The-e-list goes to Boston!
Before the holidays, I had a chance to spend a few days in Boston. While I’ve now lived elsewhere longer, I grew up in Cambridge and will always consider myself a Boston girl. This time I sounded just like every transplant, bemoaning the fact that we gave up our beloved loft in the South End for pennies and will you just look at the neighborhood now? In those days it’s what people called "pioneering", filled with yuppies like us (when was the last time you heard that word?) who couldn’t afford the Back Bay or Beacon Hill. There were a few nice restaurants, but little retail, no groceries, few services, not even a gym. We loved it anyhow, but I think we’d love it more now.
I always beg my old friend Christopher Myers for a list of where to eat. The guy knows from food: he was a partner at Via Matta and Radius AND he’s married to Joanne Chang (yes, that Joanne Chang of Flour Bakery and cookbook fame). Their joint effort is Myers and Chang; a don’t miss stop for Chinese American comfort food (just don’t call it fusion) right across from my old apartment. Here’s where he sent me this time:
Asta, Back Bay
If your idea of Boston dining is clam chowder and pot roast, you’ll be delightfully surprised by Asta. I’m not copping out when I call the decor non-descript: here, it’s really all about the food, brilliantly conceived by ex-Espalier chef Alex Crabb and his partner Shish Parsigian. A volunteer gig at NOMA informs the menu, which is inventive, surprising, meticulous and somehow familiar all at once. Choose from three tasting menus (either 3, 5 or 8 courses) and be prepared to try something new. You will not be disappointed; a welcome glass of champagne, sweet and sincere service and course after course of intriguing bites makes for an evening of food as theater. Here’s a rather bad photo of my seared foie gras and a damatic pic of my husband’s beef heart with beet juice – not for the faint of….Oh, and the secret to that incredible butter? It’s house churned with a smidgen of goat cheese. Adventurous diners and their partners (me!) will love it here. Good to know: make sure to sit at the bar with a kitchen view. www.astaboston.com
Sam’s at Louis, Fan Pier
Because of the location, smack on the tip of Fan Pier and upstairs from the most expensive shop in Boston (Louis), it would be fair to expect tea sandwiches and champagne. But um, no. Think high concept diner food: burgers, salads and sandwiches in a spare room with unbelievable water views. Two of my very best friends and I spent a long and happy afternoon sipping Champagne Elderflower cocktails (ok, yes, Champagne), enjoying each other and the view. And, frankly, I could have stayed right through dinner. Be forewarned, servings are huge: my scrumptious chicken with quinoa, grapefruit and arugula was enough to feed a family. If you’re headed to the Instititute of Contemporary Art, the Children’s Museum or a Louis shopping spree, you MUST eat here. LOVED it. samsatlouis.com
Toro, South End
OK. This tapas place is ALL THE BUZZ, and Christopher M. warned me that I would be the oldest person in the place. He was wrong, but not by much. I am fetutzed by restaurants that don’t take reservations, and especially ones that send you to the sushi joint across the street for a rather awkward glass of wine. By the time they called us, over an hour later, my husband would have much preferred to stay put with a platter of sashimi. Not me. We headed back for a squished seat at the communal table and an absurdly loud but well-prepared and flavorful dinner of tapas. Starved, we ordered everything, from classic Shrimp Ajillo to trendy seared pork belly. All delish. If you can stand the wait and the noise, you won’t be sorry. toro-restaurant.com
Erbaluce, Bay Village
Do you ever have that moment in a restaurant when you think you’re about to run into someone you know? That was me at Erbaluce. There was something so, well, familiar about the crowd. They all looked sort of Cambridgey, in an aging hippy sort of way. But no, I didn’t know anyone and frankly, most of the crowd was probably younger than me. Erbaluce is experimental Italian in a simple lovely room with knowledgeable, attentive waitstaff. Some things were sublime: tasty homemade pasta Carbonara topped with a perfect egg. Some things not so much: chewy braised sunflowers with herbed ricotta. www.erbaluce-boston.com
