Dinner and a show –
it shouldn’t be a tough combo to come by.
But alas, Boston’s theater district isn’t exactly a beloved dining destination. Though there are a few exceptions, it’s mostly the terrain of takeout pizza joints and chain spots – and California Pizza Kitchen, while good for some occasional grub, just doesn’t pair well with a holiday date to The Nutcracker.
But cue the applause. The curtain just went up on Abby Lane Food & Spirits
(255 Tremont Street, Boston, 617-451-2229, abbylaneboston.com
), which opened in late November steps from the Wang, Shubert, Wilbur, and other downtown theaters. Abby Lane isn’t looking to deliver white-tablecloth dining, but it does offer a neighborhood rarity: a chef-driven experience.
That chef is Jason Santos, the Hell’s Kitchen
runner-up whose trademark hair – a bed-head mess of bright blue – has helped ensure him a place among the series’ least forgettable alumni. Locally, he’s also well known for his innovative use of molecular gastronomy: the art (and science) of manipulating the forms, textures and chemical compositions of foodstuff. (Beet foams? Yogurt spheres? Why not?) Local diners saw the inventiveness on full display at his former Somerville restaurant Gargoyle’s on the Square, and still find it at his Financial District spot Blue Inc. (Looking for a reason to give that restaurant a visit? Don your fugliest for Blue Inc.’s annual “Ugly Sweater Party” on December 17.)
But Santos has suspended the elaborate kitchen wizardry at Abby Lane, instead focusing on relatively straightforward renditions of American cuisine. “It was definitely a conscious decision,” says Santos. “And I think given the demographic and sheer size of the restaurant, the right decision.” He’s probably right. Abby Lane will attract not just locals, but tourists and suburbanites looking for a reliably delish dinner before or after a night at the theater. So instead of knocking socks off with his mad scientist-like culinary skills, he’s concerned with delivering consistent, high-quality comfort food. Think crunchy fried calamari, spit-roasted chicken, cider-brined pork, lobster rolls, and one particularly juicy, flavorful burger: the Metropolitan Blue. (Get it. Now.) “I wanted to be approachable and somewhat casual,” says Santos, who is also taking cues from the rotisserie cooking he explored at the South End’s Tremont 647, working alongside fellow Hell’s Kitchen
alum Andy Husbands.
Besides, Abby Lane’s size dictates the approach. The two-floor restaurant features a main downstairs dining room and a spacious, lounge-y upstairs hideaway, both with wide walls of windows overlooking the theater district crowds. The space was designed by HGTV personality Taniya Nayak, and her signature style – a marriage of rustic, natural elements and modern, industrial accents – is on full display. Expect to find plenty of exposed wood walls and a sleek stone fireplace, low leather seating for 200, and bars illuminated by oversized, old-time-y incandescent bulbs. Especially with the snow falling outside, this is the kind of place where you’d want to get cozy and canoodle over its inspired craft cocktails, which include hits like the lovely, lethal Smoke & Dagger (mezcal with chili pepper and cinnamon), Salon Keeper’s Daughter (whiskey with amaro, lemon, tea and honey), and an elegant Maple Rye Manhattan.
Only time will tell whether the just-opened restaurant receives rave reviews, but it’s hard to bear anything but goodwill for Abby Lane’s bringing some bigger ambitions to the theater district. “I think this area has been long overdue for chef-driven restaurants,” says Santos. “I’m excited for people to see that you can do high volume in a heavy traffic area, and still have high standards and amazing quality.” That intent deserves a standing O.