New(ish) Bar Report

1222111224Considering the fact that we end up at the same eating and drinking establishments time and time again (see: Eastern Standard, Toro)—we at Chowder are always looking for the next great place to imbibe, preferably within walking distance (or an under-$7 cab ride) from our Back Bay office. So last week was a boon to us, as we got not one, but two new places to throw back a cocktail and some grub. (Well, one’s a chain and the other’s a renovation, but whatever. We’ll take it.)

First up: the new Sel de La Terre at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel.

Neither the downtown nor the Natick SDLT locations are really known for their bar scenes, but we were cautiously optimistic about the new setup in the Mandarin. And it doesn’t disappoint: not only is the layout supercool—we loved the gleaming backlit bar, the floor-to-ceiling glass doors, and the sleek staircase leading up to bar #2 and the dining room—but as of Saturday it was already packed with a well-heeled crowd.

The street-level bar is fantastically fishbowl-like, allowing for excellent people-watching (or, in the case of the primped and, er, enhanced crowd that dominated the scene, the opportunity to be ogled). Interestingly, it has none of the French-countryside feel of SDLT’s sister locations; this part of the joint is clearly less about the food, more about the scene—and has all the makings of a top-notch cougar den.

Upstairs, though, feels more in tune with SDLT’s signature Provencal theme, albeit modernized (think: heavy-looking wood beams traversing the ceiling, warm yellow booths, and rustic/industrial chrome light fixtures). Because it’s lower-key, the upstairs bar is a superb place to order from the sizeable by-the-glass wine list and have a few light bites, which we did. (The fried ricotta gnocchi with heirloom tomatoes are a must.) Considering the late-night menu is served till 12:30, it won’t be long till we’re back for a post-cocktails plate of poutine.

Next it was on to the revamped bar at Great Bay, in the Hotel Commonwealth. With new banquettes, new lighting, and a fresh coat of velvety brown paint, it feels smaller than before, and that’s a good thing. For such a wide open space, it’s surprisingly cocoon-like, and while it feels more elegant, it also laid-back enough for an impromptu (albeit still pricey) dinner.

Seated at the“open kitchen” area of the bar, we nibbled an unexpectedly complex octopus ceviche with crackly chorizo and smoky seaweed, and slurped down Island Creeks with Szechuan peppercorn mignonette. While we won’t be coming here pre- or- post-Fenway, it’s definitely back in our upscale-bar rotation. After all, we can’t eat at Eastern Standard every night. Well, some of us can.