Boston, MA--Poll: if you wanted to go to one restaurant for a special meal, where would you choose?

OK, food friends. In the near future, the girlfriend and I are going to try and pay back a HUGE favor–a couple of our old friends have been putting us up in their beautiful house for over a year, and it looks like we are finally going to vacate their largesse in the near future.

We’d like to insufficiently pay them back by taking them out to a special meal somewhere in the Boston area. And so, my question to you all is: if you could pick one restaurant to go to for something along these lines, where would you go? The couple are relatively adventurous eaters and what I mean by “Boston” can also encompass a fair geographic area, so the playing field is pretty broad.

But you only get one choice. (though suggestions on what to get at that one place can be myriad!) So: where would you go for that one special meal? As always, I promise to follow up with a review wherever it is we end up picking.

Hit me.

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You know limiting us to one choice is like asking a parent which child is their favorite. At the risk of losing sleep from remorse, here goes.

Sycamore in Newton Center. What makes it special? Start with the venue. Two small rooms, the first dominated by the bar. The second, the main dining room, minimalist in ethos but subtly and perfectly lighted - illumination from below creates wonderful patterns on the exposed brick wall - creating a effect that is warm and flattering to people and plates alike.

To start - an assortment of snacks on offer include croquettas and house-picked vegetables. A pickled dilly bean stars as an accompaniment to Scott Shoers classic cocktail, Ghost of Mary. An apt description might be “essence of Mary”, based on citron vodka and spicy tomato water (tomato juice strained through a cheesecloth. Or start with wine by the glass from an eclectic selection on rotation.

The apps - interesting salads and pastas rotate here; I enjoyed a winter citrus salad recently.

The mains - mainstays include excellent roast chicken and steak frites. There’s always fish, often whole, simply grilled. But the real reason to come are the 'boards". Nominally for two, but could satisfy three or four if you sample snacks and apps liberally. The boards consist of 3-4 takes on a single main ingredient. Currently Berkshire pork done four ways, with various and inspired condiments.

More about the beverage program - though the wines by the bottle reflect careful curation, here I find it rewarding to sample the wines on offer by the glass, according to recommendations specific to each course. Don’t overlook the beers. Recently they offered bottles from a collaboration between Hill Farmstead and a Belgian brewery - a rare treat as Hill Farmstead long ago reached cult status.

To finish - whatever else tempts you, do not miss the beignets - accompanied by a dipping sauce, usually chocolate or my favorite, milk jam.

Though in size of the space and extent of the menu Sycamore is modest, chefs David Punch and Lydia Reichart are turning out wonderful meals worthy of mention among the very best in Boston. Scott Shoer is a pro’s pro, and if you are seated at one of the high-tops in the bar area it’s a treat to watch him in action. The service overall is warm and accommodating- as my SO likes to say, adults are in charge. You’ll have a very pleasant and memorable evening.


If we had just one meal in the Boston area, my wife and I would go to Oleana.

We go there for most special occasions: our anniversaries, our daughter’s graduation, the visit of special friends (a Canadian singer, a Pollockian expert, with her painter husband).

We would contact Oleana beforehand and explain that it was a special occasion. Under the right circumstances, Oleana is far above anything else in the area.

Having said that, there are caveats/points:

  1. Summer in the Oleana garden is incomparably better than eating inside. With both our Canadian singer friend – hey, she composed and sang a song at our wedding, so she’s not all bad – and our art friends we ended up eating inside (weather). Both evenings were transcendant but that was, for us, the company and the food, not the cramped seating.

  2. There are celebrated restaurants in the area that are not our family favorites because of restrictions: I eat everything that moves, and most things that don’t, but my wife and daughter do not. So sushi, etc., are out – but those foods may well be a great choice for you.

  3. I think it’s important that you determine what type of food your guests want.


I haven’t been to enough of the “high end” places here in Boston to really comment . . . but I want to play too . . .

Top of my “high end” list right now is O Ya for omakase. I’ve heard such good things about it and I love sushi - the price tag $280 per person or so, if I remember correctly, has kept it on the “waiting for the right occasion” list for us - but I’m itching to go.

I love this thread idea btw


Oleana, Alden and Harlow, Sorrellina, or Uni… they’re all pretty different, so it depends on what you’re looking for.

