Tasting menus are so in vogue that it seems only a matter of time before McDonalds rolls out a McTasting. But at Pigalle, chef Marc Orfaly's five- and seven-course menus are anything but watered-down. Each course hits the high notes of his exquisite French fusion—butter-poached lobster in Thai broth, duck confit with Kung Pao vegetables and kumquats—all for far less than you'd pay if you ordered à la carte. Now that's what we call a Happy Meal. 75 Charles St. South, Boston, MA 2114, pigalleboston.com.
On the approach—down a dismal stretch of highway, across from a gas station—Evenfall scarcely looks the date-night part. Enter, though, and the picture improves as you discover a space that's cozy but not cramped, dim but not dark. Things get better still with chef Scott Pelletier's seasonal dishes, which are too good not to share; a recent evening saw couples swapping forkfuls of braised Kobe beef cheeks and chestnut ravioli. By the time you're stealing bites of your companion's warm apple strudel, the iffy setting outside feels like a benefit. After all, what's romance without surprise? 8 Knipe Road, Haverhill, MA 1835, evenfallrestaurant.com.
Dainty eaters, beware. Only those with a hankering for a little grease and gobs of pork-addled flavor are able to handle the made-to-order plates at Cambridge's stick-to-your-ribs haven. Sure, the chicken's great, but there's also smoked turkey with collard greens, and bread crumb-encrusted mac and cheese, and silky sweet potatoes, and (the only thing harder than settling on an order here, you'll find, is nabbing one of the few seats). Coast Café may not have much competition in these parts—KFC? Popeyes?—but it could surely hold its own in Dixie. 233 River St., Cambridge, MA 2139, .
Turning out memorable meals in private homes—which often means tight quarters and picky palates—is a task that could sap any chef's muse. No surprise the catering arm of the vaunted L'Espalier/Sel de la Terre group is more than up to the challenge. Planning a small fete, we laid out the hurdles: seafood allergies, vegan diets, decorating don'ts. Au Soleil fired back with scads of ideas, including using petits fours as favors and dressing the table with bouquets of our favorite blooms. From intimate dinners to 600-person galas, this event-maker handles every gathering with aplomb. 148 Hampden St., Boston, MA 2119, ausoleilcatering.com.
We aren't ones to cry over spilt milk, as our floors can attest; our couch has more hair on it than our cat. Without a speck of judgment, the Maids clean up our act month after month, dusting baseboards, degriming showers, and all but eliminating any traces of pet (except for, of course, the pet itself). They're quick, well priced, and unobtrusive: Aside from the preternatural sparkle and neatly triangled toilet paper, you'd never know they'd been there. 179 Boylston St., Jamaica Plain, MA 2130, .
The vintage craze has brought piles of must-have clothes out of the closet, thanks in large part to discriminating boutiques like this one. A treasure trove of pre-owned pieces, the Finer Consigner showcases rack after rack of Michael Kors flapper skirts, silk Gucci blousons, and Ralph Lauren Purple Label dresses. More up-to-the-minute confections by Ann Demeulemeester, Balenciaga, Dolce & Gabbana, and Chloé make it into the selection, too, along with well-treated Prada bags, Louis Vuitton shoes, and YSL belts—all the very definition of recherché. 53 Langley Rd., Newton, MA thefinerconsignershop.com/.
Somewhere between a band's first roadie and their first rider, they play T.T.'s, a beer-soaked cranny in Central Square now in its third decade. For about 10 bucks a night, the club gets music geek nation on its feet with both established and rising acts from the East Coast (the Damnwells), the West Coast (the Thermals), and beyond (Denmark's Efterklang), along with local favorites like the Motion Sick and Faces on Film. Although it's true that Allston's Great Scott is increasingly booking tomorrow's Middle East and Paradise headliners today, for that pure ear-pounding, sweat-drenched, punch-drunk rock-club experience, the Bear remains the one to beat. 10 Brookline St., Cambridge, MA 2139, ttthebears.com.
