We resisted loving the Spa at the Mandarin. One, it's a chain. Two, it's in a hotel. But our opposition began to waver as soon as we hit the locker rooms, presented here as immaculate, fully stocked, beautifully designed 'guest lounges.' Then there were the one-of-a-kind amenities—a crystal steam room that evokes Space Mountain (in a good way), a Vichy shower with color therapy—and a full menu of excellent pedis, massages, and body treatments. Factor in a staff so exquisitely attentive we almost forgot we were not, in fact, itinerant European royals, and, needless to say, we surrendered. 776 Boylston St., Boston, MA 2199, mandarinoriental.com.
Few people bother to write the Better Business Bureau to impart praise, but Gentle Giant, which gets 80 percent of its customers from repeats and referrals, inspires fierce and outspoken loyalty. "The 'giants' are impressive!" reads one client's testimonial for the Somerville-based chain on the bureau's website. "Their presence actually reduces the stress level!" With a number of standout amateur athletes (big ones) in their ranks, these guys can really hustle, yet they won't drop your mom's antique vase or sweat-stain your suede couch—and they frequently come in below estimate. 29 Harding St., Somerville, and other locations, MA 2143, gentlegiant.com.
One of Boston's newest and most talked-about spas, Grettacole boasts a staff that is petite, blonde, and warm—and an impressive services-to-square-foot ratio. Need a pedicure, facial massage, haircut, and makeup application? With such one-stop shopping, you'll be there long enough for the friendly staff to order your lunch from a neighboring cafe. Tired of aestheticians who spend half the session out of the room? While your masque is drying, they'll massage your feet. The product range is impressive, but there's no hard sell. Another big plus: There are no downtown parking travails. 300 Boylston St., Atrium Mall, Chestnut Hill, MA .
The fried Brussels sprouts smothered in chipotle-lime sauce justify a trip to this one-and-a-half-year-old hot spot all by themselves. But as long as we're here, we'll also take the tater tots poutine and the pressed-duck club sandwich, and follow it all with a Delirium Tremens, just one great selection from the vast tap list. Chef Leah Dubois's playful dishes taste even better against Local 149's backdrop of rainbow-hued vintage seltzer bottles, chalkboard tables, and reclaimed wood floors. 149 P Street, South Boston, MA 2127, local149.com.
The folks at Roche-Bobois take their leather very seriously. One sales associate advises massaging the surface with Lancôme moisturizer to keep it supple. "Of course," he says with a Gallic shrug, "baby oil works just as well." Just reclining on one of the buttery leather chaise longues or sprawling across a long, low-profile sofa can rouse a deep desire to stroke their skins. Roche-Bobois offers traditional designs that practically scream for a walnut-paneled library, as well as sparely streamlined contemporary numbers for the ultrachic loft. And the leathers come in a range of rich colors to match any room. 585 Commercial St., Boston, MA roche-bobois.com/.
Whether you're an expectant or new parent, or just gift-shopping for one, Back Bay baby haven Mulberry Road will have you cooing over its one-of-a-kind accessories. There's no shortage of inspired gift ideas for all things baby, such as zany "splat mats" and bath puppets, unique clothing by local and European designers, and all manner of plush activity toys. (Some, like baby's first cell phone, are as cute as they are ridiculous.) Don't overlook owner Tracey Polidor's handpainted furniture, which can be customized in whimsical wonderland designs or classic motifs. 46 Gloucester St., Boston, MA shop.mulberryroad.com/.
How we grieved when Alon Munzer and Rachel Miller Munzer shuttered their popular Rachel's Kitchen last year. The Bay Village café (now reopened under new ownership) was our go-to for morning coffee and midday lobster rolls, served hot with drawn butter and chives. But as they say, when one bistro closes, another one opens, and the couple's new Kendall Square eatery was worth the wait. Chef-partner Barry Maiden plates up inspired French-southern dishes in a space that has the same congenial air that won Rachel's its many loyalists. 233 Cardinal Medeiros Ave., Cambridge, MA 2141, hungrymothercambridge.com.
There are some who believe that a bartender should be neither seen nor heard—that he or she should be a pair of hands floating mimelike in the ether, deft with the empty glass and silent unless rattling out a martini. Not so Greg Griffin, one of the many fine bartenders at Saint. A master of strainer and bottle, Griffin is a briskly professional maker of both cocktails and good conversation—NHL hockey, travel, the accents of Santiago versus Barcelona. Griffin is one of the rare breed of bartenders who's neither grossly snooty nor wincingly effusive, and he can easily prop up a heated Red Sox argument before ducking out, ghostlike, his job of host fulfilled. 90 Exeter St., Boston, MA .
Others may try to copy, but he's still the one. 34 Newbury St., Boston, MA .
Single stems and bouquets with one big plus: they last. 232 Newbury St., Boston, MA .
You know who you are—your entire wardrobe is made up of this-season separates (or you wish it were). In either case, you already know about Louis Boston, the big daddy of Boston clothing emporia and a perennial favorite in the category of one-stop shopping. Louis has cornered the local fashion market with its warehouse-size collection of designer labels from Marni and Helmut Lang to Brioni and Loro Piana, not to mention an impressive shoe selection that includes Miu Miu, Tretorn, and everything in between. The makeup counter is equally expansive, stocking such sought-after lines as Pout (sold here exclusively) and Alchemy. With a salon, café, men's department, and new vintage photo gallery, it's a week's worth of shopping under one roof. 234 Berkeley St., Boston, MA louisboston.com/.
It's one thing for a restaurant to generate buzz during its first year in business. It's quite another to be the talk of the town after five years. But talk this town does, about chef/owner Barbara Lynch's No. 9 Park, a restaurant as perfect today as the day it opened. We're not the only ones who think this. So do the fans who line up nightly for a seat in the stylish Beacon Hill dining room, and so does the James Beard Foundation, which this year named Lynch the best chef in the Northeast. What everyone is buzzing about is the masterful French and Italian creations coming from Lynch's kitchen (and, in particular, the melt-in-your mouth signature prune-stuffed gnocchi). Delivered by the city's best-trained, casual-but-professional wait-staff, and paired with an impressive wine list created by wine director Cat Silirie, dinner here is a delight from start to finish. 9 Park St., Boston, MA no9park.com/.
If brunch is the most civilized way to dine, the Harvest is the most civilized place to have brunch. First there's the restaurant's lovely garden patio, which in warm weather offers a leafy retreat from the traffic of Harvard Square. Then there's the table presentation. No paper napkins and messy tabletops here—brunch at the Harvest is a white-linen, Sunday-best affair. But it's the menu that renders this restaurant a class above, with its three-course, prix-fixe ($33) menu of gourmet takes on classic dishes. The eggs Benedict, for instance, are served not one but two ways: crab and avocado on one orb, smoked ham and asparagus with roasted red pepper hollandaise on the other. Omelets come with such citified ingredients as wild mushrooms, spring onion, or pancetta. It's the final course—dessert—that makes this tradition a proper indulgence, from the milk chocolate panna cotta to the irresistible classic chocolate layer cake. 44 Brattle St., Cambridge, MA harvestcambridge.com/.
One of the most stylish sports facilities we've ever seen. 162 Columbus Ave., Boston, MA .
After a season like the last one, the kicker wins by default.