Mistral has always been a cool place to eat, but in the past that was more to do with the scene than the food. This year, we're happy to report that chef Jamie Mammano's cuisine is worth getting dressed up for too. The menu is eclectic in the truest sense of the word; offerings span the globe, including dishes from Italy (homemade designer pizzas), France (a silken foie gras terrine), and our own soil (tenderloin of beef with horseradish potatoes). All are carefully executed, with special consideration given to presentation and plating. 223 Columbus Avenue, Boston, MA mistralbistro.com/.
We love the cozy tables in the storefront overlooking Brattle. We love the tiny chocolate mice, complete with colorful ribbon tails. But what we really adore is the fact that all of the chocolate in this sweet-tooth cafe is handmade, down to the decadent hot chocolate, whipped up from equal parts chocolate and milk (!). The heavenly libation comes in dark, milk, and white chocolate (sometimes), and is so thick it sticks to the roof of our mouth. Imbibe with caution: It's been known to make even the most jaded gourmands swoon. 52D Brattle Street, Cambridge, MA burdickchocolate.com/.
After three years of winning Best Beer honors (Tremont Ale, Tremont IPA, and our favorite, Tremont's cask-conditioned Best Bitter), the Charlestown brewery introduced its seasonal Summer Ale last year. We were disappointed, to say the least. Yet when a 12-pack of it arrived this year, we were pleasantly stunned: They kicked out some of the cheaper grains, fiddled with the hops, and turned out the best damned baseball-watching, lawn-mowing beer in history. Are you listening, Fenway Park?
The regions surrounding the Mediterranean Sea offer an embarrassment of culinary riches: olive oil, figs, and an abundance of fresh herbs and exotic spices. Fortunately, we have Oleana, so we need only trek to Cambridge to get our fix of buttery hummus, spiced lamb with garlic and yogurt, and the most elegant falafel in town. Order tapas-style from the appetizers to make the most of the menu—and be sure not to miss the chickpea terrine with apricot, pistachio, and tahini sauce, or the shockingly tender tamarind-glazed beef with eggplant purée and pine nuts. 124 Hampshire St., Cambridge, MA 2139, oleanarestaurant.com.
We didn't need last year's Food & Wine accolades to tell us that Jamie Bissonnette rocks. The famously inked chef drives the two hottest spots in town—Toro and Coppa (co-owned with Ken Oringer)—which launched our obsession with charcuterie and offal. And while it will pain us to share his skills with New York when a Toro location opens there later this year, we're proud he'll be showing that city what Boston is made of (hint: a whole lotta pork). 253 Shawmut Ave., Boston, MA 2116, coppaboston.com.
While the sheer number of cocktails on the 80-drink list makes our frontal cortex twitch, it's the list's creator who brings it to refreshing, delicious life. With extreme attention to detail (black-lime-stuffed ice cubes, anyone?) and a downright hospitable attitude (we love a bartender who can carry a conversation from Roald Dahl to canoeing to why lemon juice extracted in a centrifuge makes the best Tom Collins), Maul runs a drink program like none other in the city. 370A Commonwealth Ave., Boston, MA 2215, .
If we could be anything in the next life, we'd come back as a mouse so we could gnaw our way into this wondrously stinky store. Even on a human scale, Formaggio's stock of cheese is jaw-droppingly vast, with wheels of Belgian Gouda, logs of superfresh Vermont chevre, and blue-veined hunks of Spanish queso azul. The staff has tasted most of it, so ask for advice on what to buy—or even better, taste it yourself. They're glad to share. 244 Huron Ave., Cambridge, MA 2138, formaggiokitchen.com.
Everything about Italian specialist L'Andana (which this magazine named the Best New Restaurant of 2008) is so generously proportioned that it might seem excessive. That's fine by us, considering that Jamie Mammano of Mistral, Teatro, and Sorellina fame is the one laying on the flourishes. So, yes, we'll happily loll in the overstuffed banquettes; order up big bowls of dreamy homemade pastas or three-course Tuscan suppers with enormous, flawlessly grilled steaks; and raise our giant wine glasses to the joys of going overboard. 86 Cambridge St., Burlington, MA 1803, .
Visions of the Moosewood Cafe dance in our heads. This Jamaica Plain eatery isn't quite the famous haven that spawned all those veggie cookbooks, but it offers meatless dishes flavorful enough to satisfy a carnivore. In fact, a musrhoom-potato stew was so rich, we were convinced it had a beef-broth base. (It didn't.) We also loved the salads and the curried stir fry. You'll find an occasional fish or chicken dish, but this is veggie heaven, 1960s-style. 699 Centre St., Jamaica Plain, MA .
Truly our town's most creative sandwiches, designed by area chefs. A sampling: the Chan Chan, a flour tortilla wrapped around duck confit and julienned vegetables designed by David Chan of Ginger Bistro; Diane's Steak and Blue, blue-cheese bread topped with grilled tenderloin and Roquefort butter by Diane Unger of Biba; and Sean's Fig and Pig, focaccia filled with pureed fish, ham, and roasted peppers named after its creator, Sean Simmons, owner/chef of the Parish Cafe. 361 Boylston Street, Boston, MA .
We don't fancy ourselves the "needs a private driver" type—but Uber swept us off our feet (in a luxurious Lincoln Town Car, no less). Launched in Boston last fall, the car-service smartphone app allows you to get a limo ride from anywhere, to anywhere with the press of a button. Apps available for iPhone and Android. Boston, MA uber.com.
There was so much dissension on the staff over this one that our only solution was to choose a fabulous little place fifty miles away. It has no checkered tablecloths (no noncheckered tablecloths either), no murals or Muzak. What it does have is excellent food—baked veal chops, homemade escarole soup, gnocchi, and various daily specials—at prices that belong at a cafe in the foothills of the Apennines. 141 Atwells Ave., Providence, RI .
John Hancock CEO Dave D'Alessandro had the company help promote his book, Brand Warfare: 10 Rules for Building the Killer Brand. Meanwhile, Newton's Sumner Redstone's book, A Passion to Win, was published by the Simon & Schuster division of his Viacom company, prompting S & S publisher David Rosenthal to joke that the promotional efforts would comprise nothing less than "a passion to keep our jobs."
Glitzy and ritzy salons can't guarantee fabulous hair care. Sometimes the best service and sharpest styles come from unexpected gems like Curio. This North Reading spot gets our thumbs-up for offering the sought-after combination of a terrific haircut with seamless color. The stylists give you exactly what you ask for, minus all the attitude. 161 Main St., North Reading, MA curiohairsalon.com/.
Plenty of book stores host signings, but for a truly enlightening author event, two venues always vie for our top spot: the Brookline Booksmith and the Harvard Book Store. Both are homey, friendly, and proudly independent. But Harvard wins this year for its muscular lineup: This past spring the store brought to town political heavyweights Paul Krugman and Madeleine Albright, fiction legends Joyce Carol Oates and Peter Carey, and local writers Audrey Schulman and Pablo Medina. 1256 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 2138, harvard.com.