Boston dining offers more than just chowder, lobster

Jan. 6, 2006
City is a favorite of those who enjoy comfort food.

When you think of fine food in Boston, don't just think of chowder and lobster. Okay, think of them and the other options as well.

This city is a favorite of those who enjoy comfort food, and most of the restaurants are as warm as they can be when it comes to décor and food. After all, cold weather drives people indoors to escape the overly long cold season.

Excelsior (617-426-7878) is one of those hot, cool places where I so desperately try to fit in. And the food service is about as good as it gets. Each dish that I've sampled gives a fine first taste, then you'll get a second, sometimes third burst of "don't overlook me" seasoning and flavor. These folks know how to get the most out of an eclectic offering. While its only a few years old, it has found a group of discerning regulars.

For years, I avoided Hamersley's Bistro (617-423-2700). It was one of those places that the concierge always mentioned; I seemed to quickly build up my superstition. Its trendy, they need business, they spiff the hotel? Okay, I was wrong, very wrong. This is a warm place that greets you as you enter. Seasonal, wonderful soups could be a meal in itself along with the very warm fresh bread. On many nights, Gordon Hamersley will be working in the open view kitchen, and if you get his attention he will gladly offer his recommendation of the evening. In any event, it's difficult to go wrong in a restaurant such as this.

New and getting great response is Perdix (617-338-8070) ask for Tim, who wants you to have a "casual, fine dining experience," the food is fresh only and seasonal, so the menu changes regularly. It is cozy, friendly and one of those places that really cares about food, not just turning tables.

Now, Troquet is different (617-695-9463). Here you will find an extensive and worthy wine-by-the-glass list. Pick your own courses or have the staff do it. You'll be thankful. Sucking pig, Panko-crusted Halibut; one item after another reflects the kitchens desire to make this a unique dining experience.

Mistral (617-867-9300) is French. Mistral is Italian, Mistral is wonderful. Established, confident and capable, this is a place you will return to, and often. I don't have a favorite dish here, unless it's the right side of the menu. It's risky to say the you can't go wrong, but I think I'd comfortably stand behind those words. Mistral.

France comes to New England at Radius (617-426-1234). This is award winning dining, where seasonal ingredients go in Yankee favorites, but exhibit their own French flair. And it works very well. If you are with a group, have them guess the secret ingredients "Is it fennel? I think there is a bit of pumpkin spice" etc. You may even find Japanese Yellow tail to create a truly international experience.

If you like Italian ... simply take a cab or the T to the North End. Walk a little bit and find a place that looks nice and just go in and get comfortable. If you find bad Italian food, you took a wrong turn. From upscale to bar food, this is authentic, a broad range of prices, good quality (competition makes the place work hard every day) and best of all, warm fresh, tasty bread. I wonder if these places even offer dessert? Who would have room after the temptation of the bread, a pasta course, an entrée and even more of the bread. Remember, it's the North End. Don't be confused, don't miss what waits you.

A personal favorite in the area of the Hynes Auditorium is Bomboa (617-236-6424). It by itself is offering Brazillian/French cuisine. I don't really know what that could be, but it is very wonderful. This place does not serve a lobster or chowder, but if you are fortunate they will serve Fejoida. This is a Brazillian stew with a basis of smoked meats and a variety of ingredients that will change from visit to visit. It is often different, it is always special. This is a cool spot for a cold night with a great bar, friendly servers and a very good food. Tell Kasey that Bill sent you.

I seldom mention a restaurant because of its appearance, but the Oak Room at the Fairmont Copley Plaza (617-867-5300) is one of those places that they don't make anymore. High ceilings, gorgeous drapes, linen, waits staff in tuxedos, China, crystal. It's where you want to be seen when some old school friends happen to walk by. Slow deliberate, elegant and yes decadent. As for the food, I've only had breakfast, but just know this is a place for a special occasion, and perhaps you could even be tacky and get out your digital camera. Dining at the Oak Room is what we work towards. Being seen by a nerd from your chemistry class. Priceless.

For seafood ... stop one of the locals. Get their opinion, tell then how much you won't spend and get a recommendation of someone who earns your confidence.

Jasper Whites (617-520-9500), Skipjack (617-536-3500), Turners (617-424-7425) are worthy. But there are other jewels to find a little exploration. The dinning pearl in the New England restaurant Oyster may be a place that you pass by. But this area knows what to do with seafood, and if you get one worth a repeat visit, please let me know.

By the way, don't overlook lobster or clam chowder. On a cold night, there may be nothing better.

Reviews compiled by:
Bill Oestreich
Dining Commando