At least one visitor thread [ Boston ]

Hello Boston !

I’ve looked through your threads - great discussions - but I’m missing the requisite “visitor thread”. While I might say “good for you!”, here I am visiting boston this weekend and wondering where to eat. ( We have a mission to visit all the largest cities in america for a long weekend. We’re about 1/4 of the way through. )

I’m just talking about dinner.

The trick is twofold:

  • We’re pretty jaded, ahem, experienced. We get excellent asian and indian food in the greater bay area, as well as “modern cuisine” ( N-star michelin ). We’d like to eat whatever seems either exceptional or boston-ish without being touristy.

  • We don’t have reservations anywhere yet, and most places that are common on the “large lists” are booked. Such as Oleana. OpenTable has some places listed, like Alden and Harlow.

Similarly - we like eating at the bar. We prefer alcohol ( a glass or two of wine, cocktail, beer ) as part of our meal. We eat anything, no restrictions, love anything. Current favorite SF restaurant: Cockscomb. If there’s no reservation, I want a “plan B” nearby because running about from one side of town to another is tiresome. I would prefer not to run out to the suburbs unless it’s a fairly simple shot on the T.

I can book one “large dinner” that’s anything goes. Tasting menu, luxe extravaganza, whatever - or something modest, but great. We will usually eat constantly during the day ( oysters! Chowder! cannoli! 4-way cannoli shootout! Slice of regina’s pizza! Chocolate festival ! ) so we’ll be ready for a smaller meal the other day.

Would that one place be Alden and Harlow? Bronwyn? Craigie on Main? Loyal Nine? Townsman? No 9 Park? Select?
( Sarma booked on OT just like Oleana )

Thanks in advance… will reciprocate when the same thread starts in the SF HO.

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I’d try to get a couple of bar seats at Craigie on Main and do their tasting menu. They also have really good wines to pair. You can’t go wrong there.

I know both Sarma and Oleana hold reservations back from Open Table since they so easily book up - if you’d be excited about either of those, I recommend calling. Oleana has a lovely bar too if you’d like to eat there, though there’s often a line when they open to grab a bar seat so I’d suggest getting in line a few minutes early if that’s your plan.

Oleana and Alden & Harlow are my two favorites of your list. Bronwyn is a fun, inventive spot but not in the same tier. If you’re looking for particularly “Boston” food, we often go to seafood - common recommendations are Select Oyster, Island Creek Oyster Bar, and Neptune Oyster (doesn’t take reservations and no ideal plan B though).

Of your list, I am most familiar with Alden and Harlow, Loyal Nine, and Oleana. It’s a tricky call for me, because Loyal Nine is my favourite restaurant, but I think I would have to steer you toward Oleana for your ‘big’ dinner.

Admittedly, both Loyal Nine and A&H have better cocktail programs than Oleana, and Loyal Nine meets your criterion of ‘local’ better. A&H got - and deserved - ‘Bon Appetit’s’ best new restaurant; but while it is excellent, it’s also very much of the New-American trend that you said you have plenty of in SF.

But Oleana is… special. Ana Sortun makes magic happen. For ordering, I would strongly recommend that one of you get the five-course vegetarian tasting ($40), and then augment it with whatever else appeals to you from the menu. That will give you the best chance to experience the menu. I second the advice to try calling for a reservation and/or turn up before they open to wait in line. If you’re one of the first in the line, you’re likely to get a seat at the bar.

Personally, I don’t feel that Oleana’s desserts are as strong as their other food. If you want something sweet after, you could walk a few blocks to Inman Square to Christina’s Ice Cream. The same people own both the ice cream shop and a spice shop a few doors down, and they integrate a lot of the spices into the ice cream flavours (all made in-house). In a city full of very good ice cream, Christina’s is extraordinary.

As to Loyal Nine, I would strongly urge you to consider going there for your smaller meal. It’s mostly small and small-ish plates, so you can try a few things. My favourites are the fried soldier beans (the best bar snack EVER), the fresh cheese, and the molasses ribs, but they do great stuff with local seafood too. They also do all their own baking in-house, so the bread and desserts are fantastic - the chocolate brewis (bread pudding) is a stand-out, and enough for you to share. They also have Frederick Yarm on the bar, who (literally) wrote the book on cocktails in Boston. He and his team do fantastic work. Definitely try to sit at the bar there, even if you have to have a drink and wait for seats.

If you don’t feel up to dinner at Loyal Nine, they also run as a cafe from 8:00-4:00, with lunch (weekdays)/brunch (weekends) from 10:30. Their coffee and baked goods are so great, and their brunch options have been excellent recently. Loyal Nine would also be a good back-up plan if you aren’t able to get into Oleana, since it’s only about a 15-minute walk away, but I love it so much I can’t only offer it to you as a second-choice.

