Heads up, sunshine: Outdoor dining time is finally here

BY JUSTIN OSOFSKY

In the past week, the temperature has inched into the ’80s and the Red Sox have pulled off improbable rallies against the Yankees. Spring has indeed arrived in Boston, and with it comes a new range of dining experiences. Whether you want to sip sangria on an enclosed garden patio or watch boats sail the harbor, there are excellent outdoor dining options throughout the city. One of the best is the Parish Café.

Located near the Public Garden, the Parish Café has an unorthodox concept: Its entire menu is comprised of dishes submitted by top chefs in Boston. The list of chef contributors is a “Who’s Who” of the local restaurant scene. It includes Todd English (Olives/Figs), Michael Schlow (Radius), Lydia Shire (Biba/Locke Ober), Frank McClelland (L’Espalier) and Ming Tsai (Blue Ginger) among others. But go with the right expectations — the Parish Café does not deliver a five-star gourmet dining experience for $10 per head. It does, however offer some of the most interesting ingredient combinations in Boston.

While the menu has a limited selection of appetizers, salads and entrees, the Parish Café is best known for its sandwiches. Standout items include “The Regal Regis” ($9.95) and “Elephant Walking on Eggs” ($9.25). The Regal Regis features sliced flank steak and Portobello mushrooms marinated in soy sauce, scallions and balsamic vinegar. Although sometimes a bit salty, the vinegar-scallion bite complements the soy sauce well. The combination served on slices of French bread with a subtle parmesan crust. The Elephant Walking on Eggs has more of a brunch feel. It is a fresh vegetable-goat cheese omelet on a French baguette. While very simple, this sandwich is delicious and the side salad is topped with an herb vinaigrette.

The Parish Café’s menu takes greater risks with other sandwiches, but with mixed results. While “The Blue Ginger’s” ($12.95) tuna was clearly fresh and seared sushi rare, the half-inch thick slices of grilled foccacia bread overwhelmed the other flavors. By setting aside half the bread and eating it open-faced, the sinus-clearing effects of the wasabi aioli and the creaminess of the avocado stand out better. Although “The Schlow” ($10.95) has great ingredients (freshly carved rare sirloin, sweet caramelized onions, tomato confit, arugula, and horseradish cream), it is served on boring wheat bread that makes the concoction feel too much like an ordinary sandwich.

The Parish Café offers 50 varieties of beer and a very reasonable, geographically diverse wine list by the glass or bottle (11 wines are under $30). The clientele is also diverse and far less snobby than other restaurants in the area. Outdoor dining at the café allows for great people watching of tourists strolling down Boylston, while staying indoors lends more of a pub feel. While not every sandwich is perfect, the restaurant takes an interesting concept and executes it well at reasonable prices, especially given its Back Bay location.

If the Parish isn’t your pick, there are many other options for outdoor dining. In Back Bay, Newbury and Boylston Street offerings include the Armani Café (however, once you taste the food, you may finally understand why Armani models seem to eat so little), Stephanie’s on Newbury (overpriced New American) and Vinny Testa’s (huge portions of thoroughly mediocre Italian food). More appealing Back Bay options include Bangkok Blue (a Thai restaurant with particular stellar pad thai and curries), Pho Pasteur (the sister restaurant of the Harvard Square location) and Casa Romero (a charming upscale Mexican restaurant with a secluded patio hidden in an alley behind L’Espalier). On the Boston Harbor, try the Boston Harbor Hotel–though the food is overpriced, the views are spectacular. In the South End, Hamersley’s Bistro (with its famed roast chicken), Tremont 647 (creative, eclectic menu) and Garden of Eden (more inexpensive salads, sandwiches, and limited entrees) also offer outdoor dining beginning in the next month.

With so many outdoor options to choose from, and some decent weather to boot, there’s even less reason to stay indoors.

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