05 March 2009

Trying to dine Chez Ozymandias, or: Seasons Restaurant died and nobody noticed

I recently contributed an article entitled "Leftovers: Testing the enduring appeal of some of Boston's old-school dining favorites" to Stuff Magazine, in which I revisited several Boston restaurants (Olives Charlestown and Anthony’s Pier 4 and Locke-Ober) that were once considered “It Places” but have slipped in the dining public’s consciousness, though they’re still packing in the customers (and still occasionally get my business).

Due to length limitations, the last part of my submitted article, a visit to a fourth former It Place, was cut. But I thought it was a useful cautionary tale about being an It Place -- and being the kind of diner who spends all his or her time in It Places -- so I scooped it off the cutting room floor to post here:


My last stop on my tour of former “It Places” was Seasons at the Millennium Bostonian Hotel, which in the early 1980s was an essential station on the Boston fine-dining circuit. The owners had a knack for hiring immensely talented, fast-rising chefs to execute the restaurant’s innovative New American menu, many of whom left to attain local and national stardom on their own. Among its storied alumni are Jasper White (Jasper's, Jasper White's Summer Shack), Lydia Shire (Biba, Pignoli, Locke-Ober, Scampo), Jody Adams (Rialto), Gordon Hamersley (Hamersley's Bistro), Scott Hebert (Troquet), Peter McCarthy (EVOO), Tony Ambrose (Ambrosia, Blackfin), and many others.

As I walked up to the hotel, I thought, “Nobody talks about Seasons anymore, but maybe it’s hiding the next Tony Maws (Craigie on Main) or Barry Maiden (Hungry Mother). Hmm, where did the entrance go?” The doorman ruefully informed me that Seasons had closed nine months ago, converted into a ballroom. I felt a pang: a wellspring of Boston’s culinary renaissance had vanished, unremarked and unlamented. I mentally lit a candle for Seasons, wondering how a former It Place could fade away with most of us not even noticing.

That experience left me hoping that restaurateurs remember to cherish their regulars, the folks who come in on a Tuesday night when it’s snowing, and will still be there when the trend-moths have fluttered along to the newest sparkly light in town. And I reminded myself that it’s never good as a diner to get too wrapped up in the pursuit of novelty – especially when the pressures of the economy now threaten to put many worthy restaurants out of business. While you’re out scrambling for a table at the current Flavor of the Month, you’re neglecting a solid old standby in your back yard that may be dying. And guess which one you’ll miss more if they both disappear?