Boston’s West End ebbs and flows constantly with throngs of North Station commuters and fans bound for TD Garden events. The many nearby pubs are reliable, cheap hangs, their hospitality mostly judged on how fast the budget beers get slung and aggressive drunks ejected, the food not mentioned much at all. The neighborhood has almost no place worthy of a business dinner, languid, romantic date or night out for food and cocktail geeks. It has long lacked its own version of Eastern Standard Kitchen & Drinks: a handsome, convivial spot that welcomes both raucous, game-bound sports fans and families out for a celebratory dinner, and makes them all feel equally cared for and loved.
Stepping into that void is Alcove, the new spot from owner Tom Schlesinger-Guidelli, a storied Boston hospitality pro backed by a team of veterans that features exec chef Maxime Fanton (ex-Pagu) and GM Brendan Collins (ex-Island Creek). The space, located in the base of a new luxury condo tower at Lovejoy Wharf, features a cozy modern room in grays, beiges and dark blues with dim light flatteringly bouncing off copper and steel accents and warm woods and comfortable spacing at a big textured-schist bar. A waterfront patio with a breathtaking panorama of the Charles River and the Zakim and Charlestown bridges awaits warmer weather.
Fanton’s menu is a cavalcade of carefully executed crowd-pleasers that recalls Eastern Standard: raw bar, charcuterie, pastas, local seafood, roasted and grilled meats and a couple of sandwiches. It starts with four choices of pristine raw oysters ($3 each), delicate fluke crudo ($11) brightened with vivid citrus accents of pomelo segments and blood-orange juice, and Jonah crab cocktail ($12) rendered as an easy-to-share plate of picked claw meat with a subtle mango/lime dressing. Crispy head-on shrimp ($9) deftly combines a generous portion, unoily fry job, lightly kaffir lime-spiked aioli dip and batter that conceals the heads—don’t tell your squeamish friends and they might unwittingly learn why that flavor is so superior to headless. If you’re not yet tired of Spanish octopus ($13), the version here boasts lovely char and a delicate, moist chew.
A simple plate of pickled egg and vegetables ($8) is bracingly briny/sweet, though we could have done with more than a quarter of an egg. Pumpkin sage soup ($8) is supernally rich and satisfying, given nice crunch from pumpkin seeds and served at a piping-hot temperature too rarely seen in restaurants. The family-style TSG salad ($8/person) needs a big bowl to accommodate its staggering portion of fine greens and sweet Macomber turnips, perhaps a smidge overdressed with aged cider vinaigrette. The two moderately sized pastas are both sensational: Cockscomb-shaped spinach creste de gallo ($14) in a shockingly green, delectable pesto is given nifty zip from Meyer lemon, while the scrunchy-edged little barrels that are radiatori ($14) arrive with a fatty, tender ragu of Rohan duck and al-dente collard greens.
Heftier mains include a split, pan-seared sea bream ($25) in a classically simple Mediterranean sauce vierge (olive oil, lemon, tomato, parsley and thyme) over quinoa and roasted broccolini, and a filleted, flattened whole roasted branzino ($32) with just a bit of skin left on, scattered with slices of yellow squash, fennel and bits of crisped speck—two marvels of bright flavors and different, skillfully wrought cooking techniques. Vegetarians are well served by delicately fried maitake mushrooms ($22), fragrant with black garlic and served over crisp, rectangular polenta cakes. A rare miss is a side of confitted boutique carrots ($6) that are off-tasting, funky in a not-good way. Canonical bistro-style proteins are straightforward and excellent, including a surprisingly unchewy (perhaps mechanically tenderized) grilled bavette steak ($28) in a punchy green peppercorn sauce over chunky mashed potatoes; a roast half chicken ($25) that evokes—if not quite nails—the fabled Gordon Hamersley ideal; and an impeccable, tall, pub-style burger piled with Comté, caramelized sweet onions and sweet pickles on a glossy, substantial bun alongside great fries. Pastry chef Alexandra Artinian’s inventive desserts include a grapefruit posset ($9), an almost obscenely creamy colonial-vintage pudding gaudily layered with white-chocolate streusel, basil and translucent sesame tuille.
The bar program headed by Will Piquette unsurprisingly echoes the wide-ranging sophistication of Schlesinger-Guidelli’s previous work at Pagu, Island Creek and Craigie on Main. Brilliant original specialty cocktails ($10-$12) include the Bayoutiful ($10) of rye, chai, bitters and absinthe, like a spicy Sazerac. Eleven craft drafts plus 22 packaged beers and ciders (most $5-$11) favor the beer-snob crowd, with a few plebian options. The wine list offers range, versatility and some weeknight-worthy prices: 24 by the glass (most $8-$13), 14 helpful half-bottles ($27-$64) and 104 bottles arranged into cheekily descriptive categories (one grouping of reds is named “jam band”) at prices to suit budget oenophiles (with dozens of options under $70) and high rollers alike. Service throughout reflects the kind of affable, attentive polish to be expected of ex-patriates of the Garrett Harker empire. Maybe we could have just said, “Think Eastern Standard on the Charles, but swap the Citgo sign for the Zakim,” and that would have gotten you most of the way here. We can only imagine a legion of Garden habitués, commuters and neighbors gratefully adding, “It’s about frickin’ time.” ◆
Jonah crab cocktail
Crispy head-on shrimp
Pumpkin sage soup
Creste de gallo
Pan-seared sea bream
Whole roasted branzino
Alcove, 50 Lovejoy Wharf, Boston (617-248-0050) alcoveboston.com; Hours: Lunch, Mon.-Sat., 11:30 am-2:30 pm; Dinner, Mon.-Thu., 5-11 pm (bar till midnight), Fri.-Sat., 5 pm-midnight (bar till 1 am), Sun., 4:30-10:30 pm (bar till midnight); Liquor: Full; Reservations: Yes; Parking: Nearby lots and garages (one validated)