By The Improper Staff
Photographed by Emily Knudsen
Man cannot make last call on beer alone. If a bar crawl is ambitious, it requires fuel of the solid sort. But a rowdy evening out with your friends is like an eight-course meal; a subtle morsel at 5 pm will, by 10:30, taste like steamed oxygen. In the spirit of practicality (and palate degeneration), we’ve curated a list of Boston’s finest bar foods and paired beverages, presented in chronological order for an Improper night on the town.
Apple Street Farm Egg with Caviar & Lillet
by Andrew Rimas
5:32 pm: Begin your night with a moment of calculated refinement in the salon at L’Espalier, the culinary crown jewel of the Back Bay. Like a woman’s smile, an amuse-bouche is meant to delight and then vanish in the flash of a synapse, leaving a pleasurable memory. There are few bites more pleasing than L’Espalier’s egg with caviar. A modern twist on French-style scrambled eggs, it’s butter and milk with slow-cooked egg from chef Frank McClelland’s farm, frothed into weightlessness and grounded in Siberian sturgeon caviar. The luxurious foam pops with the salty roe. Cut with a clean sip of Lillet or Champagne, it’s the essence of opulence served in a porcelain dish.
L’Espalier 774 Boylston St., Boston (617-262-3023) lespalier.com
Smoked Sable Tacos & Barrel-Aged Whiskey
by Hannah Lott-Schwartz
6:16 pm: Where there’s smoke in the Bristol Lounge, chef Brooke Vosika is playing with fire. His sable tacos—a play on a traditional smoked fish, cream cheese and bagel combo—sandwich Alaskan fish in crisp taro root shells with Boursin cheese, salsa fresca, cilantro, wasabi crème fraîche, raw jalapeno and tangy fried capers. The cold-smoked sable’s hickory notes complement the oak from the chef’s own barrel-aged liquor. “As a chef the best way to integrate flavors is through layering,” says Vosika, “and in the aging of our whiskey I try and do the same.” With a base of Canadian whiskey and small-batch bourbon, Vosika’s blend carries a soft smokiness from the light-char, fresh-oak barrels, hitting the tongue sans backlash. It’s dangerously smooth, especially this early in the evening. Order it with a side of rocks, adding just three cubes to brighten the whiskey’s sour cherry and orange pith tones.
Bristol Lounge at the Four Seasons Hotel Boston 200 Boylston St., Boston (617-351-2037) fourseasons.com/boston
Ploughman Board & Dinner With MacGowan
by Tamara Omazic
7:02 pm: Roll up your sleeves for a rustic, meaty interlude. Big enough to share, the Irish-influenced Ploughman board is stacked with whiskey fennel sausage, sharp cheddar, game bird pie and brown bread paired with chicken pâté. The sausage’s complex flavors of anise and licorice offset the cheese’s sharp edge. Pair with slow sips of Dinner With MacGowan, a pink cocktail that opens with Peychaud’s and orange bitters. The warmth of Old Crow whiskey and Dolin Blanc vermouth lingers thanks to a lamb and duck fat wash that coats the palate. And since the drink’s namesake is the iconic front man for the Pogues, it’s potent fuel to continue the evening.
The Gallows 1395 Washington St., Boston (617-425-0200) thegallowsboston.com
Grilled Octopus With Green Chickpeas, Salty Pig Chorizo and Fennel “in Pinzimonio” & Santa Christina Orvieto Classico, Villa Antinori
by Andrew Rimas
8:11 pm: By now your palate is braced for any experience, but the surprise of the Salty Pig’s octopus is in the texture. As tender and delicate as veal, a richly seasoned tentacle is speckled with crunchy green chickpeas for freshness and house-made chorizo for an unctuous kick. The contrasting textures and flavors of farm, sea and garden harmonize with a sip of Umbrian Santa Christina Orvieto Classico. Though the dish is pure Spain, the wine is from Etruria, where chef Kevin O’Donnell mastered his Mediterranean flavors. “It’s a very ancient wine, well-balanced, dry and approachable,” he says. This pairing, too, is a lesson in perfect balance.
The Salty Pig 130 Dartmouth St., Boston (617-536-6200) thesaltypig.com
Buffalo Chicken Wings & Stella Artois
by Hannah Lott-Schwartz
8:59 pm: Time for a slow burn. Clerys executive chef Kelly Snogles, who also helms the kitchen at Brownstone next door, air-dries his never-frozen wings and drumettes in the fridge, which allows the skin to turn extra crispy when he bakes them. The process is more intensive than the usual double-deep-fried approach, but it’s worth it. “It eliminates a lot of the grease,” says Snogles. “They actually taste like chicken instead of deep fat fryer.” Temper the sinus-scorching bite with an ice-cold Stella Artois—the lager’s body is light enough not to bloat, and its crisp, ahh-inducing smack tames the wings’ heat. Ask for extra napkins—just don’t wipe your hands and your nose on the same one.
Clerys 113 Dartmouth St., Boston (617-262-9874) clerysboston.com
Suckling Pig Bao & Gin Gin Mule
by Linh Tran Brincat
10:03 pm: You’re having fun, but you want to keep the good times rolling. Enter Shojo’s magnificent suckling pig bao: a thick slice of juicy pork and bubbly crackling dressed with house-made bbq sauce and tangy-hot kimchi encased in fluffy sweet bread. Pair it with the Gin Gin Mule—consisting of house-made ginger beer, lemon juice, simple syrup and citrus-infused gin—to bring out the bright flavors of the kimchi and cut the fattiness of the pork.
Shojo 9A Tyler St., Boston (617-423-7888) shojoboston.com
Poutine & Piraat
by Hannah Sheinberg
11:39 pm: It’s getting towards the hour when every idea is a good one. Amble down to Saus for a mess of frites with curds and gravy, and a Piraat, a Belgian IPA that’s tamer than its American counterparts. “The hops complement the sharpness of the cheddar cheese curds while the malt highlights the richness and subtle sweetness of the veal- and chicken-based gravy,” says co-owner Renee Eliah. This chaotic comfort food tastes like the tail end of Thanksgiving dinner, while the Piraat, with its 10.5% ABV, adds a spicy, slightly citrusy contrast to the meaty meal. Plus, millions of Quebecois agree that poutine makes for good padding against a hangover.
Saus 33 Union St., Boston (617-248-8835) eatfrites.com
Late-Night Burger & Grand Finale Concrete
by Hannah Sheinberg
12:43 am: It’s nearing last call. Your head is swimming, but perhaps your stomach is still adrift since your buddies ate all the poutine. End the night at JM Curley with a Grand Finale. This adult milkshake—or “concrete,” as it sticks in the cup upside down like a DQ Blizzard—combines vanilla ice cream, cookie dough and blueberries soaked in Berkshire Bourbon. Pair it with a tangy late-night burger topped with a secret Russian dressing recipe from chef Sam Monsour’s father. The shake both cleanses and coats your palate, masking the burger’s smokiness. “The sweet with the salty, the ice-cold with the piping hot, the rich and creamy with the fatty and juicy. Whether drunk or sober, it hits the f***ing spot!” says Monsour. And he’s f***ing right.
JM Curley 21 Temple Place, Boston (617-338-5333) jmcurleyboston.com