Boston

o-ya-boston-sign.jpgI get more excited about a meal at O Ya, Boston’s spectacular little Japanese restaurant, than just about any restaurant I have ever visited – which is rare for me, because as much as I love food, I usually save most of my emotion, as well as the bulk of my appetite, for dessert. O Ya loosely translates to mean “gee whiz,” a Japanese expression of curiosity. It is also the expression heard over and over on a given evening as diners search, but fail, to find just the right words to describe what is happening in their mouths when they taste chef-owner Tim Cushman’s beautifully inventive flavor pairings.

O Ya opened about a year and a half ago with little fanfare and gradually became a sensation. In March, 2008 New York Times restaurant reviewer Frank Bruni named O Ya the best new restaurant in the country outside of New York. Since then, reservations have been booked about two months in advance. In its July issue, “Food & Wine” named chef-owner Tim Cushman a Best New Chef 2008. And the accolades continue to pile in. For the record, those of us who live here did not need the national media to tell us what a gem we had, hidden away on an unassuming side street between the city’s financial district and its Chinatown.

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McCormick 3Sometimes you just need a big restaurant in the middle of the city to warm you up on girls night out. We're at McCormick & Schmick's in the Park Plaza Hotel in Back Bay. Everyone is glad to see us and it's bright and cheery. If you're upstairs in the hotel, what could be easier? It's Friday and we suspect it gets frantic when there's a convention but this is not one of those nights. How happy are we that we crossed the street? Just ask me.

It's six o'clock, and their happy hour bar menu is ranked #1 by USA Today. Get it from 4-6:30 and it picks up again at 9 pm. (Saturdays it begins at 10 pm only). Janet's ordering and she's got her eye on ahi yellowfin tuna. It's puddled in pepper sauce they went to Mongolia for and if it doesn't take you out, there's no shortage of jalapeño. It's smoky suited in black and white sesame seeds and pepper, lots and lots of pepper. This dish lays to rest, once and for all, my/your happy hour stereotypes whatever they are. The tuna stands on its own. We will concede, because we're big fans of hot, that the sauce is good though I feel bad the star fish is wearing a mask. What a question, of course we want another Pinot Noir Mirasson.

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georgetownladiesEach night there is a line. I ask a young woman from Orlando, why? She says, "They're good." And what else? She points to the window sign: "They're on TV." They are on TV, on TLC: "All new episode! NY vs. Boston." Not baseball, cupcakes. The newly opened Newbury Street location of Georgetown Cupcake.

The number of people in line is 25 and sometimes more. Inside are two cashiers and five packers. They need them all. You pay first and wait to pick up. Everyone is smiling: the help, the people on line, the eaters, and we who'll soon have cake.

The concept comes from DC sisters Katherine Berman and Sophie LaMontagne. Wikipedia says the cupcakes have 250 calories. Neither of the cupcake sisters look like they have ever eaten a single cupcake.

My first is chocolate with cream cheese frosting that's been rolled in coconut. (Be sure to ask for the ones with cream cheese). Cream cheese is frosting's best friend. It's like bacon. If you put bacon that's not crispy between two slices of toasted mayo-ed cardboard, it's lunch.

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toro2 560x375Officially, it is Toro by Ken Oringer. He has Clio at the Eliot Hotel. He created Uni inside Clio in 2002. Toro opened in 2005, which was followed by La Verdad at Fenway in 2007. Coppa, in 2009, is nearby on Shawmut Ave. We're thrilled to score lunch. Add Toro to our short list of South End settings that becomes even more attractive at noon when there's no wait and the parking is easy. The patio fronts on Washington Street and of course, the outside tables are full.

Inside, we count six chefs in the open kitchen. As always, the bartenders are charming. Bar shelves to the ceiling are solid and lucky for you, the bar has no mirrors. Otherwise, you'll see yourself slumping on a bar seat and there's not a thing you can do about it because the seats have no backs. Seriously, guys, no backs?

We start with pan con tomate, Catalana rustic toast with fresh tomatoes, oil and garlic. For boquerones, marinated fresh anchovies with lemon, vinegar, chives and hot peppers, we favor the plain toast. There is something stunning about them. Fresh anchovies are nothing like the powerful version you get from a can or a tube of paste. Like canned tuna and sushi tuna - both good but very different. I've seen fresh ones at Whole Foods and next time I'll buy some because they're great with beer. I try never to look them in the eye.

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FijjibarI'm not sure who declared Fuji 1546 has the longest bar in Quincy; a local editor, reporting two years ago, or the website. Either way, it is major. If you want a seat, you can have one. High ceilings make it noisy all right with the concrete floors and all. Watching a ball game here is like being in Fenway Park without having to get up for the beer. Honestly, it's just what we need this Tuesday. Dance class is off and we're in desperate need of a big dose of happy with good food and wine. It's all here.

Julie chooses a Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand grown. Nobilo isn't making it easy to learn more. Before you can get on their site just to read about wine, not drink, you must swear to be "of legal drinking age in your country to enter this site." And you have to put in when you were born. Really, as if no one ever lied to buy something online? We agree it's crisp with citrus notes which pretty much describes everything we order. I'm having a Chateau Lafayette fizz from California which 1000corks.com reports, without any tells, you can get on the cheap around the country. We send back the first glass, no bubbles. The second one's fine.

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