Charlie’s Kitchen: Eliot St.
(opposite Harvard Square Hotel) (cost: $, rating: ***)
In a town full of self-conscious tea and coffee shops, Charlie’s Kitchen makes for a refreshing, no-nonsense alternative-basically a greasy diner, but with a great selection of beers and spirits, and surprisingly good food. Try the acclaimed double cheeseburger or the double lobster roll (live lobsters in the ‘death row’ tank as you walk in). Great if you need to get away from all the students and sit among some real Cambridge locals.
Legal Seafoods: Ten locations in Boston area (cost: $$, rating: ***)
A local institution – reliable fresh seafood and good service, though like any chain, slightly lacking in atmosphere. They serve over 30 types of fish, as well as good shellfish and great lobster. Try the desserts if you’ve got room. The wine list had a reasonable selection, particularly Californian, and you can order ‘tasters’, where you get three different glasses of wines of the same type. I went to the one in Copley Place, which has great views of the city.
L’Espalier: 30 Gloucester St., Boston (cost: $$$$$ ouch!, rating: **)
I know I’m in the minority here, but I wasn’t that impressed. Despite booking a week ahead, we had to stand and wait 20 minutes in the unventilated entrance hallway. The menu is acceptable, but slightly dated and uninspiring. There seemed to be more words on the menu than morsels on the plate. The service, though somewhat self-important, could not be faulted. I found the wine list limiting – it’s either (over-priced) cheap stuff, or stratospherically priced Bordeaux first growths, which make their appearance mostly for effect. The tables were packed too close together, and the constant table turnover was slightly disconcerting. It’s still impressive though, if that’s your objective for the evening.
Oleana: 134 Hampshire Street, near Inman Square (cost: $$$, rating: *****)
This local restaurant is barely a year old and has already collected a stream of awards. The atmosphere is stylish yet comfortable – with earth tones, soft lighting, and beautiful onyx mosaic tabletops. The superb food focuses on the Mediterranean, blending the various ethnic cuisines with fresh ingredients to produce original and clean-tasting dishes like “Grilled Lamb Steak with Turkish Spices and Fava Bean Moussaka” and “Grilled Sea Scallops with Basmati-Pistachio Pilaf, Greens, and Brown Butter.”
The service was excellent, and the wine list featured an impressive list of reasonably priced European wines. Make sure you try the dips and bread at the start of the meal, and leave room for the pastries or some homemade ice cream at the end. This place will have a fire in the wood stove going in the winter, but you might still find a warm evening to dine in the beautiful garden at the back.