Are We Underdressed?

1228161838Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the new L’Espalier, and how things have shaken out since its summer move to the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. By most accounts, the food continues to be divine.

But concerning the the ambiance, the response has been more mixed. It’s not just that the renowned restaurant is now a [insert sneer here] hotel restaurant, or that the expanded space is more modern than the old Back Bay brownstone. No, the common complaint has been about its scaled-down dress code.

Used to be, L’Espalier was a place you’d get all gussied up to visit. A fancy place. An “I just got engaged/promoted/a big new client” place. But as I’ve observed diners entering in frumpy sweaters and read reports of patrons in jeans and sports apparel, I’ve wondered: Is it still that place?

Come to think of it, how many of those special-occasion spots are left in our city?

I can only think of a few restaurants where proper attire—jackets, collars, et cetera—is suggested, if not mandated, and which the dining public typically reserves for Big Nights Out. Locke-Ober, No. 9 Park, and Clio, definitely. Mistral, maybe, but that’s due more to the crowd than the menu. (Pizza ain’t anniversary fare in this context.) Jackets are suggested at Aujourd’hui as well. Am I forgetting anyone?

I do have high hopes for chef Barbara Lynch’s forthcoming fine-dining spot, 354 Congress, but haven’t been inside. Still, that’s just six places, and even most of these list their dress codes as “business casual.”

I suppose the shift away from super-exclusive dining experiences owes largely to our never-ending fascination with casual eating à la Stella, Gaslight, The Buttery Bar-Bistro, Franklin Cafe, Hungry Mother, and more. We love our steak frîtes, and we don’t want to put on actual pants to eat them. (Are trousers that much harder to put on than jeans?) Boston used to be a buttoned-up place, but these days we seem to be looking a little more Velcro.

I know that the economy is down, and that restaurants are in no position to turn away diners. But while we’re focusing so heavily on good food for the masses, I hope chefs and restaurateurs don’t forget that we still need places to go for our milestone birthdays. Call me old-fashioned, but when I have something to celebrate, I want to put on a nice dress. Even if I do spill wine on it.

What about you? Does the lack of jacket-required places in Boston bother you? Or would the death of the dress code be a blessing in (elastic-waisted) disguise?