Regina’s: you could get a slice, but you’ll have much better results if you pull up a chair at the bar and share a small pizza between you. Keep it simple - go for cheese and at most one other topping - make sure to ask for it well-done, and keep the bottle of chili oil close at hand. For slices, try Galleria Umberto’s Sicilian-style… if you can get there in time. They make what they make, and they sell out when they sell out. (Also, only go to the original Regina’s on Thacher St. in the North End. Don’t even bother with any others.)

Cannoli: Even if you plan a shoot-out, don’t waste your time on Mike’s: they pre-fill. Modern is my favourite, and they also make excellent sfogliatelle (hard to find) and lobster tails. Maria’s cannoli are good too, but I prefer Modern’s.

Another option to consider is Island Creek Oyster Bar. While I personally feel that Neptune Oyster is superior, it is logistically tricky in that they don’t take reservations and the wait can be more than an hour even at off-times. (They will take your phone number and call you when the table is ready, so you can walk around the North End, but you have to be ready to drop whatever you’re doing and rush back when they call.) But Island Creek does take reservations, and they do some interesting takes on local seafood; and should you need to wait, there’s amazing cocktails at the Hawthorne right next door.

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You might also look into Cafe ArtScience, which has some of the most creative cocktails in the city and some really terrific French-inspired food with unique touches.

For what it’s worth, many of the places mentioned here are longtime favorites, while Loyal Nine is more recent and still evolving a bit. Where dinner is concerned, I at least agree that their small snacks are tasty and their cocktail program is excellent.

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Thanks for all the suggestions, I’ll be calling Oleana shortly.

Feel free to pile on more suggestions - one friend said Spoke in Davis Square - thanks for Cafe ArtScience, sounds like it might be an afternoon cocktail spot.

There has to be one thread for the typical " one dinner in boston " request, right ?

I like Spoke a lot, but I don’t reckon it’s so good or so unusual as to be worth a visit if you’re only here for a few days. For wine-and-grazing, maybe look to Coppa in the South End?

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Good tip about calling at Oleana. Given how much a restaurant has to pay OT, it seems reasonable to expose fewer tables. I must say I’m skeptical about Oleana-- never made it to Aziza in SF, thought Mourad was OK but nothing great, am a big fan of Flytrap but enjoy how homey it is more than how WOW, we have a new Hummus place that took over Palo Alto and finally serves that heavy fresh Israeli hummus,… so basically I’m trusting all of you, collectively.

I think I’ll be aiming for the “smaller dinner at loyal nine” concept on Saturday. Reservations are available, so squeezing into the bar should work. Neptune actually seems just our cup of tea, with the idea of giving the cell phone number then roaming.

Neptune should satisfy if I understand your desires and proclivities.

I would do O Ya for sushi. Nothing like it in the bay area. At the other end of the spectrum, try to hit a Shake Shack (also not in the bay area). And pick up some bottles of JW Lees harvest ale (calvados or lagavullin cask), Downtown Wines in Davis square should have it

I’m skeptical on this. Maybe I just don’t have a honeyed tongue, but I’ve called Sarma and Oleana more than once and explained special occasion/begged/etc and never been told anything other than “show up right when the bar opens.” This approach works to get a 5:30 bar seat or patio at Oleana, but it’s not the same as a reservation. Has anyone had luck calling and getting a reservation when Open Table said there were none available?

And I do agree that those are both special restaurants worth going out of your way for.

A tip on Loyal Nine, they have both a bar and a counter overlooking the open kitchen. We’ve made reservations for the counter in the past. We love Loyal Nine for the New England-inspired dishes and seafood.

And I’ll throw in a recommendation for Backbar in Somerville or Ames Street Deli in Cambridge for a drink or snack. Both have exceptional cocktail programs and fun/funky spaces with edgy bar snacks. Both spots are owned by the same couple and each has a sibling restaurant that shares the same space (Journeyman for Backbar and Study for Ames Street Deli). Backbar is a tiny space that takes reservations on some nights of the week. Not sure if Ames St Deli takes reservations or not.

I’m not especially honey-tongued, and I’m definitely not saying it works every time; but I’ve had enough luck calling (at Oleana among other Boston restaurants, as well as restaurants in other cities) that I now make a habit of it. It seems to have worked for other people too, so whatever the reason that restaurants do it, I reckon it’s worth taking a second to call.

I just had this happen. OT said sold out, person said tables. Not a lot of selection - 5:30 table or 9:30 table - but they weren’t on OT. I just said “do you have a table on X Y day”, I didn’t plead or anything.

OT charges a percentage of the check - and it’s a large percentage. Calling the restaurant directly saves the restaurant quite a bit of money.

