Warm spring night
It's nearly summer, and you're dying to sit outside for dinner, but is it too early? Getting cozy to stay warm is fine, but will you both freeze before you get to the ice cream? Not if you book a fireside table on the patio at Harvest. The spring garlic and watercress soup, seared scallops, handmade mint ravioli, or lemon gnocchi with sugar snap peas would taste great anywhere, but that cozy outdoor hearth makes you savor both the cleverly prepared fresh fare and the start of the new season just a smidge more.
Harvest 44 Brattle Street, Cambridge, 617-868-2255, harvestcambridge.com
Drinks that could become dinner
At the first sign of summer - and the first signs of romance - arrange to meet "just for drinks" on Dante's outdoor patio in Cambridge near Kendall Square. Get to know each other as you take in views of the boats on the Charles River and the Boston skyline. With a couple of Pimm's Cups, an appetizer to share, and free parking (after 6 p.m., on the street that runs behind the restaurant along the river), you might decide you'd like to order dinner. Dishes like the hand-rolled spaghetti a la chitarra, served with an ever-changing selection of seasonal sauces, make it easy to stick around. Or, if things go south after drinks and you need to make a getaway, you can. You're parked right there.
Dante Royal Sonesta Hotel, 5 Cambridge Parkway, Cambridge, 617-497-4200, restaurantdante.com
Hot summer night
When the weather outside becomes so thick that even the nights are sticky, cool off in the garden at the Hungry I on Beacon Hill. Climbing vines and flowering plants and trees provide beauty, charm, and privacy and, combined with the menu of French-inspired favorites such as venison au poivre or eggplant timbale, make the patio feel enchanted. Stretch out the evening's spell - and try to catch a breeze - with a post-dinner stroll through the charming neighborhood.
The Hungry I 71 1/2 charles Street, Boston, 617-227-3524, hungryiboston.com
There are only a few tables at the below-street-level Best Little Restaurant in Chinatown, but the food coming out of the kitchen is a knockout - and it's also a bargain. Order tender squab, salty fried spare ribs, sauteed sing gua squash with wood-ear mushrooms, beef or squid with preserved mustard greens, even a dish of simple scrambled eggs with shrimp. Order enough for a bag full of leftovers, and you two will have the makings of an even cheaper date the next night.
Best Little Restaurant in Chinatown
13 Hudson Street, Boston, 617-338-4988
At Shabu-Zen, the hands-on cooking-as-dining experience provides enough conversation fodder even for a blind date between two shy people. At this Chinatown restaurant, tables are equipped with pots of boiling broth. Each diner combines assorted vegetables and flavorful garnishes and sauces with noodles or rice, plus beef, chicken, pork, or seafood into a unique soup. Swap tastes and see if there's chemistry.
Shabu-Zen 16 Tyler Street, Boston, 617-292-8828, shabuzen.com
On Tuesdays in Natick and Wednesdays in Boston, Sel de la Terre holds special wine dinners - four courses matched with four small glasses, all for just $45 per person - that are bound to melt any tension. Themes, posted on the restaurant website, are based on the wines (all French, for example), and the evening is low-key. Sommelier Erik Johnson talks about the wines as they're served, but there's no hard-core lecture.
Sel de la Terre 255 State Street, Boston, 617-720-1300, and the Natick Collection, 508-650-1800; seldelaterre.com
Feeling a spark? Feed it at La Voile, a sexy Newbury Street restaurant with sexy food. Start with the house-made pate and the good bread with better butter. Then try the Dover sole and a bottle of wine. For dessert, order anything on the menu, with two spoons, then take advantage of the fact you're on one of the busiest streets in the city and hail a cab, which, like the desserts, can be for one or for two.
La Voile 261 Newbury Street, Boston, 617-587-4200, lavoileboston.net
Not a cheap date, not a fancy date, just a date date
You've reached the stage when she or he no longer needs to be impressed but still needs to be wooed. The relaxed atmosphere at Garden at the Cellar - no reservations, so you can connect over cocktails while you wait - and great food make it just the right spot. Try the homemade tater tots while waiting for your table. Once seated, don't be surprised if Chef Will Gilson delivers your meal himself. It's intimate like that.
Garden at the Cellar 991 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, 617-230-5880, gardenatthecellar.com
You're going to break up
Did someone just say, "We need to talk"? Then you need to book a booth at Sonsie. It's dark, and even the menu feels right for a last supper - artichoke and fontina ravioli, charcoal-roasted duck with rhubarb - nice, serious, not a cheap-out. The setting will keep the inevitable tear (or barely contained look of relief ) private, and the endless stream of Back Bay beautiful people provides soothing - and hopeful - window dressing. And with easy access to public transportation and the Pike, you can escape quickly when the time is right.
Sonsie 327 Newbury Street, Boston, 617-351-2500, sonsieboston.com
You've just been dumped
It's impossible to go to out to Myers + Chang and not have fun. The perfect-for-sharing-with-friends Chinese-inspired food, sassy cocktails, and all-around party vibe will liven up even the sourest mood. With all the buzz in the dining room, you might actually feel as if you're better off without your ex (or your job, or that overpriced condo you bid on and, thankfully, didn't get). In any case, you don't need to worry about the cost: Prices are reasonable enough for your friends to treat.
Myers + Chang 1145 Washington Street, Boston, 617-542-5200, myersandchang.com
You decide to make up
Grotto, a tiny basement restaurant serving Mediterranean food on the back side of Beacon Hill, oozes romance. Bask in the candlelight as you feed each other rich gnocchi with short ribs or savory crab and saffron ravioli over a shared bottle of wine, and by the time your chocolate cake arrives, you'll have completely forgotten that you ever thought your relationship was over.
Grotto 37 Bowdoin Street, Boston, 617-227-3434, grottorestaurant.com
You're going to propose
You don't want to get down on one knee in a loud, crowded restaurant. But for the perfect proposal, you do want chilled champagne, a romantic setting, a stunning meal at the ready - and someone else to wash the dishes, come to think of it. The back patio at Oleana, in Cambridge, is a dreamy oasis of quiet, filled with fragrant potted herbs. Order halibut with pine nuts, currants, and sorrel butter or scallops with chorizo gnocchi, asparagus, and golden raisins. Do check the temperature before booking; the patio opens, weather permitting, some time in May most years. Perhaps best of all, if you get engaged there, you have an excuse to go back every anniversary.
Oleana 134 Hampshire Street, Cambridge, 617-661-0505, oleanarestaurant.com
The not-so-big wedding
One look at Misselwood Manor at Endicott College in Beverly, and you just might start crossing guests off your list. The renovated manor - where the popular teaching restaurant La Chanterelle is housed, but where weddings are catered from a short list of partner vendors - can accommodate from five to 30 people for a formal seated dinner with a dance floor, bar, and room for band, or up to 100 for a simple cocktail reception. French doors open onto a patio with views of Beverly Harbor and wide expanses of manicured lawns.
La Chanterelle Endicott College, 376 Hale Street (Route 127), Beverly, 978-232-2129, endicott.edu
25th wedding anniversary
For serious celebratory alone time, have dinner in the top of the Newburyport Harbor Rear Range Lighthouse; only one table is booked per night (the place alone costs $350, benefiting the Lighthouse Preservation Society). Choose from one of five restaurants in town, and a server will bring your meals. But otherwise, it's just you two and the views. Just don't drop that BYOB champagne on the steep steps, or you won't forgive yourself for another 25 years.
Newburyport Lighthouse 61 1/2 Water Street, Newburyport, 800-727-2326, lighthousepreservation.org
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