Boston

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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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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legal kendall 0684Come to Boston, eat fish. In Cambridge, Legal Sea Foods is in Kendall Square. In Boston, seek out the Legal that's in Copley Place (near Barneys) because you can nearly always get seated.

Don't confuse it with the other Legal in the Prudential Center which is at the top of the escalator on Boylston Street (and packed all night). Copley Place is connected to the Prudential Mall and since there are two malls, there are two Legals.

Friday nights the bar is crowded. If you get a seat at the bar from 3-6 pm weekdays only, oysters are a buck instead of $2.50. We had five local varieties including Wellfleets, Cotuits, and Wiannos from the Cape, and Naked Cowboys from Long Island, of course. Other bar plates: tempura vegetables, clams casino, buffalo shrimp, lamb skewers (all $5).

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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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seiyo sushi-barSeiyo Sushi & Wine Shop in Boston's South End on Washington Street has a patio where you can eat as well as watch ambulances shrieking their way to Boston City Hospital but all in a good way. Our eating adventures are mostly about food but sometimes it's not just food.

We're checking out this restaurant and wine purveyor housed together in a building called Minot Hall. It's been on our list of must-trys but the concept has me stumped. I look it up: the 1859 building was constructed as a social hall, according to Architect Week, and some years later became the Olympia Hotel and then a few other things before eventually turning into condos and retail not so long ago.

We have fear of winter in New England so we're wondering if this could be our last outside lunch. I'm hoping we're wrong because the day is perfect. Wait until you're seated. It's glorious to find this much outdoor seating with a tree awning in the middle of the city. You've passed Seiyo often on your way into the heart of the South End because we have. Its signage is so inconspicuous as to be nearly non-existent. We can't help mentioning it to our servers because we're surprised the place flew under our radar. They say they'll mention it to owner Steve Yung but we think he knows. Anyway, now the idea of somewhere to eat along with the chance to buy wine makes perfect sense.

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