This is the ultimate playground for those in the throes of kitchen renovation. Open to the public and the design trade, Clarke lets consumers explore how a kitchen might look and discover the latest in cutting-edge kitchen technology from manufacturers like Thermador, Sub-Zero, Gaggenau, and Dynasty. The 5,000-square-foot show room contains a number of kitchen vignettes, and consultants are on hand to answer questions about models, features, and cooking techniques. Because Clarke is a distributor, there's no pressure to purchase; consultants will refer consumers to any one of 150 stores within its network. 63 South St., Suite 190, Hopkinton, MA .
The friendly folks at Framers' Workshop give you a choice. You can simply drop off your MFA poster/diploma/illuminated manuscript, and pick it up behind glass two weeks later. Or you can master the craft of framing it yourself—an economical, labor-intensive, yet strangely meditative process, on par with making your own bread. Choose the matte and molding of your choice (they cut it for you), then plant yourself at one of 10 workstations in the back, equipped with a vise, nails, glue, and all the other supplies you need. The background music is good, too. 64 Harvard St., Brookline Village, MA .
You can go to a luxurious, candlelit spa where they'll charge you a C-note to slather lavender ointment on your aching back, or you can go somewhere where licensed therapists will actually help get to the source of the problem. Enter Backworks, where serious muscle healing, soft-tissue tretament, and stress reduction are the foundation for easing a bona fide injury or soothing the aches that result from simple daily stress. After just one intense hour of deep-tissue massage, we left in a physical state we haven't known since childhood: utterly care-, stress-, and knot-free. 34 Batterymarch St., Boston, MA backworksinc.com/.
Put one foot in this tapas bar and (as its name foretells) suddenly you've stepped inside a surrealist painting. The walls bombard the senses, covered as they are with trinkets, tchotchkes, knick-knacks, and accouterments from all over the Iberian peninsula. The food follows suit, starting with the tapas menu, which offers a palette of wildly disparate tastes in a few small bites, from juicy duckling smothered in berry sauce to delicate scallops swimming in saffron cream. But the entrées are the genuine masterpieces—especially the house special, melt-on-your-fork pescado a la sal (striped bass cooked in coarse salt that tenderizes the fish as it's baked). 415 Washington St., Somerville, MA dalirestaurant.com/.
A moment of silence, please, for the newly shuttered Sports Depot in Allston, at one time the only true sports bar (thanks to its 70 TVs and $9.99 Sunday brunch) this town could claim. Left to fill its shoes are several bars near Fenway and the FleetCenter, but only the Coolidge Corner Clubhouse offers the requisite coziness and camaraderie every sports bar needs. Trivia Night on Mondays draws a packed house, while 22 TVs and 36 microbrews to choose from keep the energy high. Now if it could just lose the annoying 90-minute table limit. 309 Harvard St., Brookline, MA thecoolidgecornerclubhouse.com.
Most bakeries aim for French authenticity, but few this side of the Atlantic succeed as completely as Café Vanille. Choosing between the flaky, airy, and flawlessly textured chocolate croissants and blissful fresh-fruit custard tarts is an exercise in futility: Just take one of each. The setting, an almost impossibly charming little Charles Street storefront, also sports a sunny brick patio, the ideal perch for tucking into a decadent mocha crème-filled pâté à choux while watching all of Beacon Hill stroll past. Now you know what Proust was fussing about. 70 Charles St., Boston, MA frenchmemories.com/.
Within a few short months of his arrival at La Bettola, Michelena had helped the new South End tavern win honors from Esquire, Bon Appetit, and Food and Wine magazine as one of the best new restaurants in America. Raised in a Spanish-Filipino culinary tradition and trained in the finest kitchens in the country, Michelena has an extraordinary palate that is able to infuse French, Italian, and Asian flavors with subtelty and mastery. Having made his mark at La Bettola, which he still oversees, Michelena has recently taken over the kitchen at its sister restaurant, Galleria Italiana. La Bettola, 480A Columbus Ave., .
Gazillion-thread-count sheets aside, a hotel is really only as good as its bar. And chichi steakhouse KO Prime has admirably elevated the one at downtown's Nine Zero Hotel over the past year. Adjacent to the restaurant's sweeping dining room, the loungelike space caters to an in-town audience as well as trysters and overnight guests with a smart by-the-glass wine list and wowza cocktails such as the green tea-calamansi gimlet (chilled with liquid nitrogen!). For travelers with work to attend to, the combination of wireless Internet and tush-pleasing seating banishes the memory of sterile hotel business centers. 90 Tremont St., Boston, MA 2108, .