Yeah, and they can be a bit unfriendly if you haven’t made a reservation.

yeah, it has nothing to do with being persuasive. no restaurant puts 100% of its seats on opentable. some places hold tables back for walk-ins, or in case a 4-top becomes an 8-top, but somewhere like oleana is tiny – very little wiggle room there.

when you call, they either still have tables available or they do not. trying to wheedle one when it doesn’t exist just lengthens what should be a very cut and dry phone call.

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Ok, thanks again for everyone’s thoughts, here are my results.

  • Cannoli. It is trivial to eat 4 cannoli in 1 hour, from a logistics perspective. I can see why mike’s is a “thing” and they surprised us with a still-crispy shell. Lots of turn over. Guy went into the back to get a classic ricotta. But the hands-down winner was Maria’s. I can’t believe there aren’t lines for that place, instead of the seething mob at Mike’s.

  • Chowder. Were not able to try Neptune’s ( because the 2 hour wait meant ate cannoli, see previous, would not sell us togo ). Between Summer Shack, Legal, Ned Devine, Boston Chowda, I really liked Boston Chowda. GF thought Legal was better, I agree it was close. I know! Boston Chowda looks touristy… but it’s a fine chowder. Summer Shack was pretty good. Ned Devine’s — meh. Wish we could have tried more from our Big List ( we didn’t get to any of the back-bay-ish places that looked good ICOB, Select, so many… ). Would have been happy to eat nothing but chowder for 3 days straight, it’s a great dish with both simplicity and complexity and variations and it’s served in small quantities and quickly, doesn’t require chef pyrotechnics in-real-time.

  • Oleana. This place is interesting. They are really good at complicated dishes, but the dishes that were recommended as “popular” ( must try ) were simple dishes. Everything was great overall. But… I have trouble thinking of the place as “really special”. I thought it was a big step down from Mourad in SF, and I wasn’t as partial to it as Flytrap, either. Now, we didn’t have the chef’s veg sampler as recommended. I do think the kitchen was on top of its game - everything tasted very good - came out well - friday when the A team was afoot. But just didn’t live up to the hype as best restaurant in Boston or boston’s representative in the best 38 restaurants in the country.

  • Loyal Nine. I was here with friends, which was good, because we got to sample more dishes, and worse, because my reaction to the restaurant was inflected by who I was with. I liked a lot of the dishes. The oysters were quite good, and the drinks, and things like the soldier beans. Some of the combinations were novel and interesting. While a local might consider the menu a reduction of “new England cuisine” and be either bored or miffed, I was rather happy to see someone attempt to define a new england cuisine who wasn’t Union Oyster house. I think boston must have a voice, I don’t know if this is it ( heck I just stopped by for a weekend ), but someone should take a stab at defining it, and they’re at least doing that. Cocktails of high quality. Coffee of superlative quality ( can’t think of the last time I had the choice of Chemex, Aeropress, V60, or syphon at dinner ).

  • A & H. This seems like some actual, creative food. I got some kind of corn cakes that I’m still thinking about, and I loved swishing the popcorn in the creme fraiche ( or whatever the heck it was ). Complex dishes. Cocktails were also of very high quality. I think this can also qualify as a boston food, because boston has great farm->table during the summer, and I’ve eaten places in western MA that had a similar feel, although arguably not that different from CA farm->table places. Is it generic creative modern food? Maybe. Tasty, tho, and a nice bar.

  • Clover. I ate at the harvard sq branch, and perhaps you’re all tired of them, but I thought this was solid. Mmm, fresh popovers.


Thanks so much for reporting back, and for your helpful reviews. This will be a good thread for future visitors!

Thanks for the very thoughtful followup!

It’s touristy, but you can’t really get away with selling lousy chowder in Faneuil Hall with a name like Boston Chowda. They do a good job, and so do Legal.[quote=“bbulkow, post:18, topic:3357”]
Loyal Nine. I was here with friends, which was good, because we got to sample more dishes, and worse, because my reaction to the restaurant was inflected by who I was with. I liked a lot of the dishes.
Your experience with Loyal Nine mirrors mine very well. I admire what they’re doing concept-wise and enjoyed several things I had there as well as cocktails. I hope to return sometime and enjoy everything.

I’m trying A&H very soon and have always enjoyed Clover; glad you got to try them.

I get those corn pancakes with popcorn and shishito peppers everytime I go to Alden & Harlow. It’s my favorite restaurant in town right now, and that’s one of my favorite dishes. Glad you enjoyed it.

Still haven’t gotten to Loyal Nine, as it’s far outside my usual haunts, but I’ll get there soon, if for no other reason than to try some more of Fred Yarm’s cocktails, which I have had at other spots he’s worked at in the past.

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