An early taste of what's new on the restaurant scene
Observe the office worker in his Friday-after-5 habitat. He's still wearing a tucked-in pink button-up shirt and loafers with no socks, ID tag dangling from his neck, cellphone firmly affixed to hip, but he has made one significant adaptation to his new surroundings at the Seaport Hotel's Tamo bar: a drink. He is surrounded by others of his kind, also clutching drinks: a woman in a teal knit top who has removed her matching teal jacket, a sea of men in khakis, a woman in a pinstriped suit and flip-flops. An after-work buzz builds, and an occasional squeal can be heard rising from the group. A weekend ritual has begun.
At a high-top table near the bar, three outsiders lurk. They are not here because they work nearby; they are here to sample the bar food of noted chef Rachel Klein, who also runs Aura restaurant just across the hall, to sip martinis with graham cracker rims, to see the happy hour crowd at its happiest.
The first order of business is a pink, frothy PB&J martini made with Frangelico, butterscotch schnapps, Chambord, and a splash of milk. At first it tastes like cough syrup but quickly evolves into a comforting glass of peanut butter and jelly goodness.
Tamo is not a bar that serves nachos and chicken wings. Here there are rectangular logs of chickpea fries stacked like jenga pieces, served with cool cilantro and smoky tamarind sauces; perfect bite-size pork dumplings and star anise-spiced soy sauce to dip them in; a thin, salty kampachi carpaccio that tastes mostly of the pineapple confit and toasted ginger strings on top of it. An appealing wedge salad comes in a towering stack - fried shoestring onions atop thick pieces of smoked bacon sitting on rounds of baby iceberg lettuce resting upon sliced tomatoes, all bathing in a pool of rich buttermilk and blue cheese dressing.
One diner is distressed about the individual-serving-size bottles of ketchup and mustard. Does the hotel recycle them? Not according to the sassy waitress. "Here's the thing," she says. "We're bourgy [as in bourgeois] and they want us to stay that way." (All hail the sassy waitress.) She reappears a few minutes later to clarify that the restaurant is actually big on recycling, it just doesn't happen to recycle the tiny condiment bottles.
Meanwhile, the pastel shirts are multiplying: greens and yellows and have joined the pinks and blues. Highball glasses have been replaced with shots. A woman calls out, "Take your shirt off!"
A more sophisticated scene is playing out a few steps up, where couples on couches nibble appetizers as they look out the wall of windows overlooking Fish Pier. Jack Johnson and Amy Winehouse play on the stereo, and an old Red Sox game, circa Johnny Damon, plays at the bar.
In the meantime, the empty PB&J glass has been removed, and an identical-looking Blueberry Peach Cobbler martini has appeared. Alas, there is no graham cracker rim, as advertised, but it does indeed taste like a fruity cobbler. It doesn't really go with the lobster roll or the burger - which is satisfactory but encased in cheese that quickly congeals. Nor, for that matter, does the martini go with the crispy, chewy bacon, onion, and fontina pizza. The crisp, salty sweet potato fries, on the other hand, could be eaten with anything, and they come in a mini fry basket with a handle that makes for easy sharing.
Suddenly, a drunk blond woman in a floral dress and yellow heels starts playing the "How old do you think I am?" game with another woman.
"Forty-two?" the woman guesses timidly. Fool! Never guess over 40.
"Thirty-seven," comes the reply. "I'll slit my wrists."
By 9 p.m., the bar is emptying out, but the office workers remain, getting farther and farther away from their jobs with every sip.
Tamo, Seaport Hotel, 1 Seaport Lane, Boston. 617-385-4300. seaportboston.com Plates $9-$19. Martinis $12.
Katie Johnston Chase can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.