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For a city that claims Julia Child as one of its own, Boston for many years had a decidedly mixed reputation as a restaurant town. Old-line Boston — Brahmin Boston — was never famous for its culinary scene. The inheritors of the Puritans historically balked at paying high prices for fancy food — not to mention fine wine. Those days, though, have come and gone. With the advent of a number of striking new restaurants, not to mention the arrival of some inventive chefs, culinary Boston has become one of America’s most engaging restaurant venues. If classic French haute cuisine is what you’re after, try l’Espalier or Aujourd’hui, the restaurant of The Four Seasons Hotel. These are almost certainly the two “grandest” restaurants in Boston. Both consistently win laurels for cuisine and decor in the Zagat’s Surveys, year after year. But for hearty, soul-warming French cooking in a more intimate setting, there’s Hamersley’s Bistro (where the prices are, alas, anything but bistro). No. 9 Park is the domain of chef Barbara Lynch, a true master of pasta; and sommelier Cat Silirie has created one of the best wine lists in all of New England. The ambience is subtle, and the cooking suave and understated. Of the newer restaurants, Clio is notable for chef Ken Oringer’s mad genius cooking, and Radius is home to another of the area’s top chefs, Michael Schlow. Wine lovers should take note of a restaurant not on our list of the top eight. The best bang-for-the-bucks wine list in the whole country is at Anthony’s Pier 4 (Tel. 617-423-6363). Where else could you find the rare 1982 Ch. Grand-Puy-Lacoste for $100 a bottle? Even the Puritans would have admired that kind of a bargain. AUJOURD’HUI 28 28 28 $64 The Four Seasons Hotel, 200 Boylston St. (between Arlington and S. Charles Sts.), Boston, Mass., 617-351-2071 This luxurious Four Seasons restaurant again tops the Zagat’s Survey for overall popularity. One can easily see why. Service is first-rate; the wine list is long (if expensive); and the magnificent space with its regal decor and stellar view of the Public Garden is without peer. As for the cooking, it’s New American cuisine layered with French and Asian accents. CLIO 26 26 24 $57 Eliot Suite Hotel, 370A Commonwealth Ave. (at Mass. Ave), Boston, Mass., 617-536-7200 Swanky and romantic, this petite Eliot Suite Hotel dining room in Back Bay is high among the places where Boston’s chic meet and eat. The appointments are plush, and chef Ken Oringer turns out creative interpretations of New French cuisine that are simply delicious. Downsides: The prices are among the highest in town, and the restaurant is closed for lunch. HAMERSLEY’S BISTRO 27 24 24 $51 553 Tremont St. (at Clarendon St.), Boston, Mass., 617-423-2700 Gordon Hamersley’s South End namesake is a stylish yet understated French-American “phenomenon,” with a versatile and consistently excellent seasonal menu offering the likes of bouillabaisse and what just might be the best roast chicken you’ll ever eat. Service is attentive, and the wine list is extensive. IL CAPRICCIO 26 21 23 $45 888 Main St. (at Prospect St.), Waltham, Mass., 781-894-2234 Why on earth would anyone drive out to Waltham for a meal? The answer is simple: the best Northern Italian cooking in the whole Boston area. The cuisine is delicious and innovative; the handmade pastas are brilliant; and Sommelier Jeannie Rogers has put together a simply superb Italian wine list. RADIUS 26 25 25 $57 8 High St. (between Federal and Summer Sts.), Boston, Mass., 617-426-1234 Among the best places in town is this Financial District power-scene restaurant. Chef-owner Michael Schlow made his reputation at the late, much lamented Cafe Louis. He’s still showing the same daring in Contemporary French fare, here magnificently presented and served by one of the best staffs in the city. No wonder the atmosphere seems so “energized.” NO. 9 PARK 25 22 23 $52 9 Park St. (between Beacon and Tremont Sts.), Boston, Mass., 617-742-9991 A smashing new success is how fans of chef Barbara Lynch (formerly of Galleria Italiana) characterize this serene and understated contemporary European set in a charming parkside location near the State House. The original and tempting menu is more French than Italian. Sommelier Cat Silirie’s wine list is breathtaking in scope. L’ESPALIER 28 27 27 $69 30 Gloucester St. (between Commonwealth Ave. and Newbury St.), Boston, Mass., 617-262-3023 Frank McClelland’s Back Bay New French continues to rank at or near the top of the Zagat’s Survey: number one for food, number two for decor, number three for service. You can revel in sheer bliss here with a sumptuous three course prix fixe or a seven-course de gustation menu in a gorgeous townhouse overseen by a gracious staff. LUMIERE 26 24 25 $44 1293 Washington St. (at Waltham St.), West Newton, Mass., 617-244-9199 The “brightest new light” in the suburbs is this small, cozy French bistro in West Newton, where chef Michael Leviton turns out straightforward, delicious cuisine. The wine list is good and the service commendable. The interior at Lumiere is upbeat and inviting, with an open kitchen that positively “radiates warmth.”

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