Apps at the Bristol Lounge
I asked Christopher for a good spot to hunker down for an afternoon in front of my computer screen and he suggested the Bristol Lounge at the Four Seasons. I whiled away a few hours at a window table overlooking Boston Garden and nibbled on this heavenly app: house-made miniature pretzels (you know my penchant for tiny food!) with grilled lamb sausages. A solitary but super happy meal. www.fourseasons.com
There are so many fantastic restaurants in the South End these days, that it seems almost a pity to head over for a pizza joint. But Christopher said Picco was a don’t miss and I believed him. Well, of course it was. It’s nothing fancy, but simply the best chewy, charred-crust margerita pie in Boston. (Sorry, Santarpio’s!). www.piccorestaurant.com
It was probably not the smartest idea to save O Ya for last. After four days of feasting, I was tired of food. My husband, however, was up to the challenge. For years, we’d heard that O Ya set the bar for Japanese on the East Coast and is considered by many to be the best restaurant in Boston. Me, I was put off by the prices, the smugness of our waitress, our sad seats at the very end of the bar. But Joe was in Omakase heaven. He slurped course after magnificent, miniature course (hamachi belly with yuzu soy marinated sea urchin, Legs and Eggs – tiny Maine lobster legs, Russian Ossetra caviar, a Kumamoto Oyster with watermelon pearls and cucumber mignonette, then I lost count) from the over-the-top tasting menu, accompanied by bottles of sparkling sake. oyarestaurantboston.com
Joanne Chang’s newest outpost in the stellar Flour Bakery chain is on the South End/Back Bay line and it’s mommy heaven. Stop in for a cappuccino and a famous sticky bun (Bobby Flay Throwdown winner!) for you and some homemade oreas for the wee ones, then head right across the street to the tot lot. Joanne shared her homemade chocolate sandwich cookie recipe with us. Click here for it.
For more Boston restaurants we love, click here.
Patch, South End
Many moons ago, Don Carney worked in my store in Boston (Chona) and created an extremely popular tee shirt line featuring astrological signs. Wish I had held on to a few. These days Don and his partner, John are the designers of Patch NYC, an off-kilter but weirdly right on collection of jewelry, accessories, candles and home decor sold by the likes of Astier de Villate, John Derian and even collabs with Target and West Elm. Their wee Boston shop in the South End is tucked in a courtyard next to their design studio, and it’s like a glimpse into the mind of the artists. Charm necklaces, vintage fabric stitched into clutch bags, imported scarves and their very own line of bone china, adorned with Don’s signature graphic images and produced by Astier de Villate. An unusal and alluring shop. www.patchnyc.com
Viola Lovely, South End
I flipped over Viola Lovely, not only because it’s of its curated high end wares, but just the fact that the owners had chosen to install themselves on my old desolate block of Washington Street in the South End. The buyer has a keen eye and you won’t find the likes of these designers on the Shoreline. More West Coast than Yankee, with lots of my favorite labels: Raquel Allegra, Isabel Marant, Yigal Azrouel, NSF denim, Golden Goose boots, Jerome Dryfus bags, Smythe and more. Scarves, jewelry and sunglasses were standouts. Expensive. violalovely.com
Michelle Willey 8 Union Park Street
A global vision is behind this housewares and gift shop on Union Park. Belgian table linens, Tibetan pillows, Finnish towels, Japanese bowls, French glasses and dinnerware, all of which I’d be happy to live with. The mix is spot on, down to curated notebooks, letterpress greeting cards and those wonderful little lemon soaps from Provence. www.michellewilley.com
Garage Sale, South End
I’d love to get a look at the homes of the folks who send their castoffs here! This consignment boutique features plenty of VERY high end and current furniture and home accessories at unbelievable prices AND some jewelry and accessory steals. I snatched up a pair of Ted Muehling earrings for $75. www.garagesaleboston.com
Boomerang Aids Action Store, South End