For decades, this much-adorned creamery has been the real reason why school kids in Duxbury yearn for summer and dads in whale belts try to work off calories on the quiet town's lime-green golf courses. And it's the reason why, after one revelatory lick, you'll find yourself driving back again and again. Outside of Copenhagen, there's precious little ice cream this rich—infused with simple but pure, intense flavors like peanut butter, banana, creamy maple walnut, and black raspberry. No wonder they wanted to keep it a local secret. Well, too bad. Now you know. 272 Saint Georges St., Duxbury, MA farfarsicecream.com/.
The increasingly popular sit-down service is good, too (especially for Saturday and Sunday brunch), but it's the takeout that sets this Newton Highlands institution apart. The friendly staff will wrap up anything to go, from a cup of coffee to a multicourse gourmet dinner for as many guests as you can gather. Big orders like those require one day's notice, but Baker's Best makes it easy with a quiet catering office and a convenient check-off menu. There are also freezers full of ready-to-cook meal components in the main store, from hors d'oeuvres to entrées. And that food—it really is the best. 27 Lincoln St., Newton Highlands, MA bakersbestcatering.com/.
This 80-year-old Hopkinton nursery fills the horticultural needs of everyone from weekend enthusiasts to professional landscapers. The garden center stocks a vast selection of healthy, robust annuals and perennials—a scene that would be overwhelming were it not for the fact that plants are grouped according to what looks good together, taking much of the guesswork out of gardening. Shrub seekers can hop into one of the company's Land Rovers to scour the 650 acres of growing fields for the perfect specimen. There's plenty to choose from, since 80 percent of Weston's merchandise is grown on the premises. Don't have a green thumb? Take advantage of the nursery's landscaping services. 93 East Main St. (Route 135), Hopkinton, MA westonnurseries.com/.
A huge industrial loft in Woburn, the Boston Rock Gym is carpeted with 20 tons of chopped-up car tires, the walls are studded with tiny gargoyles, dinosaurs, and rocklike footholds, and the place looks like a preppy torture chamber. One of the best-equipped climbing gyms in all of New England, the rock gym has 30 different climbing routes of varying complexity, ranging from beginner to impossible. Check out Hades—a bouldering cave in which climbers hang upside down, suspended by their fingers and toes—as well as the Treadwall (imagine a treadmill that's a vertical wall). Patient instructors keep an eye out for your safety and offer group classes and individual instruction. 78G Olympia Ave., Woburn, MA .
Best: Lauren Rauschenbach, aka Mrs. Henri Rauschenbach. Indicted on charges of shilling for jailed financier Carmen Elio, the ape Cod senator gallantly laid the blame for his predicament on his wife's expensive tastes. "My wife was, you know, prodding me a bit," Rauschenbach said. "My wife comes from a family with dollars. You know, Lauren's the only one of the daughters that's married to a guy who's making 30 beans a year." Even Better: Teresa Heinz, aka Mrs. John Kerry. See Best Quote.
Bond showcases New England's bounty like no one else in town, dreaming up quirky-beautiful dishes that feature lesser-known flora, like calaminth, angelica root, and carrot-shaped Shunkyo radishes. And if Bond can blow us away working in a kitchen the size of a walk-in closet, we can't wait to see what he'll do when he opens the 2,800-square-foot outpost of Bondir in Concord—which will source items from his new Dracut farm plot—this fall. 279A Broadway, Cambridge, MA bondircambridge.com.
Other CSAs (community-supported agriculture, or farm-shares) have more-convenient pickup spots or more-varied plans. But for produce quality, there's no beating Chris Kurth's Siena Farms in Sudbury, where he grows the most beautiful tomatoes and the tenderest greens you'll find anywhere. Kurth's wife, Ana Sortun, is one of Boston's best chefs (at Oleana) and weighs in on what to plant. And now that Kurth offers both a membership-style deal that gets you a discount at the farmers' markets and the traditional weekly box of produce, he's beginning to close the gap on convenience, too. 113 Haynes Rd., Sudbury, MA 1776, sienafarms.com.