January 2010: Where to Eat Now 2010

Great for: Maxing out your expense account.
When asked which wine would complement an entrée, staffers at most restaurants know better than to proffer an $18 glass of bordeaux. But that’s how the Sensing crew rolls—and, hey, that is what pairs best with that venison. While the entrée prices have come down since it opened, Sensing retains its ability to seduce diners with morsels like seared foie gras on banana bread and pan-fried lobster with pear essence, then lure them into can’t-refuse desserts like the yuzu “crystalline” (along with an $88 bottle of champagne). It’s also a hotel restaurant, so go right ahead and file that $200 tab under “lodging.” Fairmont Battery Wharf, 3 Battery Wharf, Boston, 617-994-9001, sensingrestaurant.com.

Great for: A solo outing.
If there is one essential for a comfortable dining-alone experience, it’s bar seating. No one wants to spend an hour staring at an empty chair or fending off “Are you waiting for someone?” queries. Sportello’s lunch counter layout makes it easy to fly solo without any awkwardness. We’d even argue that this place is best enjoyed by yourself, because nobody can scold you for inhaling the rich, carb-laden fare (goat cheese and black olive ravioli and creamy polenta with veal ragu), or ordering that third glass of chianti. 348 Congress St., Boston, 617-737-1234, sportelloboston.com.

Great for: A group outing.
The no-reservations policy at chef Ken Oringer’s bustling Spanish spot means you couldn’t book a table if you wanted to. But why would you want to? People-watching at the bar while sipping a glass of rioja and waiting for a seat is half the fun. Besides, as the night wears on, the setup of communal high-tops devolves into a standing-room-only mash of patrons, all nibbling tapas and guzzling cava straight from porrón pitchers. And since tapas are meant to be shared, it’s no sweat when your party of three morphs into a party of six: Just order more food—and a few extra plates. 1704 Washington St., Boston, 617-536-4300, toro-restaurant.com.

The Friendly Toast
Great for: Breakfast after a big night.
If you’re staring down a day of headaches and hazy memories, the last thing you need is a chirpy waiter hawking bellinis at a see-and-be-seen brunch spot. Instead, head to Kendall Square’s breakfast-centric Friendly Toast and fill up on stomach-settling home fries and killer breakfast sammies. And if you find you do need the hair of the dog but can’t abide the sight of a cocktail glass, just order up a little Kahlua in your coffee. One Kendall Sq., Cambridge, 617-621-1200, thefriendlytoast.net.

Sel de la Terre
Great for: Snacks after a shopping spree.
We have an incorrigible habit of shopping through the midday meal, then wandering hungry around the Back Bay at 3 p.m. Thank heaven for SDLT’s Boylston Street outpost, which serves lunch till 4, then switches right over to dinner. Best of all, the restaurant’s salads and sandwiches—including a killer Niçoise and chef Louis di Biccari’s signature porchetta and whole-grain mustard on a baguette—come in moderate (not Cheesecake Factory) portions, so poor daytime planning doesn’t have to affect those 8 o’clock dinner plans. 774 Boylston St., Boston, 617-266-8800, seldelaterre.com.