The warm foyer is bustling on a Saturday night. A small moat separates the entrance from the vast dining room, and diners must walk across a small bridge covered by a crimson carpet that shows its years. It looks as if it has been there forever, as does the restaurant, which has been dishing out sea fare to Boston's denizens and visitors since 1963.
Patrons wait in the lobby, passing the time by gazing at the star gallery on the walls. It seems as if every sports star, Hollywood celebrity or notable politician that has ever eaten in Bean Town has taken a table at this Boston landmark, and the pictures are there to prove it. There's even a bust of John F. Kennedy, positioned just so, keeping an eye on the maître d'.
Anthony's Pier 4 seems frozen in time. Orange bulbs illuminate the exposed beams and brick walls of the sprawling dining room, manned by waiters and waitresses decked out in stiff whites and blacks, complete with bow ties and military-style bars on their shoulders denoting rank. The atmosphere is less tacky than it is homey and charming.
People don't enter these doors in search of haute cuisine, but straightforward, belly-filling classics. Olympian lobsters, crisp shrimp cocktail and slabs of prime rib rule the day. As you ponder the menu, a waitress sets down plates of pickled mushrooms while another doles out steaming, eggy popovers from a basket slung over her arm.
The dining room has water views on three sides, reminding you why you are here. Plates of raw clams and oysters offered the perfect start, with just the right snap of brine. A plate of smoked salmon, served with a lettuce leaf filled with chopped egg, onions and capers, and slices of pumper-nickel, was also tasty.
It's hard to miss with the simple dishes, the less complicated the better. Cape Cod scallops were tender, sweet and buttery, served at the height of the season in the middle of winter. Our rack of lamb was perfectly cooked and full of flavor. Venturing off the beaten path is a mistake here--the menu has an unexpected Asian influence that doesn't seem to work. A dish of Thai basil shrimp was spicy, but lost in a sugary tomato sauce. The sliced zucchini that joined it on the plate didn't help. Stick to the basics.
Our corner table was only a step away from the restaurant's impressive wine cellar. Anthony's has been a Wine Spectator Grand Award winner since 1982, and the only Boston restaurant to merit such a distinction in the magazine's 1997 Dining Guide. The cellar is loaded with 50,000 bottles, quite a list to ponder before dinner. You can splurge on older Bordeaux, such as a 1979 Chatêau Pétrus ($350) or the 1975 Chatêau Mouton-Rothschild ($165), or choose something more affordable. We went with our sommelier's selection, a 1990 Kent Rasmussen Carneros Pinot Noir ($35). The peppery red was a good match for our seafood and lamb.
A note on the menu invites you to peruse the restaurant's cigar counter, which commands prime real estate in the dining room. It was well stocked on the night of our visit with several boxes of Macanudo and Macanudo Vintage, plus selections from Fonseca, Davidoff and Thomas Hinds Nicaraguan Selection. The restaurant even had hard-to-find Arturo Fuente Hemingway Classics and, rarer still, a full box of Partagas Limited Reserve Regales.
After your meal, claim one of the chairs in the lounge, which boasts its own water view, to watch the waves dance beneath the Boston skyline. Raise your glass to Neptune and light your cigar, which is welcome here, as it should be.Tradition is king at Anthony's.
David Savona is the senior editor of Marvin Shanken's Cigar Insider,the monthly cigar newsletter from the publisher of Cigar Aficionado.
Anthony's Pier 4
140 Northern Avenue
Dinner: About $40 per person, without wine