezvous. Our son, who gave up his restaurant many years ago in a decision that he could not raise three children and work 6 nights a week, says that a good diner makes a better living serving breakfast and lunch than a "fine dining" restaurant which lives on the markup for booze and wine and barely breaks even on food.

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: teezeetoo

                                                                                                                                                            teezeetoo: Right on, I am in agreement about how hard it is to run a great restaurant.

                                                                                                                                                            1. re: InmanSQ Girl

                                                                                                                                                              Exactly! Mario Batali's restaurant group just paid $410,000 for the liquor license to open their coming restaurant in the Seaport:

                                                                                                                                                              http://bostonrestaurants.blogspot.com...

                                                                                                                                                              There are precious few chef driven fine dining restaurants in Boston opening these days without the backing of a large restaurant group. Asta is the only one I can think of in the last few years and they only have a beer and wine license. The resources required to open in Boston are enormous.

                                                                                                                                                              This is why all of the interesting, chef driven restaurants are opening in Cambridge, Somerville, Brookline, and even :gasp: the suburbs.

                                                                                                                                                              You can be as particular as you like, but if you're dead set on Boston, then you're looking for something that increasingly no longer exists.

                                                                                                                                                              1. re: VintageMolly

                                                                                                                                                                VintageMolly: Thank you, and I agree. I understand the finances involved, and it does actually seem like the amount of money needed to launch a restaurant in Boston prevents anything but the corporate hotel types.

                                                                                                                                                                L'Espalier, my previous favorite restaurant, was a good example. It was magical in it's Gloucester St. brownstone, and I totally understand the owner taking the money to move into the Mandarin. I would have done the same. The guy killed himself for years in a postage stamp sized kitchen, then suddenly had the chance to cash into a lucrative hotel deal.

                                                                                                                                                                I'm honestly extremely happy that he was able to cash out. I'm bummed for myself, because eating in a glorified hotel lobby isn't the same as eating in a quirky brownstone.

                                                                                                                                                                You seem annoyed that I don't want to eat in the "gasp, suburbs", but I live in the suburbs. I love the suburbs. I love restaurants in the suburbs. For me, part of the fun of a special occasion is dining in the "city". I'm not going to drive 60-75 minutes to eat at a casual local neighborhood place in Cambridge, Somerville, or Brookline, when I have casual local neighborhood places 10 minutes away in the casual local neighborhood that I live in. Right?

                                                                                                                                                                I'm looking for something special in "the city" that I don't have already have in my suburbs. Like you say, increasingly, it no longer exists. I agree with you.

                                                                                                                                                                1. re: johnblacksox

                                                                                                                                                                  Maybe you need to change your "City". NYC, Portland, Providence, etc are all doable if you are willing to spend the night. It might be worth the extra time/distance to get what you want.

                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: viperlush

                                                                                                                                                                    viperlush: I do eat in NYC, and Providence, fairly regularly. NY has what seems like unlimited "special occasion" type places. Too far to drive there and back for dinner though. Providence has some nice places, but none I would consider better than what I can get in Boston.

                                                                                                                                                                    I love Boston, and I'm hoping to settle on a new special place.

                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: johnblacksox

                                                                                                                                                                      a group of us recently had diner at north in providence and it knocked our socks off, BUT small plates and very informal.

                                                                                                                                                                      portland has become an AMAZING food town, but is even more casual than boston!

                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                                                                                                                                        Yeah, I love places like that, but sometimes I want to be dressed up for dinner. I have great casual restaurants near my house.

                                                                                                                                                              2. re: InmanSQ Girl

                                                                                                                                                                InmanSQ Girl: Good post, thanks.

                                                                                                                                                                1) 80 Thoreau: Thanks, I will check it out. Wine list is awesome. Website looks great.

                                                                                                                                                                2) Nashoba place: I checked it out, and the venue looks cool, but the wine list is...I have to say...a nightmare. The top entry is a "blueberry merlot". Their only "sparkling wine" is their own "hard cider". It seems like someone making alcoholic drinks in their bathtub. I like local wines, the Westport sparkling wine from MA is cool, had it at L'Espalier. But Blueberry Merlot? That's an automatic "no way".

                                                                                                                                                                3) I agree with your sentiments about chefs/restaurants, but I don't get what your point is. Believe me, I agree 100% that being a chef is a nightmare, and my heart bleeds for anyone who works in the restaurant business. I routinely go to local chef/owner/operated places, and I say all the time that I feel so sorry for anyone trying to make an honest living running a restaurant. It's a nightmare, long hours, dealing with people, working every night, every weekend, etc. Anyone who does it should be a millionaire, you couldn't pay me enough.

