Boston

libertyhotel.jpgI resisted checking out the Liberty Hotel when it opened last year in Boston’s former Charles Street Jail, despite rave reviews of its design and the hip scenes at its first restaurant, Clink, and the Alibi bar.

The idea of hanging out in the same place that had held many of the area’s most notorious criminals for as far back as I could remember (and then some) just gave me the creeps.

Then Scampo opened, with chef Lydia Shire in the kitchen, and my conviction started to waver. It’s not so much that I have to run to every new restaurant opened by all of the city’s ‘celebrity’ chefs. But Shire is one of my favorites.

I have been a devoted fan since she started cooking at the restaurant in the former Bostonian Hotel, more than 20 years ago, when I didn’t have a clue who was in the kitchen – just that I loved the food.

Still, I didn’t run to Scampo. I waited a few months. But I was pretty excited by the time I finally got there. And I wasn’t disappointed.

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AquitaineOutsideAquitaine's clever. They've got photographic food diaries on all their front pages. Even Twitter is crowded with savvy bartenders, one of whom reminds me of Ben Affleck in Argo; smart servers, one of whom has cool pink hair; the bar lit in warm golden tones, snazzy cocktails, shrimp with heads, gooey onion soup, bunches of greens and my shrimp sandwich. You can preview nearly everything but where are the waffles?

Today we've come over from the antiques show on Tremont Street at Cyclorama's Boston Center for the Arts. It's brunch and everyone in the South End's got the same idea. Since 1998 Aquitaine's been on a roll in a semi-converted industrial space that once housed a video store. Tables are close so watch what you say; even though it's busy know that everyone can hear. Cozy banquettes are backed with mirrors and your server will pull out your table so you can get in. All small children are well behaved, as in very.

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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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rendezvousIt's six o'clock. Traffic is intense for no Red Sox game and the Grateful Dead boys several weeks gone. Every street is on hold as we split to Central Square's Mass Avenue and voilà: it's Rendezvous. We opt for the bar as we're greeted and seated in no time. This is some room: it's all skylights with yellow brickwork and the ceiling's a warm orange. Why is it looking familiar? Oh, now I remember. When they opened eight years ago, they took over a space that used to be . . . a Burger King. Pretty gutsy, Steve Johnson, creating fine dining where there was once less fine dining, with all due respect.

Here's a bar basket with lemons, limes and oranges that are missing peel. When he's making your cocktail, the bartender carves a fresh piece, just for you. Watching him assemble mojitos and martinis is affecting - he never stops shaking and measuring. As we watch, he puts together a Mamie Taylor, a tall drink with Scotch, ginger beer and lime. It's too hot to think about wine, let alone Scotch. What's wrong with us, I think, is too much yard time earlier. Cocktails galore yet I see him pour no beer or wine though he must have.

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grill23barBack in 1983, Grill 23 opened with what was, for then, a great deal of fanfare. I don't remember being there in the '80s; to be clear, not my eighties. I mention to my sister-in-law Ellen that I'm writing about it and she recalls working at Harvest, St. Botolph and on to Grill 23. This is what she says: "It was busy from day one. The service was impeccable. We were all so very well trained. It was the first of its kind in Boston: the end."

We like the bar on the second floor. It's friendly and when you come by yourself, chat up the bartenders or watch TV. In a way I can't define, this bar encourages the telling of secrets. I've heard more secrets here than anywhere else and it's unsettling since bar chairs call for balance. At a table you might order a bottle of wine but at the bar we never do because we might, among other things, fall off our chairs. So far, so good.

We're splitters but not tonight. I have my own burrata which they describe as crispy eggplant with stewed tomatoes. The bartender calls it "our version of eggplant Parmesan." Which you could say it is except that it has mozzarella and no Parmesan. It's crisp and topped with fresh tomatoes which make all the difference. We also have fried calamari with pepperoncini cream which is big for a starter but perfect if you need something to go with your sidecar.

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