Learning the Hard Way and To Eat or Not to Eat in Downtown Boston

15 Jan

This post was going to be completely positive–I had it all set in my mind to be pleasant and non-whiny and fun until I discovered that I overdrew on my bank account paying off my loans last week and I am now negative 105 in my account. Now, I’m in an awful mood about it. Mostly upset with myself for not following my own banking rule: one loan a week. I was trying to be sneaky and get them all out of the way at once with some extra Christmas money that I had managed to squirrel away. As you can see–that did not go over well at all. Another lesson learned the hard way.

 

Now that that self-loathing is out of the way, let’s get on with what I actually wanted to share today: food.

My extremely supportive boyfriend has often made the suggestion to me to write about food. It’s always been one of my passions along with eating and cooking– which all essentially boils down to food. I sort of dismissed him originally, because frankly: we don’t get out a lot. As such, we often get into a restaurant rut and wind up going off to places that we’ve been to at least a dozen times before because we know the food isn’t going to disappoint us. This weekend has been different, however, so now I find myself with actual information to share with the rest of the food-loving universe. (If they feel like taking a simple pony-crazed foodie’s advice that is.)

I’m from the Boston area (generally speaking more toward the suburbs in the south.) and my boyfriend lives in the East Boston area. As such, we usually end up around the downtown Boston area, trying to find someplace not too far away from our favorite movie theater on the Commons. Our favorite place as of late or as we like to reefer to it, “The place”, so as not to jinx it, is Max & Dylan’s. Located on 15 West Street in the downtown area of Boston–it’s situated fairly close to the theater district and nestled beside an old bookstore that I tend to frequent. Despite having a large white and green flag sign proclaiming “Max & Dylan’s” you might never think twice about this restaurant. I personally had walked by it over and over again visiting Brattle’s Bookshop and had never even realized that this establishment was there. The door is somewhat pushed back, and a thin window in the front is so reminiscent of the old brownstone homes that I used to resist peeking in, for fear I’d be intruding into somebody’s living room window. When you first enter Max & Dylan’s, you are immediately greeted by the long bar top and the pleasant hosts and hostesses. It seems, at first glance, like your typical Boston Bar, complete with two of three televisions behind liquor lined bar, a jute box  and dim lighting. But once the hostess leads you inside, you see there is a bit more to it than that. There is a bar on the first floor, along with a few nestled tabletop seats for two and low tabled huddled together in corners.

Then there is the second floor (which honestly seems more like a rather large stair landing) which contains more tables, each decorated a little less sparsely than the floor below. On this floor, you can look up and admire the skylight as well as polished wooden beams that again make me think this place used to be someone’s home. The second floor, is my personal favorite for when I enjoy time here. One more floor up, there is a second, smaller bar top back lit by blue and gold lights. An after work, sort of place that seems like a classy idea for a night out with friends. Yet more tabletops can be found on the third floor with the bar, pressed against the rough brick walls. There are paintings strewn throughout the restaurant, but the casual intimacy of the space always leaves me feeling very much focused on whomever I am enjoying my meal with, and of course, enjoying the meal itself.

-knocks on wood for what will come next-

I have yet to be disappointed by any of the food which I have ordered at Max & Dylan’s. The portion sizes never seem too overbearing as often times these days food serving establishments fight to give you more for your money.  Meat never seems to be over or under cooked, but lovingly and patiently grilled, friend and broiled. On top of the taste, the food is fairly priced and depending on how much you have to drink you can leave there having an appetizer, entree, drinks and desserts for two for under $60. (Though, I do not recommend the Prosecco here as they seem to only order a rather cheap tasting brand.) The staff is also generally very attentive and pleasant. Which I feel, in some cases, makes the dining experience that much more pleasant. The staff are easy to talk to, and seem to genuinely care if you’re enjoying yourself or not. I highly recommend this place for people who are looking for a nice date night excursion. Also, for first date material that is both impressive and comfortable. Then again, I also take my friends here when we want to catch up and enjoy ourselves in an environment that is welcoming and relaxed. My boyfriend and I just last night took our friend there with us for a gathering and a good time was had by all.

It was in this same gathering that our friend introduced us to a bar nearby that I also enjoyed. Once our meal was done and paid for, we agreed that more time was needed to chat. Our friend recommended a bar and Indian food restaurant nearby called, Mantra. (I was later informed that this place also seconds as a nightclub on certain evenings, but not last night while we were there.) Located at 53 Temple Place, not far from Windor Buttons, Mantra is a visually impressive place.

 

You walk through the large heavy doors and find yourself immediately greeted by walls and tabletops covered with multiple flickering candles. Unlike many Boston bars these days, Mantra still takes the risk of using actual fire instead of the plastic flickering tea lights for ambience. The walls, bar top and tables are all smooth black and white checked granite, and the place feels open yet intimate. Heavy fabrics are placed in bright colors softened by the dim lighting strategically around the room, while soft gossamer curtains partition dinners in the back into more private seating. A large wooden structure that resembled a giant slatted garlic clove (as pointed out by my friend) sticks out in the back of the room. I supposed it to be a VIP section of the restaurant. In the center of all this sits the stairs, and a large golden Buddah statue, looking placid and mysterious in the romantic lighting. I was told the place had once been a bank, and down the steps along with the bathrooms, the nightclub was located in what used to be the vault. Servers were formal but pleasant and though we chose only to have drinks last night–the smells wafting temptingly through the air made me decide that another visit at a different time for food will be required.