                                                                                                                                                                That being said...What does it have to do with the fact that I love Hamersley's, and want to find a similar place? You seem to be arguing that I should settle for a corporate hotel restaurant, and I'm demanding that someone work 150 hours a week to please me. That's ridiculous. If that's the case, then I'll just stay in my hometown, and eat at a nice locally owned place 15 minutes away. I'm looking for a place special enough to warrant a drive into Boston. Hamersley's, and before that L'Esapalier, fit that bill. If there is no such place anymore, then that is ok to admit. I'm not demanding such a place exists. I'm just asking if there is one. It sounds like you're saying, "No, Hamersley's was the last, there are no more". That's totally acceptable to tell me. I was just asking people's opinions, because that what this website is for, right? :-)

                                                                                                                                                              3. Any opinions on Ostra? Seems like part of a corporate empire, but the space, wine list, and menu look good.

                                                                                                                                                                Specifically, how does it compare for better or worse, to No. 9 Park? (And yes, I am searching the site for opinions too. :-)

                                                                                                                                                                3 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                1. re: johnblacksox

                                                                                                                                                                  Ostra? You said in your op no seafood restaurants. Ostra = seafood version of Sorellina (same restaurant group, of course). Convenient to the pike though. I went about a month after it opened and liked it well enough but it's too pricey for my regular rotation and I prefer Row 34 or Island Creek when I feel like seafood. I will say Ostra's seafood paella was excellent.

                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Gordough

                                                                                                                                                                    the columbus hospitality group consistently offers some of the city's best service.

                                                                                                                                                                  2. re: johnblacksox

                                                                                                                                                                    I can't compare the dining experiences of the two restaurants but in terms of how they meet your "feels like Boston" criteria, they are quite different. Ostra is located on the ground story of a modern condo building (ca. 2004) and across from the State Transportation Building (ca. 1980s) and the Revere Hotel (ca. 1970s?) at a busy intersection of Charles and Stuart streets. No. 9 Park is in a 19th century townhouse across from Boston Common and just below the State House.

                                                                                                                                                                  3. Drive to White Barn Inn?

                                                                                                                                                                    1. Made our pilgramage to Hammerley's last night for a final farewell. Four of us dined well, of course, and made it through 4 courses in just under two hours without feeling rushed - a testament to the efficiency of the kitchen and waitstaff. Gordon was gracious as always, but there were two notable differences - he spent much of the night off the line greeting patrons and signing menus, and he was wearing a Patriots cap instead of his normal Red Sox cap (a statement about their season, I suppose). Our server confirmed that the Gallows team is taking over the space. But more interesting was her response when we asked what she knew of Jason Hanelt's plans. She smiled broadly and would only say that her future was tied to his - and to stay tuned. Perhaps Jason will take up the mantle of Hammersley's and provide the special-occasion venue we are looking for in the post-Hammersley's era. She also mentioned that they are taking normal bookings for the final night (in contrast to the final night in the previous location across the street, which was a fund-raiser). That is likely to be a lively evening.

                                                                                                                                                                      Fiona was not in the house, apparently working at home devising a plan to wind down the wine collection gracefully.

                                                                                                                                                                      3 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: MaxEntropy

                                                                                                                                                                        We went for one last visit over the weekend as well. It was good to see the entire regular kitchen staff on the line and many familiar faces working the dining room. Even the always disagreeable bartender was still on the job (remind me to avoid wherever he ends up). He actually served a DC a martini (ordered standard) with a pink tinge. When this was pointed out, he curtly said it was fine and rather the wood on the bar made it look that way. I could smell something sweet right off and our waiter exchanged the drink once we were seated.

                                                                                                                                                                        Our meal was as good as ever, and we discussed at length on how nice the room/atmosphere was. I had hopes that Jason might take the space over as he has been the chef de cuisine for so long. I will be interested to see what his next step is as well. One thing which I did notice was that some of portions were seemed smaller than in the past. We haven't been there in about a year, so I'm not sure when this changes. The mushroom sandwich was about half the size as the portion on previous visits. This was OK, as in retrospect it was listed on the Amuse Bouche portion of the menu and priced accordingly. Maybe this was their way of fitting it on the farewell menu. The chicken portion was a bit smaller as well.

                                                                                                                                                                        It will be sad to see it go, and I will miss the Botero prints in the restroom.

                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: MaxEntropy

                                                                                                                                                                          Max and blacklab, thanks for the comments on Hamersley's!! I have my final reservation in a couple weeks, and I know it will be bittersweet.

                                                                                                                                                                          And yeah, if something similar takes over the space, I'd consider trying it, but it probably wouldn't be the same.

                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: johnblacksox

                                                                                                                                                                            am pretty sure the people behind the gallows are taking over the space so i doubt it will meet your criteria. at all.

                                                                                                                                                                        2. DENOUEMENT...

                                                                                                                                                                          Ok, I wanted to report back with the dramatic conclusion to my quest.

