There is indeed something novel about sitting inside the Boston Public Library, looking out on the splendid inner courtyard while sipping tea and nibbling dainty sandwiches and sweets. Novel Restaurant offers afternoon tea - takers have the option of sandwiches and sweets ($19.95 per person) or sweets only ($14.95 per person) - on weekdays from 2:30 to 4 p.m. The dainty bites include assorted tea breads and tiny scones, which are unusually light and airy and typically laced with berries. Tiny sandwiches range from a flavorful vegetarian to a ham, brie, and mustard creation. When it comes to the warm pots of tea, English Breakfast is popular and the Black Currant is refreshingly flavorful. The elegant decor makes Novel an oasis in the city for solo diners as well as friends hoping to collectively fight off the winter blues. Novel Restaurant, in the Boston Public Library, 700 Boylston St., Boston, 617-385-5660. - BRIDGET SAMBURG
Good in a pinchLike most Chinese restaurants with six-page menus, a good meal at Qingdao Garden in North Cambridge means you know what to order. Northern and Sichuan specialties - fiery lamb with cumin is one - are strong here. But the restaurant's true talent lies in its dumplings. In the kitchen of Qingdao, you'll find dumpling masters Mei Lee and Yan Chen rolling out balls of soft dough by hand nightly before pinching them shut around six different fillings. The highly seasoned stuffing, which starts off as a loose mass, undergoes a near alchemic reaction as the dumplings steam. The result is a delicate meatball suspended in a burst of rich broth hermetically sealed inside soft pastry that retains just the right amount of springy chew. Eat in at one of the standard-issue cafeteria tables, or better yet, buy them frozen in bags of up to 100 to satiate your cravings without the long winter trek up Mass. Ave. Qingdao Garden, 2382 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-492-7540. - J. KENJI ALT
Good to go
In due courseThere's no shortage of good pho, bowls brimming with broth, or bahn mi, the crusty sandwiches, in Dorchester's Fields Corner neighborhood (see E1 and E3), but among the slew of Vietnamese restaurants in the area, Anh Hong stands out not only for the quality of its brothy, steamy soups, but for its lively atmosphere. Although the bright little spot is off the main drag, it's a busy place where large groups can gather for the restaurant's specialties - seven courses of beef or fish. If you're not there with a group, take a less-ambitious approach to ordering and try the shrimp cake on sugar cane (right, $6.95) to begin the meal. Follow that with a bowl of pho and decide with whom you'll return for the seven-course beef banquet. Anh Hong, 291 Adams St., Dorchester, 617-265-8889. - LEIGH BELANGER
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