Some super skinny Boston doyenne donates her size 2 and 4 Chanels and Yves St. Laurent here. Nothing in my size but lots of tiny but lovely designer clothes. action.aac.org
Sault New England, South End
Preppy meets hipster in this tiny gem of a shop mainly for men. Its focus is all-American and specifically New England: Alpha Industries original pea coats, vintage wing tips, New England Shirt Company oxfords, Ivy Prepster (made in Mass) bow ties, Unbranded (raw and rigid) denim, even our very own Austin Jeffers belts from Essex. This is exactly how I would dress my husband if he’d allow it: a little classic, a little edge, with some fun thrown in. Wonderful gift items and stationery. Genius shop. www.saultne.com
After our leisurely and slightly champagne soaked lunch at Sam’s, my girls and I had a super time trying on outlandish designer clothing at Louis. Lucky for us, we had a delightful and indulgent salesperson (Solange, you rock), and we got away cheaply with sets of Fragonard Paris gift soaps and Three Custom Colors Twinkling Rose lip gloss. Love Louis and always will. www.louisboston.com
E. R. Butler and Co., Charles Street
E. R. Butler has been a stalwart on Charles Street selling jewelry, candlesticks that look like jewelry, and hardware that looks even more like jewelry, for years now. Standouts are the collections of prized American jewelry designers, Gabriella Kiss and John Iverson and Ted Muehling’s slender brass candlesticks. www.erbutler.co
Good, Charles Street
Relative newcomer, Good, at the tip end of Charles Street has a clean aesthetic and is known for simple, handmade design, almost utilitarian, in jewelry, scarves, bags, furniture and home goods. www.shopatgood.com
Beacon Hill Chocolates, Charles Street
The perfect souvenir: handmade truffles in a vintagey box adorned with reproduction photos of the Swan Boats, Comm Ave. or Boston Common. www.beaconhillchocolates.com
Marimekko, Newbury Street
Newbury Street is a notch above a mall these days (the old Louis/Museum of Natural History is now horrifyingly Restoration Hardware!), but there are some welcome mini chains, too. The Marimekko shop is an outpost of all things Finlandia and a perennial favorite for their classic canvas book bag, stripe tees, a-line shifts and fabric by the yard in poppy cotton prints. www.marimekko.com
Steven Alan, Newbury Street
Steven Alan’s new shop on Newbury is a favorite for girls in boy’s clothing. Prim collared shirts, tees, pencil skirts and schoolgirl blazers share shelf space with and brogues and Shinola’s American made, smart leather bags (so very tempted by this Cross Body with a slot for your iPhone!).
Cotelac, Newbury Street
A hippy, Parisian aesthetic and an abundance of tiny floral prints in cottons and flowy georgettes. www.cotelac.us
See Eyewear and Warby Parker, Newbury Street
The perfect frames are an impossible thing to find. Just ask my husband; he’s been wearing the same pair of Oliver People’s for so long that they’ve reintroduced the style and call it Vintage! I tried to get him to have a peek at See and Warby Parker, hip optical shops with outposts on Newbury street. But no dice. If you’re on the hunt for reasonably priced specs, check them out. www.seeeyewear.com www.warbyparker.com
It used to be that Boston was not known for its museums, but those days are over. From the glam Institute of Contemporary Art on the waterfront to the new wings at the Museum of Fine Arts and Isabella Stewart Gardner and the upcoming re-opening of the Harvard Museums, Boston has its share of world class art venues. I stopped by the MFA for a peek at the Hippy Chic show (now closed but BUY the book, featuring local Essex legend Colette Harron) and the ongoing shows at the Gardner: John Singer Sargent Watercolors and French conceptual artist, Sophie Calle’s moving installation, Last Seen, a commentary about the famous Gardner robbery. There is nothing better than spending a few minutes ogling the garden in the courtyard at the Gardner on a wintry day. Weirdly, photos are no longer allowed, which forces you to pay attention. Maybe that’s their point. If you plan to eat at the lovely new restaurant, reserve ahead, but you can kill plenty of time waiting in the Gardner Gift Shop, which houses a riveting selection of gift items, jewelry, scarves, cards and books.