New Year's Eve dining

No reservations: Do the snack crawl this year

At the salon of L’Espalier, try an array of cheeses. At the salon of L’Espalier, try an array of cheeses. (Wiqan Ang for The Boston Globe /File)
By Devra First
Globe Staff / December 31, 2010

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Eating out on Dec. 31 can be a commitment. Restaurants have decided people want to usher in the new year with multicourse extravaganzas, champagne toast included. This may be more in their interest than yours: It makes the night a lucrative one. For the customer, it means advance planning, to get the right reservation at the right spot. But sometimes the evening just sneaks up on you. Sometimes you’re more in the mood for jeans than dress-up. And sometimes you don’t feel like toasting the health of a roomful of strangers at the stroke of midnight.

You don’t have to tie yourself to one table. What’s fun about New Year’s Eve is the energy of it. The city is alive until the wee hours. People are out who are usually in. So why not take to the streets? It’s a great night to gather a small band of your favorite mischief makers and wind your way through the neighborhoods of Boston, noisemakers in hand. There’s people-watching to be done, and a million urban tableaux to take in. And the eating is, as always, excellent. Snack your way from one spot to the next, from one year to the next, with this New Year’s Eve crawl.

Note: This isn’t meant to be a dine-and-dash. It would be difficult to hit all these spots in one evening. Feel free to customize. And do consider ditching the car. This route is easy to navigate without it, and the T is free after 8 p.m.

Start the evening off on a swank note at L’Espalier. The restaurant is pulling out all the stops with a seven-course menu in the dining room, but you’re just popping in for a taste. Take a seat in the salon area, where you can enjoy one of maitre d’ and fromager Louis Risoli’s decadent cheese flights, with names such as “My Blue Heaven,’’ “Soft and Gooey,’’ and “That Stinks!’’ There’s caviar and oysters, too, if you really want to get into it. 774 Boylston St., Back Bay, Boston. 617-262-3023. T: Copley (Green Line).

What will 2011 bring? If the suspense is killing you, head a few blocks east to Post 390, a stylish take on ye olde tavern. Here, a fortuneteller is giving free readings from 6 p.m. to midnight. I predict you’ll have some crab dip or fried clams and a cocktail while you’re there. 406 Stuart St., Back Bay, Boston. 617-399-0015. T: Arlington (Green Line) or Back Bay (Orange Line).

Toro is always festive. (The tapas bar is a mile away; if you don’t feel like making the chilly trek, a cab is your best bet.) Counter to its usual policy, it’s taking reservations for New Year’s Eve, but you can still have a drink and a bite at the bar. Small plates of hot green peppers with sea salt, garlicky shrimp, and tortilla espanola would be delicious right about now, and you know you’re going to order Toro’s famous grilled corn. But what you’re really here for is cava. You can get the Spanish sparkler in a porron, a glass wine pitcher with a long spout. The goal is to pour the cava into your mouth from a height, stretching your arm as far as it can go. Nothing says New Year’s like getting drenched in bubbly. 1704 Washington St., South End, Boston. 617-536-4300. T: Worcester Square (Silver Line).

Hop the Silver Line to Chinatown. At Chinese New Year, noodles are eaten to ensure longevity. They couldn’t hurt now either. Head to Gourmet Dumpling House for a steaming, warming bowl of noodle soup. There are more than a dozen kinds to choose among, from noodle soup with shredded beef and longhorn peppers to pig’s feet noodle soup. Get some dumplings while you’re at it — try the mini juicy dumplings with pork, delicious parcels filled with broth. Bite and slurp. 52 Beach St., Chinatown, Boston. 617-338-6222. T: Chinatown (Silver Line, Orange Line).

Time for more slurping, at Neptune Oyster. The small North End seafood spot is always crowded, but someone is going to get a seat, and it might as well be you. The restaurant serves a killer lobster roll (hot with butter or cold with mayo) and some nice raw fish preparations. But the oysters are the best part. Get a sampler and savor the amazingly different flavors of each variety. 63 Salem St., North End, Boston. 617-742-3474. T: Haymarket (Orange Line).

There was a lot of talk about food trucks in 2010, and they’re rolling into 2011 on City Hall Plaza tonight. It’s been at least an hour since you last ate cheese, so perhaps it’s time for a sandwich from roving restaurant Grilled Cheese Nation. For something a little healthier, head to the Clover truck for vegetarian fare. 1 City Hall Square, Government Center, Boston. T: Government Center (Green Line, Blue Line), State Street (Orange Line, Blue Line).

Cap off the evening with a Boston classic. Take the Blue Line to East Boston and head to Santarpio’s. Get a pie or some barbecued lamb and sausage to go. Then walk down to the East Boston waterfront, where you can watch the midnight fireworks in relatively crowd-free peace. If there’s a better way to ring in 2011 than eating a slice in the freezing cold with your favorite people while the sky explodes with colors, I don’t know it. 111 Chelsea St., East Boston. 617-567-9871. T: Maverick (Blue Line).

Devra First can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @devrafirst.

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