Walk across Boston Common and head down Winter Street, a pedestrian-only way. Turn down a small alley. On your left, you will notice an odd salon with two empty chairs and a shelf full of empty hair product bottles. This is what has become of what was, until it closed in 2012, the third oldest restaurant in Boston. Sad as it was to see the end of Locke-Ober, which had been operating since 1875, it was almost as sad to see what it had become, a tired restaurant hanging on for old times sake. Now in its place is what seems to be this tiny, useless salon. But once you get beyond, the speakeasy-like entrance, you enter into Yvonne’s.
New life has been breathed into this classic space. Before heading into the main dining room, you are lead through the lounge where patrons sip on cocktails ranging from the Ward 8, first created here in the 19th Century, to a slightly more modern drink made with tequila, mescal, lime, ginger, and honey called The Remedy. In the dining room, the original, elegant wooden bar stands proudly next to more contemporary seating and decor. Make sure you notice the antique clock built into the bar and still keeping time. Your table is set with champaign glasses and gold rimmed plates. The water is poured from crystal decanters. The service, however, is thoroughly more progressive, devoid of the stuffy, formal attitude that once dominated Locke-Ober.
The menu is split up into five categories, snacks, toasts, pitas, social plates, and feasts. If you want to try the feats, which I hope to at some point, bring a lot of friends. The chicken feast, which sounds delicious with a corn and red beans salad, comes with twelve chicken thighs. In fact, the waitress didn’t even mention feasts as she went over the menu, with good reason. I also missed out on the pita, Yvonne’s version of a pizza, on my visit, though every table near me seemed to be enjoying one.
What food I did have was excellent. I started with the salt cod brandada, served hot in a mini cast iron skillet alongside grilled bread and topped with pepper relish and fried capers. The whole dish reminded me of an elevated crab dip. The pepper relish was particularly good and though I would have liked one more piece of toast, I had no problem scraping the last little bit out of the pan to eat on its own.
The “Tico” tuna crudo, one of the social plates, was the best of the evening. The jalapeño vinaigrette was absolutely perfect. It had just a slight touch of heat but was packed with flavor, enhanced even further by chili threads. The tuna itself was beautiful and the texture of the dish made every bite enjoyable. This is a don’t miss dish.
Angry carrots was a very generous plate of carrots, dusted in chili powder for spice and charred to make them slightly black and slightly tender. The dominant flavor was from the candied cumin, but my favorite part of the dish was the onion puree underneath.
The Moroccan steak tartare, one of the toasts, was beautiful with a sunny side quail egg perched on top. My only suggestion for this dish would have been a little more salt. Unfortunately, I ate it at the same time I was eating the carrots which made it hard to fully appreciate the more subtle flavors.
The last dish I tried was the grilled octopus. The meat itself was fantastic, tender and flavorful. I have not had octopus that good in a while. Unfortunately I couldn’t get into the rest of the dish. There was just too much going on and it didn’t seem to come together. Plantain chips in particular were unnecessary. Other components, which might have been good on their own, didn’t seem to get along on the plate. I know they have had other accompaniments with the octopus and I’ll wait till they switch it up before going back for this.
Dessert was fun. Here again the classic met the modern. I ordered all three dessert snacks which were a twinkie, oreos, and an ice cream sandwich, all made in house. The twinkie was made of chocolate and dipped in chocolate. I would have liked more filling, but that’s only because that’s what I expect from a twinkie. If it had just been chocolate cake I would have been perfectly happy. The oreos were pretty straight forward with dark chocolate shortbread and a buttercream filling. The cookie was pleasantly salty and the only thing that could have made it better would have been a glass of milk. Finally, the ice cream sandwich was a peach-bourbon ice cream between two macaroons. I have never been able to figure out what Apple Jacks taste like, but let me tell you they taste like a macaroon ice cream sandwich with peach-bourbon ice cream. Mystery solved.
Along the way I tried a few cocktails, the Ward 8, the Slow Motion – similar to a Manhattan, the King Louie – a tropical treat with coconut, pineapple, and banana, and the Irish Goodbye. The Irish goodbye was my favorite. It is on their dessert list. It is made from Jameson, banana liqueur, and bitters, served in a rocks glass with a single, large cube of ice. It is something like a banana Old Fashioned and absolutely delicious.
Yvonne’s has done a great kindness to Locke-Ober’s memory. It has brought to life a space that seamed to have been lost, preserving those classic elements which made it special and incorporating modern touches and food which make it a destination for today. Decor, food, and drinks all shine in this classic-modern blend. And while I doubt it will stand for the next 100 years, that just doesn’t happen much any more, I think Yvonne’s could be a top Boston restaurant for many years.
2 Winter Pl
Boston, MA 02108