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A great neighbor

By Denise Taylor, Globe correspondent

Restaurants for me are usually all about the food. Glaring lights, bad service, impressively garish decor — all is forgiven for, say, a perfect curry buzzing with flavor, or a luscious stew. But the bar at 75 Chestnut could win me over even with a cup of instant soup.

This sliver of a room, tucked into the side pocket of the main restaurant, is not so much a place you walk into. Rather, it’s a cozy nook you sink into, like a big cushy sofa. Mind you, nothing here is upholstered. It’s just that with all the dark, polished wood, the bronze-hued light warming the room, and the lantern-lit rows of Beacon Hill brownstones forming the backdrop outside, it just feels good to hang out here.

[…] So last fall, [75 Chestnut] created a new, casual ”neighborhood menu” for the bar, with the approval of owner Tom Kershaw, who also counts Cheers, Hampshire House, and Sam’s Cafe to his name.

Like the seating, the bar menu choices are limited. The thrust is toward American comfort food with a few Mediterranean side trips. The fun part is that even if you order a downtown dish like the fabulous turkey club with fries, the service is thoroughly uptown.

The juicy charbroiled bistro burger comes with the same linen napkin and fine silverware used next door. Tell the impeccable waitstaff you plan to share a dish, and they will immediately offer to split it onto two plates for you. Choose to slurp up a bowl of light chowder swimming with fresh clams in the shell, and you can accompany it with a glass of the same Schloss Marienlay Riesling proffered to the fine-dining guests. In other words, at 75 Chestnut, life is good in coach class too.

We loved the huge turkey club, which gives this diner staple a gourmet makeover with apple-wood smoked bacon and sweet cranberry aioli. The exceptionally tender P.E.I. mussels were the other standout, bathed in a tasty chardonnay-tomato sauce, hopping with garlic and fresh oregano.

The farmer’s salad was a fine, basic mesclun mix, but the Caesar, which went for an overly acidic vinaigrette rather than the usual creamy dressing, was healthy but disappointing. The chowder won points for the fresh clams and smoky bacon, but the thin cream broth could use a brinier kick.

Beef seems to be a favorite with the restaurant’s well-heeled, well-coiffed, all-ages crowd. We enjoyed the half-pound sirloin burger, which was cooked nice and pink as ordered and came with a mound of expertly crisped fries. Meanwhile, the nicely char-broiled steak tips were a work of art. A dozen or more flavors make up the perky marinade, most notably tangy hoisin sauce, spicy jalapeños, and sweet brown sugar.

For the white-meat crowd, the neighborhood special was a big, simple, satisfying plate of tender free-range chicken and penne tossed with broccoli in a light, peppery, white wine-cream sauce nothing jazzy, just a good, understated treat.

And that’s about it, since the other three bar entrées are priced above the $15 Cheap Eats limit. We tried the chicken cordon bleu anyway, which was intensely flavored with a profusion of herbs, sharp Swiss, and a drizzle of white truffle oil, and served with superbly buttery mashed potatoes. Bigger spenders will have to try for themselves the shrimp scampi and baked haddock.

For sweets, you have to venture onto the dining room menu (which is available in the bar, too) for tantalizing confections like the chocolate pate or ginger-lavender crème brûlée.

Finally, plan ahead and synchronize your watches. It’s easier to get a seat weeknights if you arrive before 7 p.m. and keep your party to no bigger than two. Neighborhood menu fans are welcome in the formal dining room Sunday through Thursday as well, and it’s lovely in there, but the bar’s the real place for casual, after-work relief.

decor-nuts

From Newbury Street and Back Bay Guide

Entitled, “Dining Review”
Reviewed by – Martha L. Ballard

“75 Chestnut Still Charms”

It still seems like your own little secret, this subtly signed, discreetly placed little spot located just steps from the bustle of Charles Street. Its unexpected presence on semi-residential Chestnut, with an austere black awning framed by a pair of paned bowfront windows, feels like something that slipped in and took root at the dawn of time, before draconian zoning laws could have excluded it. This is not a place that one just spots and happens to saunter in; you must stride purposefully off Charles Street, past the intriguing antique shops, and be looking for the entrance.

The restaurant was acquired by Tom Kershaw as an addition to his Hampshire House/Cheers operation in 1997, and was renovated [to] make the space feel intimate and comfortable.

Sunday Brunch continues to be a favorite. Options range from Eggs Benedict to some selections from the dinner menu […]. One of the most popular dishes is the Grand Marnier French Toast, complete with maple syrup and toasted walnuts. Just the perfect sugar launch for a Sunday morning!

75 Chestnut, though growing in popularity with diners outside of Boston, continues to evolve as an excellent neighborhood bistro, well worth turning the corner off Charles Street for a saunter down Chestnut.

-Martha L. Ballard, Newbury Street and Back Bay Guide