It was quiet there last night, probably due to the Patriot’s game hat aired last night, and service was quick. The martini list at Mantra is both expansive and delicious. Prices were a bit high, but the drinks themselves were made with no lacking strength and seemed ultimately worth the extra cost. Also, at no charge, we were brought a small espresso-sized cup of soup–which we mainly dubbed as a mystery because the server who presented them to us seemed to mumble as we inquired about it. We heard “mumble-mumble Gumbo Soup” before he quickly skittishly ambled away to help other diners. The soup smelled buttery and almost fishy as it warmly sat aside our martinis. Both my boyfriend and our friend pushed the cups aside without so much as a taste–but being ever food-curious, I took two tentative sips. Despite the odd smell, the soup was creamy and pleasant to the palette, it almost reminded me of cream of mushroom soup with a more rich flavor. Plus, I appreciated that even though we only came in for drinks, the hospitality of the staff allowed them to provide us with something (small as it was) for just sitting down for drinks. I will definitely return there again for a more food-based adventure to Mantra.

I know by now you must be growing bored of all of these glowing reviews of local restaurants–so I’m serving you up the last restaurant rant for the day.

After doing date night again and again at the same place, I eventually get bored and run a quick little Google search for new places to try out. This week I came across the bar and restaurant, Scholars.  Not far from where the looming vacant space where Border’s used to be in Downtown Crossing, Scholars is at 35 School Street. Clever. Though the ambiance of this establishment is immediately impressive, my boyfriend and I noticed right away that there was also a bizarre lingering sense of awkward arrogance that seemed to come along with it. The hostesses greeted us right away, eyeing us in our somewhat casual attire, they took us to the back of the restaurant, past the extraordinarily lengthy bar, past darkened lounge seating around polished dark-wood tables, and leather couches to small tabletops arranged in an open space. The music bobbed loudly enough that talking to whoever was with you at the table felt private, because no one around you would be able to listen in, but you weren’t forced to shout over it either. Mirrors lined the back wall, and a staircase lead up toward pool tables to the left of our seats. High backed partitioning segregated diners from the bar area. Our waitress was quick to arrive to our table, giving off that same awkward aura that the hostesses seemed to present before she asked for our order. She seemed almost uncomfortable when speaking to us, and fidgeted like she wanted to be away from us as quickly as possible. The bread they presented to our table was warmed and slightly crusty on the outside. It had that sort of texture to it that made it known that it wasn’t fresh, but that they had taken the time to warm it up for us to it would taste better all the same. Oil was also given to us to dip the bread in–though significantly later than the bread. By the time our waitress had arrived with the oil, we had each already eaten one piece out of the three given pieces of bread because we thought that was all that was coming. The first item I ordered for dinner was the Veal–but I was quickly told that they were out of it. Not a good start–as it was barely 5:30 pm. I then decided on the fish as a second choice, while my date had the steak. The food seemed to come fairly quickly, but my boyfriend’s order came out incorrectly. He likes his steak nearly burned to death, which he requested, but it came out barely medium, and both of our orders on the menu had stated mixed vegetables would be included with our meals–instead we both found largely sliced, overly buttered carrots in their place on our plates. Had we been warned of this we would have asked for something else. But no warning of the carrots only was given. Our waitress occasionally came to check on us, but was overly intrusive when she did so.

All and all, we probably won’t be going back to Scholars for dinner again. The service was unwelcoming and generally unfocused. The kitchen seemed unprepared for dinners, and didn’t pay attention to detail while preparing the food. The drinks, however, were good. I WILL recommend the Prosecco here as it had no hint of flatness and bubbled pleasantly with each sip. If you’re looking for a nice drink, a place to play pool and show off your little black cocktail dress, head to Scholars–but eat before you go.

 

If you’re interested in checking out any of the restaurants I mentioned here today they each have an easily accessible website for you to check out.  I’d be interested to know if your experiences match up with mine. Happy snacking!

 

http://www.maxanddylans.com/

 

http://mantrarestaurant.com/

 

http://www.scholarsbostonbistro.com/ 

 

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2 Responses to “Learning the Hard Way and To Eat or Not to Eat in Downtown Boston”

  1. thenotwriter January 15, 2012 at 4:43 pm #

    My boyfriend and I love trying new restaurants. We live in Springfield, MA, but our favorite towns to experiment in are Northampton and Provincetown.

    We actually had a somewhat disppointing experience yesterday in Provincetown, tho. We drove out there for a day drip and had a dinner of fish and chips at The Governor Bradford. We have had breakfast there in the past but never dinner. The food was delicious, theres nothing better then fresh seafood eaten at a seaside restaurant in my opinion, but the waitress seems like she was irritated with us and we felt uncomfortable being waited on.

    If you ever happen to go to Provincetown and are looking for a seafood restaurant I recommend The Lobster Pot. They have the best food ever and the staff there is great. The Post Office Cafe and Bayside Betsy’s are both excellent as well. Those places serve beef, chicken and pork as well if those are more to your taste. And if you ever venture west to Northampton you should checkout Fitzwilly’s, or if youre in the mood for asian food, the Teapot is the way to go.

    We tend to get into our restaurant rut too, both for price reasons as well as a guarantee of likeable food. With the kids its usually Cracker Barrel, without the kids its usually Applebees. We all get the exact same thing every time we go and we know exactly what the bill is gonna be every time. Which is good because theres no heart attack moment when the check comes, but it does get boring.

    • suddenleigh January 15, 2012 at 8:46 pm #

      Thanks for the tip! We will definitely look into these places when next we have time to make a journey out that way. (Between his college courses and work times and my job it gets a little difficult to stray very far.)

      Thank you so much and thank you for reading. 🙂 Please feel free to shoot me ideas as they come up.

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