date published: January 19, 2004

DINING OUT—Outstanding eateries that debuted in 2003 include (left to right) Union Bar and Grille in the South End, Vinalia at Downtown Crossing, Great Bay in Kenmore Square and Excelsior near the Public Garden.

10 New Dining Hot Spots in the Hub
by Christopher Wallenberg and Christine Celli

If there’s a successful business model for encouraging luxury spending in a slumping economy, local restaurateurs are confident the chi chi bistro is it. And who can blame them? Every year it seems a new crop of eateries attracts a crowd and creates headlines—not to mention fat bank accounts. These days the crowning jewels of the new dining scene have been brought to us by some of our city’s most accomplished chefs—many of whom have opted to bring a more American approach to their menus. To experience what we, and everyone else around town, is talking about, have your next meal at one of the following new eateries.

1 Arbor 711 Centre St., 617-522-1221. Jamaica Plain’s booming dining scene seems to add a bright new star every year. With Arbor, this year will be no exception. The breezy Franco-Mediterranean-tinged restaurant marked its arrival on Centre Street with a flurry of rave reviews heralding the neighborhood restaurant’s skilled and welcoming service and dazzling food. Start with sangria and the mezze sampler—boasting tasty treats like grilled lamb sausage, smoky baba ganoush and roasted red peppers—and you’ll instantly understand what all the fuss is about.

2 B&G Oyster 550 Tremont St., 617-423-0550. If you’re lucky enough to snag yourself a table at this tiny, tony South End oyster bar—the brainchild of No. 9 Park chef Barbara Lynch and partner Garrett Harker—you’ll enjoy the freshest, most bodacious bivalves around, from Wellfleet to Kumamotos, for $2 a pop, in swanky surroundings. If oysters aren’t your thing, the small lunch and dinner menu includes soups, salads, several appetizers and entrees. Try the tasty lobster roll served with french fries and cole slaw or choose from two BLTs (one chock full of lobster), wild king salmon and seared halibut.

3 Dedo Lounge & Bistro 69 Church St., 617-338-9999. Gargoyles on the Square owner James Conforti has unveiled another neighborhood gem, this time in the Theatre District. This new place features an affordable, seasonal bistro menu with French and Italian influences. Chef Michael Scelfo’s caramelized ricotta gnocchi adorned with sweet apples, mushrooms and roasted squash is a menu signature that’s drawing raves from all corners, as is the velvety foie gras over a hearty chestnut and mushroom risotto.

4 Excelsior 227 Boylston St., 617-426-7878. In a city where change isn’t always embraced, culinary darling Lydia Shire refuses to serve us anything stale. Nonetheless, local foodies were surprised when she closed the doors to her ever-popular Biba to open Excelsior. The new eatery has succeeded much like her previous ones have: by stunning us with opulence, originality and impeccably prepared cuisine. Patrons can sip creative cocktails in the lounge while noshing on elegant snacks, then take a ride through a climate-controlled wine tower in a glass elevator to the main dining room. Once upstairs, Shire’s award-winning cooking holds all the attention, with playful menu offerings including his and hers steaks.

5 Great Bay Hotel Commonwealth, 500 Commonwealth Ave., 617-532-5300. The opening of another fish-themed restaurant in seafood-saturated Boston would usually elicit a yawning round of ho-hums. That is unless the place is helmed by the dynamic restaurant duo of manager/wine director Christopher Myers and star chef Michael Schlow (Radius, Via Matta). This new venture presents first-rate seafood in a stylish yet whimsical atmosphere. A circular island raw bar serves a variety of intriguing appetizers, including a delectable version of the fish taco. Chef Jeremy Sewall’s cousin, a lobsterman in York, Maine, provides the goods for the buzz-worthy baked stuffed lobster, served over Thanksgiving-worthy stuffing and baby veggies.

6 Peking Tom’s Longtang Lounge 25 Kingston St., 617-482-6282. One thing’s for sure: Peking Tom’s isn’t your father’s Chinese restaurant. First, there’s the sleek, contemporary environs. Then there’s the food, which eschews the homogenized quality of many Chinese-American eateries. Traditional dishes are given a gourmet makeover by chefs Marc Orfaly (of French bistro Pigalle) and Rob Johnson: beef and broccoli boasts thick slices of seared tenderloin; crab rangoon favors fresh crabmeat over heavy cream cheese. But perhaps the best reason to visit this nouveau Chinese eatery? The exotically kitschy cocktails. From the giant, rum-drenched scorpion bowl to the potent Long-tang Tea, these deliriously decadent drinks pack a wicked punch.

7 Perdix 560 Tremont St., 617-338-8070. Good things may come in small packages but if you’re talking restaurants, the package may pose some problems. Witness Perdix, the upscale mom and pop bistro opened by chef Tim Partridge and his wife Nini Diana several years ago in Jamaica Plain. The tiny, ten table eatery that served up inspired new American fare was an instant hit. Scoring reservations there on a weekend, though, proved nearly impossible. So the couple sought out larger digs in the tonier South End, and now Partridge’s homey, elegant plates, such as the braised short ribs infused with maple and sage or monkfish in a littleneck risotto, can be enjoyed by up to 50 patrons a night.

8 Uni Eliot Hotel, 370A Commonwealth Ave., 617-536-7200. If you’re a novice sushi eater (read: you’ll order a California roll but are not convinced you’ll enjoy eating uncooked fish), you may not be ready for the finery that is Uni, Ken Oringer’s new sashimi bar inside his acclaimed Clio. The place is as tiny as the food (only 22 seats in all) and the prices are steep. But Oringer’s menu, comprised of 12 dishes made from the freshest catch (that’s sometimes still alive until right before it’s prepared), gives Boston what it has long been missing out on—a chance to experience raw fish of a quality usually only found in Japan, paired with sublime ingredients, from quail egg to golden beets.

9 Union Bar and Grille 1357 Washington St., 617-423-0555. You know that an up-and-coming neighborhood has been officially deemed “hip” when a tony restaurant like Union Bar and Grille opens its doors. For the Washington Street corridor in the South End, the arrival of this swank American bistro marks the voguish enclave’s first full-fledged “destination” restaurant. The kitchen churns out everything from comfort food like the grilled Reuben sandwich and a beef and andouille sausage burger to grilled poussin and the $10K tuna, a dish that netted chef Stephen Sherman 10,000 bucks in a recipe contest back in his student days.

10 Vinalia 101 Arch St., 617-737-1777. Oenophiles rejoice! Inspired by the Boston Harbor Hotel’s popular Boston Wine Festival, two former employees of the hotel opened this sleek-yet-inviting Downtown Crossing eatery last fall. With a wine list boasting more than 40 wines by the glass and 150 bottles—as well as a weekly four-course wine pairing menu that, at $55 per person, is a genuine fine dining bargain—Vinalia has created a buzz among Hub vino aficionados and diners alike. If all that doesn’t impress, its diverse menu of local and international dishes surely will.

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