Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Jack of all trades, master of none” right? Think again. Towne’s army of chefs have mastered all of their menu’s wide ranging disciplines, from sirloin steak to Peking chicken, accomplishing all this from a state-of-the-art open air kitchen and servicing a whopping 458 seat dining room. This dining room, by the way, is half the fun of eating at Towne. Lavishly and whimsically decorated, the main upper level is home to such oddities as a three foot high cheese grater, a (still functional) 1950’s copper stove, and two decorative ingredient jars labeled “bug eyes” and “fly feet.” At least…I hope they’re decorative.
Wait staff uniforms are reminiscent of an old time circus ringmaster, with reds and golds matching the tones of the walls and booths. And though the 50’s vibe is dominant, Towne’s interior theme — like its menu — fuses concepts. Restrooms are spotless ultra-modern showpieces, detailed glasswork and mirroring lends even more depth to the already large dining room, and table water is poured literally into laboratory beakers. I’m no decorator, and can’t explain this decision, but I can tell you I drank exactly 527 milliliters of Pellegrino that evening.
We begin as I wish all meals could: with foie gras. Two good-sized nuggets top a light grape risotto. Thanks to a strong sear and a bit of white pepper, the foie is more flavor than fat, yet still oozes and melts appropriately upon biting in. This is followed up with a plate of uncommon “razor” clams, served with a garlicky and well paired aioli. The pop of the clam against the sweetness of garlic makes for another satisfying starter.
Next, Towne’s tartare dish is a special treat. A double feature of bluefin tuna and sirloin addresses both sides of the raw protein spectrum. Tuna, typically quite mild in its “sashimi” state, is given a spicy makeover this time around, with a strong cilantro base accenting the dark meat. On the sirloin side, this tartare—imbued only with a simple mayonette — earns distinction from its texture. The meat is diced, not ground, inviting you to chew a bit more and enjoy the quality of the sirloin in a way most preparations do not.
From the high-concept to the down-to-Earth, we sample the margherita pizza next. Towne nails this. Departing only slightly from the norm, but just enough, Towne’s version adds yellow tomatoes to the classic recipe. The result is a new flavor in each individual bite. The taste of simple artisan cheese there, a smoky red tomato there, sweet caramelized onions there, and tart yellow tomato there.
Transitioning to entrées, we enjoy the excellent lobster popover next, which is only listed on the secret lobster menu. Seriously. Adding to the wonder of Towne is a lobster-only menu that must be specifically requested. So if you’d like to try the lobster melt, lobster tempura, lobster bouillabaisse, or seven other dishes including the popover, be sure to speak up. And you should, because the popover is one of the most sophisticated items available here. A candied, caramelized quality is baked into the meat, deepening its natural sweetness. The surrounding roll has a delicious honey glaze and muffin-like crumb, a secret worth revealing to all your fellow diners.
Like the deeper and darker sweetness of the lobster popover, the lobster roll boasts the same trait. Rich, burgundy-flavored claw and knuckle meat rests below a giant thick-battered onion ring neither too salty nor sweet. For a fall twist on the summer favorite, autumn-colored vegetable chips are served alongside for a nice textural change of pace.
Of the entire extensive menu, one of the most indulgent choices is the 8 oz. wagyu skirt steak. The expertly prepared cut is fatty and rare. Intensely flavorful throughout, this recently popularized dish will melt almost entirely in your mouth, but still retain a good bit of chew for meat lovers. The outside is wisely seared to lock in juices, and a rich, syrupy coating lends itself well to the high grade beef.
For those seeking less pretense but equal flavor, the hilariously named “burger xtreme” blew me away. A 70% lean blend of skirt and short rib meat makes for an incredibly juicy patty. The sweetness here will pleasantly surprise, as will the very spicy half-sour pickle served classically alongside. Make no mistake, Towne’s burger is among the finest around.
Finally, in a menu defined by experimentation and complexity, Towne’s lamb chops stand proudly on the pillar of simplicity. The tricky meat arrived perfectly tender, clearly fired with exact timing. A pink, minty cream is available alongside, however the lamb’s pure tenderness is the main selling point. A serving of puffed poori (an Indian bread) is also a fun, salty distraction.
For dessert, Towne abandons its multicultural nature and opts instead to focus on mainstays of American, Italian, and a bit of French cuisine. Fortunately, the restaurant loses none of its delightful eccentricities in the process. The unassuming chocolate pudding is thick and very dark, like cake batter. A matching chocolate cookie is served alongside, though it is less sweet and functions mainly as a textural foil.
But as delicious as this pudding is, Towne’s main head-turner is the brown sugar angel food cake with spun sugar. That’s right: cotton candy. Aside from a best-seller, this dessert also happens to be among the most cohesive on the menu. The maple spun sugar aligns perfectly with the angel cake, which also matches up with caramel ice cream below and a brown sugar “brittle” encrusted onto the plate. A ideal dessert for sharing, except you won’t want to.
Towne Stove and Spirits is located at the northeast corner of the Hynes Convention Center at 900 Boylston Street and is open daily for lunch and dinner. For reservations call 617-247-0400. Prices are mostly average for the Back Bay, but range widely due to the sheer number of options. Appetizers run $8-24, entrées are $18-42, pizzas are $16-26, and desserts are $5-16.
Towne is what the The Cheesecake Factory chain should be: a remarkably diverse offering that remains competent throughout all the culinary styles it dares to reach. That, plus the eclectic and playful theme will leave diners recounting stories to family and friends long after the food is all gone.