Judging from all the packed dining rooms, Boston's restaurants are recession-proof. The hottest new openings range from bistros priced to thrill a parsimonious Yankee to hybrid nightclub-restaurants. Bostonians are eagerly anticipating Excelsior, the soon-to-open contemporary American restaurant from chef Lydia Shire (Biba, Locke-Ober) and restaurateurs Tim Lynch and Ken Himmel (Grill 23 & Bar, Harvest) in an Adam Tihany-designed dining room overlooking the Public Garden. But Excelsior faces some impressive competition from the places below.
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Blu The menu is as modern as the glassed-in dining room, perched 100 feet above downtown in a swanky health club. Plump truffled gnocchi and butter-roasted lobster with clams and andouille reflect chef Dante deMagistris's training at Ristorante Don Alfonso 1890, a Michelin two-star in Campania, Italy (The Sports Club/LA, 4 Avery St.; 617-375-8550).
The Nightingale A decade ago, when this spot was Hamersley's Bistro, Michael Burgess was sous-chef. Now Burgess is backthis time as co-owner and chef, cooking focused, Old World-inspired cuisine (578 Tremont St.; 617-236-5658).
Troquet Wine and food get equal billing at this exceptional Theater District newcomer. On the menu, each of chef Scott Hebert's dishespanko-crusted halibut, roasted suckling pig with parsnip pureeis paired with a selection from co-owner Chris Campbell's extensive by-the-glass wine list (140 Boylston St.; 617-695-9463).
Truc A popular six-year-old South End bistro gets a makeover: a new coat of paint, a new wine list and a new chef, Philip Wang, who trained under Daniel Boulud in New York City. Wang's sautéed frog's legs smothered in tomatoes, garlic, black olives, capers and almonds may be the Hub's best first course (560 Tremont St.; 617-338-8070).
Via Matta It's as much about the scene as it is about the food at this minimally appointedand constantly crowdedtrattoria from Michael Schlow, an F&W Best New Chef 1996 (79 Park Plaza; 617-422-0008).
Best Reason to Leave Town
Le Soir Mark Allen's Beacon Hill fans regularly take a 15-minute drive out on Route 9 to Newton Highlands to indulge in his rabbit potpie and other sophisticated French country dishes. The pan-roasted whole monkfish used to be on the menu at Allen's former restaurantthe Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton, Bostonwhere it cost 13 bucks more (51 Lincoln St., Newton Highlands; 617-965-3100).
Hot 'Hood: The Ladder District
Named for its parallel streets, this downtown business district by day is home to a number of happening dining spots by nightincluding Mantra, with Thomas John (an F&W Best New Chef 2002).
Felt Shoot eight ball or focus on chef Casey Lloyd's French-Mediterranean cuisine at this billiard club and restaurant. On weekends, the line stretches down the block (533 Washington St.; 617-350-5555).
JER-NE Linger over an aperitif in the downstairs lounge at the new Ritz-Carlton, Boston Common, then head upstairs for refined New American dishes from chef Ulrich Koberstein (10 Avery St.; 617-574-7100).
Limbo You would never guess that this multilevel space was once a tailor's shop. There's nightly live jazzand surprisingly polished Mediterranean food (49 Temple Pl.; 617-338-0280).
Silvertone Bar & Grill Why do so many Boston restaurant workers congregate here after work? Friendly bartenders, big drinks and generously portioned comfort-food classics (69 Bromfield St; 617-338-7887).