Oleana - on the quieter side, Mediterranean cuisine, very strong on vegetable preparations
Alden and Harlow - on the louder/darker side, inventive local preparations and generally small plates
Sorrellina - quieter, a lot of space between tables, Italian food and just DELICIOUS
Uni - a little more boisterous, creative Japanese food (haven’t done the omakase but my sister loves it)

For what it’s worth, I used to do Oleana for my birthday, have switched to Uni, and went to Sorrellina for several significant anniversaries.

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I would probably do omakase at O Ya. I’ve been there a few times, but never done the full omakase, and it’s been several years since I’ve been back. I also absolutely love Sarma and Oleana, and they would be high on my list for most delicious meal, but Sarma especially doesn’t quite have the “special meal” gravitas that this situation demands.

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I feel the same way about Alden and Harlow that addiez suggested. While I have loved every meal I have had there, somehow the profusion of 20- and 30-somethings made it feel more like an every day kind of place (well, not truly everyday, but hopefully I am conveying the gist without offending anyone).

I had a thought - how about hiring a chef for a night to cook for the four of you either at your new place or at your friends’ home (whomever has the better-equipped kitchen)? I did this for friends in Chicago, which they absolutely loved (chef from Nightwood, a favorite restaurant of theirs, cooked them dinner at home).


I’d do Oleana in the summer as well. Still good in warmish fall times in the garden. I love Sarma and we go for special occasions, but it is crowded, can be loud, and feel a bit rushed.

Yes! This is exactly what I’m doing, and your response is exactly what I wanted. Thank you! Sycamore’s in the mix.

I loved your extensive writeup, though on this one I’d love to hear answers even if it’s just the name of the restaurant. I just want to hear what HO users would pick in this instance.

digga, this is a good thought and thanks–but part of the idea for this outing is to take them to a restaurant. There’s 7 year old son who is often around when we all hang out & I want to have it be a night out of the house for them. The gf & I are not yet set up to host! :wink:

Got it! Just be sure to pay the babysitter - in GBA, the going rate is usually $15-$20/hour.

heh, this is what the sister-in-law is for!

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We haven’t been to Oleana yet, but we actively disliked Alden and Harlow. The place was just too noisy, and the food not good enough.

Your post got me thinking of what seems to be a paucity in Boston of restaurants with good food served elegantly in a really grand space. I’m thinking of NY restaurants such as Del Posto, The Modern, EMP, etc., with impressive rooms (high ceilings a must), space between the tables, and really polished service that pampers you. Biba, back in the day, was something like that, especially if you got a table by the window.

What’s like that in the Boston area these days? We do not eat out as much others here might, so its entirely possible that there are several such places of which I’m unaware.

Oddly, a couple of places where the space fits the bill, the food does not: Changsho has a nice, high-ceilinged room, but the food’s often mediocre and just decent at best. Ditto Helmand (where I think the food has declined – but I’ve not been there in a year).

And, on a recent visit to Cafe du Pays, my wife and I found the service absolutely top-notch, and worthy of the best restaurants we’ve eaten at, but we were not entirely blown away by the food. There were a couple of knockout dishes (pea soup, brussel sprouts caramelized to the extreme) but others were often just too salty or not well conceived (sour pickled mushrooms with foie gras, for example). Plus, the rooms are small, and the upstairs dark.

For me, Upstairs on the Square had many of those celebratory qualities. On that note, what is Parsnip like? Anyone have any experience there, good or bad?

The bar on the 3rd floor has fantastic cocktails and atmosphere. The food is nothing too memorable. It’s a great spot for a pre dinner drink if going somewhere in Harvard Square.

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Personally, I’d do the omakase at the sushi bar at Cafe Sushi. If the food is the focus, it cant be beat and I would pick it over Uni or O Ya 8 days a week. The atmosphere isn’t special occasion, but the food is.

Another great option is the Tasting Counter, a truly special unique and memorable meal. We have only gone as a couple, but it would be fun with a larger group I think.


I don’t know if it is special enough but my current favorite spot is SRV, with their Arsenale tasting menu. Their back patio really does feel Venice-like and their interior is pretty and comfortable. I have always experienced amazing service there. I find the food consistently wonderful.

I was tickled to learn recently that my friend’s son who is a chef (Menton in the past, Wood’s Hill Table in Concord now) says it is one of his two favorite restaurants in the city (Bar Mezzana being the other).


I haven’t been back in at least six months - I feel like my first visit was my best, too. Sorry to hear it hasn’t held up :frowning:

Sorrellina has that vibe for me. It’s probably the only place I’ve been to in Boston that does though. Maybe Mamma Maria? I haven’t been in at least a year though.