                                                                                                                                                                          First, again, THANK YOU to everyone who posted here. Even those who disagree with me. I literally checked out the website of every place that was recommended to me. And, I will definitely try some of the places for dinner in the future.

                                                                                                                                                                          For now...I ended up trying No. 9 Park. We went a couple weeks ago on a Saturday night.

                                                                                                                                                                          In a nutshell, I like Hamersley's better, but No. 9 fit my bill as a good "special occasion" place. So, for now, I'm cool with No. 9.

                                                                                                                                                                          Full details:

                                                                                                                                                                          The drive to get there was worse than Hamersley's, as someone pointed out to me earlier. I got off the Mass Pike at Copley, and it took me 20 minutes of traffic, and having to drive around the block to get to the right side of the street for valet parking. The valet parking was a little unfriendly, but whatever. In general, it took maybe an extra 10 minutes to get there.

                                                                                                                                                                          The restaurant is huge, bigger than I expected, and it was packed with people, which I like, and take as a good sign.

                                                                                                                                                                          The greeting was excellent. Host in a suit and tie, everyone was very welcoming and gracious. People at the bar were casual, which is cool, but in general, it felt like an upscale place, I was not at all out of place in a jacket and tie.

                                                                                                                                                                          We got a great table in the dining room to the right. Absolutely beautiful, with bonus views over the Common. So that was a 10 out of 10 for ambiance. The back dining room was crowded and much less charming, so I'm not sure how they decide where to seat people, but if I had been anywhere but that front room, I would have been a little bummed out.

                                                                                                                                                                          The service all night was awesome. Super professional, friendly, everyone was great.

                                                                                                                                                                          The menu was great. Great selection, variety, quality.

                                                                                                                                                                          One minor quibble: The wine list wasn't really to my taste. My go-to wines are either Rhone or Oregon Pinot Noir, and the wine list was extremely limited on both. The Rhone wines were meh, run of the mill, and they only had one Oregon Pinot Noir on the list, which I thought was really weird. Most high end restaurants have a dozen, or more. Instead, they were heavy on Italian wines, which aren't really my thing. The prices weren't bad at all, though. So, no big deal.

                                                                                                                                                                          Anyway, the food was delicious. Everything was highest quality, seasoned perfectly, cooked perfectly.

                                                                                                                                                                          Second minor quibble: The cheese selection only has one domestic cheese. 20 years ago, I'd agree with that, but in 2014, there are world class cheeses being made in VT, NY, MA, NH, and CT. With the trend toward local ingredients, I'd like to see a restaurant have mostly local cheeses. This is not just No. 9, most high end restaurants refuse to serve local cheese, when it is often better than imported. I don't get it.

                                                                                                                                                                          The desserts were awesome, by the way.

                                                                                                                                                                          One huge compliment to No. 9: I love how they included a line for a charitable donation on the check. What a *great* idea. We're all fortunate to be able to eat out at fancy places, and I like that they gave the opportunity to add a donation when I paid the check. I've never seen a restaurant do this before, and I wish all high end places would do the same.

                                                                                                                                                                          All in all, service was an A+, ambiance at our particular table was an A+, food was an A+. The experience was a little more businesslike than Hamersley's, and like I said, the front dining room is really the only place to be. Most of all, it definitely felt like a "special occasion" type of place, so kudos to No. 9 for that.

                                                                                                                                                                          My plan is for No. 9 to be my new go-to place for special occasion dining in Boston. I'll also try some of the other places mentioned here in the future. Also, a new restaurant, Liquid Art, opened recently. That looks cool, and I'll give that a try too.

                                                                                                                                                                          So, that's the conclusion to this thread. Thanks for reading and commenting!!

                                                                                                                                                                          4 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: johnblacksox

                                                                                                                                                                            Well, here we are. My SO is smiling and saying I told you so.

                                                                                                                                                                            I mentioned to Gordon he should check out this thread - I've certainly enjoyed it. Many thanks JBSX for sharing the journey.

                                                                                                                                                                            And I agree with you about local cheese. We've fallen hard for several from Woodcock Farm in VT - we pick them up at the Norwich VT farmers market. In WI you see local cheeses featured prominently (try Etoile in Madison) and Chicago too for that matter (try Blackbird for artisanal Illinois and Indiana cheeses). Why not in Boston???

                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: MaxEntropy

                                                                                                                                                                              That's a fine idea for another thread, regional cheeses at Boston-area restaurants.

                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: Jenny Ondioline

                                                                                                                                                                                We are talking about some of the best cheeses in the world now coming from US farms particularly from Vermont I think (their annual cheese festival is a marvel of tastes). I think L'Espalier has featured a few of them on their cheese night dinners but it would be a treat to see them highlighted on Boston menus. Twig Farm cheeses alone are worth a spotlight.

                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: Jenny Ondioline

                                                                                                                                                                                  Jenny - fired up a separate thread on regional cheeses - and I'm learning already.