Restaurant Review: Towne

By Corby Kummer | Boston Magazine |

THERE’S SOMETHING UNSTOPPABLE about chef Lydia Shire. She likes flash, and flashy local businessmen she can team up with to create huge, pulsating restaurants. She’s done it before at Biba, now closed, and at Scampo, in the Liberty Hotel. And she’s done it again at Towne Stove and Spirits, a restaurant carved into the Hynes Convention Center. Everyone involved here is a notable Boston celeb: The businessman is Patrick Lyons, Shire’s partner in Scampo. Jasper White is the second consulting chef, and though the project was hailed as a Jasper-Lydia reunion, it became much more a Lydia-Patrick production. “It’s really Lydia’s baby,” White told me of the menu. He helped design the kitchen and comes in about one night a week to help man the fish grill; the wholesale arm of his Summer Shack (which “I have to keep my eye on,” White says) supplies Towne with its excellent fish.

[sidebar]Lyons has created a space so popular that on our first visit we were stopped at the main doors by a phalanx of bouncers, who demanded to know whether we had a reservation before they would even let us into the crushingly loud street-level bar. We did, but were still kept waiting an hour to be seated, hovering around the host stand with a lot of other irritated diners. Other evenings were much smoother, but it was a rocky introduction. Sit upstairs, which is spacious and, especially in the glassed-in front room overlooking Boylston Street, almost quiet. The service, overseen by old Shire hands, is generally enthusiastic and good, though on the first night almost every dish was brought to the wrong diner.

Shire has always liked big flavors, and her freewheeling style draws on food from other countries. At Biba it was India, Asia, and Latin America; at Scampo, it’s Italy. Towne pulls from all those, if not the olde New England you might expect from the name. The menu, dotted with random flags, is supposedly designed to look like a map, but is so haphazardly laid out that I completely overlooked one section (“wood-fired rotisserie”) at three out of three dinners. If you find your way around the overcrowded menu, though, and avoid the misses, you can tear through some terrific dishes with the kind of excited, overstimulated gluttony I remember from Biba. (You’ll pay big prices, too: Most entrées hover around $30.) And as with Biba and Scampo, what will keep Towne going is the force of the scene and the exuberance of Shire’s personality as it comes through in her food.