When this hypnotically arty restaurant-bar designed and owned by a local architect made its debut four years ago, it not only lent zing to the South Shore dining scene, but also beckoned Cape-bound cosmopolites with its expertly shaken martinis, mod leather furnishings, and moody firelight. The arrival of new executive chef George Willette last fall boosted the culinary substance—e.g., tuna tataki, lobster and goat cheese pizza—to match Ember's abundant style, making this nightspot a white-hot proposition, indeed. 459 Plain St. (Rte. 139), Marshfield, MA 2050, .
With so many excellent options—Great Scott, the Lizard Lounge, Middlesex—identifying the city's best live-music venue isn't easy. But T. T.'s tops our list thanks to the variety of acts (local pop stars the Pills and farther-reaching talent like Canadian crooner Ron Sexsmith) and the superior amenities (two bars, pool tables, and plenty of room by the stage). Plus, great acoustics mean you can actually hear the music, making it the ideal spot to discover your new favorite band. 10 Brookline St., Cambridge, MA 2139, ttthebears.com.
If you follow the Boston music scene, you already know you can find your favorite up-and-coming rock stars on an almost weekly basis at T.T.'s, the intimate, gargoyle-adorned Central Square club so important to the rock circuit that it might as well be the living room of the local music community. T.T.'s perfect rock club layout lets you skip the opening act and still catch the headliner—or vice versa—while playing pool or hanging out at tables away from the stage, thanks to speakers that let you actually carry on conversation. 10 Brookline Ave., Cambridge, MA ttthebears.com/.
In an era when there’s a boutique fitness studio for every day of the week and personality type, local mini chain Fit Revolution manages to offer one-stop sweating without the feel of a bland big-box club. Sure, there’s the latest equipment for gym rats and the now-standard hyper-luxe locker rooms. But there’s also boot camp, indoor cycling, yoga, barre, boxing, and personal trainers at the ready. Owner Michelle O’Connor even offers a program for would-be fit kids. Multiple locations. 23 Concord St., North Reading, MA 01864, fit-rev.com.
When Sephora announced that its Pru outpost was getting a makeover, we wondered how the cosmetics behemoth could possibly improve. But the sprawling new storefront, which reopened in February after a lengthy renovation, has upped the ante with the addition of iPad-equipped vanity stations, where beauty-savvy staffers offer free tutorials on crucial skills like brow-shaping. Naturally, the store still dazzles with an unmatched selection of brands that runs the gamut from pro favorites like Make Up Forever to classic standbys like Clinique. Prudential Center, 800 Boylston St., Boston, MA 02199, sephora.com.
Calling all plant lovers: This sweet Salem boutique has everything you need to transform your home into a garden oasis you’ll (really!) never want to leave. The best part? You can order its birds-of-paradise, philodendrons, and ferns online—as well as gorgeous planters to keep your new additions happy—then safely pick up curbside. And if you’re not sure your thumb is green enough, the shop also stocks home goods such as cheeky throw pillows and hand-poured candles to liven up your space. 143 Washington St., Salem, MA 01970, oakandmoss.com.
Armed with the diplomacy and precision that come only from years of European-trainingand a tricked-out kitchen sporting the latest sous vide accoutrementschef Mark DesLauriers helps novices and gourmets alike sidle up to the stove with confidence. New this year: couples’ cooking classes ($170 per duo) on Friday evenings. Woo that special someone over a meal of roast duck breast with warm shallot dressing, red-wine-braised duck leg and pan-seared foie gras with vegetables roasted in duck fat, and chocolate pot de crème. One Fitchburg St., Somerville, MA 2143, artepicure.com.
Sure, the only requirement for a good bartender is that he's quick with a drink. For a great bartender, stir in some personality. But to be elevated to Bar God status, you need a whole lot more. Peter has the perfect recipe: Take equal parts wit, charm, and smarts, add lightning reflexes with a lighter, perfect name recall, and fabulous looks, and top with a huge dollop of humor. No wonder 29 has been a magnet for big personalities- scientists and hairdressers and club kids and club owners - during the five years that Peter's held court. He thinks the patrons pack the small watering hole because they're "united in their love of alcohol." Ask a regular, and it's for Peter's sake. 29 Newbury St., Boston, MA .