January 2010: Where to Eat Now 2010
Great for: A first date. To make a go of dinner with a near-stranger, three ingredients are required: nerve-calming cocktails, a menu intriguing enough to prompt discussion (but not so weird as to put off picky palates), and enough ambient noise to smooth over any lulls in conversation. The South End’s Franklin Café has all three, plus proximity to a host of late-night spots like Gaslight and Stella that let you keep a good date going even after the dinner check. 278 Shawmut Ave., Boston, 617-350-0010, franklincafe.com.
Great for: A second date. Jokes about aphrodisiacs and ice-breakers aside, Neptune sets the right mood with terrific raw-bar platters that are ideal for sharing (though the legendary lobster rolls shouldn’t be overlooked, either). The vibe is animated yet quiet enough for a couple to continue the conversation they started on their first date, and its North End locale provides the perfect excuse for an evening stroll and scoops of gelato. 63 Salem St., Boston, 617-742-3474, neptuneoyster.com.
Great for: A third date. Like a cool mint julep, this southern eatery hits the relaxed, refined note you want when things are beginning to heat up. There’s candlelight, but drinks come in Mason jars; there’s delicate French gnocchi, but also collards and grits. In other words, it’s the sort of place where you can enter well behaved and leave a little bit sloppy. Which, depending on your dating timetable, could be just what you had in mind. 233 Cardinal Medeiros Ave., Cambridge, 617-499-0090, hungrymothercambridge.com.
Great for: A breakup. If there’s any chance of a tearful and/or earsplitting tirade when the dumping commences, you’d better do it in a place that’s already filled with loud and slightly unruly people. A few years ago that was the Liberty Hotel; today the Ames is the place for crowded cocktailing and debauchery, with the second floor of its tavern, Woodward, being the epicenter of all the action. Do the deed over dessert, then retreat to the bar and take comfort in the fact that there’s no shortage of friendly patrons to, er, distract you from your newly single status. Ames hotel, One Court St., Boston, 617-979-8100, ameshotel.com.
Bistro du Midi
Great for: Mom and Dad’s big night out. Parents who have gone too long between dining experiences that don’t involve fish sticks and chicken nuggets can ease their transition back into civilization at Bistro du Midi, which has food that’s simple, rustic, and not ungodly expensive (you still have to pay that sitter, after all). Occupying the one-time Excelsior space overlooking the Common, Bistro du Midi serves Provençal dishes like bouillabaisse, ratatouille, and whole roast chicken for two, executed with precision by chef Robert Sisca, formerly of New York seafood mecca Le Bernardin. 272 Boylston St., Boston, 617-426-7878, bistrodumidi.com.
Great for: Dinner with your vegetarian cousin. Hey, would you want to be taken out for Indian or Thai every time you visit family? Show a little compassion for those going meatless by grabbing a table at this Harvard Square favorite. In addition to the several vegetarian dishes on the menu, chef Michael Scelfo offers herbivores a $29 three-course “chef’s whim” dinner featuring dishes like chickpea fritters with marinated tomatoes, and a salad of blue cheese–stuffed figs with microgreens. With their leaf-eating kin taken care of, carnivores can tuck into cider-braised pork belly and half-pound Angus burgers with zero guilt. 1688 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-547-5055, templebarcambridge.com.
Legal Sea Foods
Great for: Dinner with your celiac sister-in-law. No, it’s not the most exciting place in town. But for someone sick of asking if there’s flour in the cream sauce, Legal’s wheat-and-gluten-sensitive menu is a relief. Not only does it pinpoint all the inherently safe items on offer—steamed lobsters, wood-grilled fish—it also tells diners how to order items like the pan-seared tuna sashimi (no sesame vinaigrette or seaweed salad) and crispy sea scallops (fried in chickpea flour) so that they’re no longer off-limits. 26 Park Plaza, Boston, 617-426-4444, and other locations, legalseafoods.com.