Often referred to as “Boston’s living room,” thanks to its casually elegant decor, stocked bookshelves and comfortable armchairs and sofas, the Bristol delivers the level of service and luxury one expects from a Four Seasons. Request a window seat facing the Public Garden, or a fireplace perch if the weather dictates. Perfect for power lunches and family dinners, the upscale-comfort-food menu includes such simple, satisfying specialties as the famed Bristol Burger.
Craigie on Main
Formerly the Craigie Street Bistrot (the restaurant just moved from its old location near Harvard Square), Craigie is the kind of place visitors don’t generally stumble on. But if you’re staying in the area, it’s an excellent choice. Chef Tony Maws, whom Food & Wine named one of 2008’s best new chefs, daily updates his French-inspired menu with seasonal ingredients from local farms. Although diners never know exactly what will be offered on a given night, organic roasted lamb and fresh day-boat scallops are generally likely. The wine list (a repeat recipient of Wine Spectator awards) offers a well-edited selection from around France. Popular with the professorial crowd, the restaurant also offers one of the best prix-fixe deals in town: a $38 three-course menu served on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday and after 9 P.M. on Saturday.
The few small steps down to La Voile’s subterranean dining room represent huge leaps for Boston dining. Husband-and-wife owners Stéphane Santos and Stephanie Zuberbuehler opened the Newbury Street bistro in late 2007 after closing their previous venture, La Voile au Vent, in Cannes. Her menu, prepared by a Mediterranean-born-and-bred chef, features classic French dishes, including warm duck salad and chicken roasted according to a recipe borrowed from L’Ami Louis.
On sunny days, the restaurant’s convivial crowds clamor for seats on the large terrace, but cooler weather brings diners inside, to the nautical-themed dining room. While I love people-watching from Newbury Street patios, I actually think La Voile is at its best inside. The wood paneling, antique furniture and 1920s zinc bar, all shipped over from France, feel romantic and cozy and make the place ideal for passing a chilly afternoon or evening in. Because of its popularity, reservations for weekend dinner are strongly suggested.
Although the North End is ground zero for Boston’s best Italian fare, Via Matta offers a refined alternative in Back Bay. Managed by the team behind Radius, the restaurant has a menu that trades the typical red-sauce dishes for creative alternatives, such as pasta alla puttanesca with spicy swordfish and a tender sirloin served with smoked onions and chanterelles. In warmer weather, the patio provides an excellent alfresco-dining spot, and the separate enoteca is a wonderful place to retreat from cold weather with wines by the glass and a small-plates menu. The elegant main dining room and discreet service draw visiting celebs. (I once dined next to a Rolling Stones bassist Darryl Jones.)
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