Kathy Sidell

Hometown: Boston, Massachusetts
Occupation: President and Founder, The Metropolitan Restaurant Group (includes Met Back Bay, Met on Main, Met Bar and Grill, and Saltie Girl)
Number of years lived in Boston: “My entire life”
Number of years worked as a restaurateur: 14
Accolades: Saltie Girl on “Top New Restaurants in Boston 2016” list, Boston magazine
Saltie Girl on “Where to Eat the Best Brunch in America” list, Time Out
“Best of Boston” recipient, Boston magazine (2008)

Go to Kathy Sidell’s shortlist

Name your must-try restaurants in Boston and any specific dishes that you think are unique standouts in Boston.

Only five? LOL! All craveable:

The duck at Nautilus which is in Nantucket. Off the beaten track, but truly the best duck dish around. When in Nantucket, I have been known to have it for dinner three nights a week. Ouch.

The primavera paella at Toro. Original. Earthy. Delicious. Hard to get in but worth the wait.

The Italian sub at Coppa is sliced in front of you on an old school Berkel layered on the freshest ciabatta bread – it redefines THE sub sandwich.

The steak, any steak at Mooo. Best steakhouse in Boston by far, and those Parker house rolls . . .

The wood fired chicken at Area Four in Ink Block. Best item on the menu. Roasted with maitake mushrooms and potatoes in a garlic cream. REALLY! To die for.

Pizza at Regina, but only in the North End. Get extra cheese on whichever pizza you order and make sure that you ask for their hot oil. Which you then, generously pour on top of your ‘za.

What’s your favorite neighborhood to dine out in and why?

Chinatown. You can get everything from exceedingly high-end sushi at O Ya to a fabulous inventive lunch at Matt Jennings’ Townsman. Or go down and dirty with Chinese at Peach Farm; get the pea shoots, crispy chicken, and Dungeness crab. Or hit the Gourmet Dumpling House for, of course, the dumplings. Get the pork and leek or the soup dumplings; they are the best in town! Also order the spicy flounder pot and the beef and long horn peppers. Ask for onions on top, too. I also love Q for a group – the sushi and the hot pot are really good and it is a lot of fun.

Go to Beard Papa for dessert – a cream puff chain that is simply delicious. Get the green tea or the dulce de leche. Addictive.

If you had to name one personal favorite dish from Met Back Bay and from Saltie Girl, what would they be and why?

The Jacques burger at MBB for sure. It was named after my dad so it is sentimental and it is an ode to his love of all things Swiss. Starting with a really excellent quality of beef, rosti, raclette, sautéed onions, shallots, and bacon. I add an egg. Killer.

Odd to say in my seafood restaurant, it is a meat dish at the moment. The steak tartare is just out of this world. It has Caesar flavors yet is made from dry aged beef from Pat LaFrieda—finely chopped with a quail egg, Reggiano shavings, and toasted brioche. In white truffle season, shave them on. Sick good.

I must say, when I travel and return to town, my go-to are the tins at Saltie. I crave them as do my kids, who live in LA . . . the stuffed squid, the Ramon Pena mussels served with fresh Francese bread, house-made butter, and piquillo pepper sauce. Damn, they are really special and good. A delicacy.

Tinned fish at Saltie Girl.
Tinned fish at Saltie Girl

And of course, the hot lobster roll. The brioche bun is perfectly buttered and toasted and we pour beurre blanc all over the lobster meat and top it with lobster roe. One of the best I have ever had.

Imagine you had a limitless appetite and describe your perfect “dining out” day in Boston.

Blackbird for awesome cool doughnuts—the Blackbird and the chocolate old fashioned. I like cake doughnuts. The coffee is very good here, as well. I would then head to Flour for an egg sandwich with bacon and those crazy good sticky buns.

Sofra next to have a bite from their hummus bar, some beet tzatziki and Muhammara, a red pepper and walnut puree with house-made pita. Their pastries are some of the best in town; I would buy a dozen sesame shortbread cookies. Eat one, save one for later, and freeze the rest.

I would head to Hi-Rise Bread Company in Cambridge for a proper sandwich. My favorite for many years is the #2, Fern’s Problem Solver: griddled sourdough, roasted turkey, avocado, and ask for cheddar to replace the jack cheese made with Russian dressing. Yum!!

Saltie Girl for a mid-afternoon celebratory snack. Pink Champagne, likely a split of Billecart-Salmon, oysters, tins, and caviar. Before heading for dinner at O Ya where I would just be happy to eat omakase, whatever the chef recommends, again and again, and hope it included the Karikari crispy sesame chicken skin or Ōra King salmon belly. I would end the meal with the rich foie gras with balsamic chocolate glaze.

After dinner, a Tiki drink at Tiger Mama or the Taiwan On, a delicious coconut, key lime cocktail!

Dessert would be at Toscanini . . . burnt caramel sundae with lots of toasted almonds with the cookie I saved from Sofra.

Since it’s Boston, we have to ask: where are your favorite spots for seafood?

Neptune Oyster, B&G, Ostra, and Saltie Girl.

What dish is your guilty pleasure and where do you go in Boston to get it? 

Sweet Cheeks. Those biscuits, their smoked jumbo wings, and ginormous short rib. The biscuits, I think, are now world famous. They should package them. They are served hot with honey butter!! Melt in your mouth. You have NEVER had a short rib like this one. It is massive and infused with the right amount of smoke and fat and also melts in your mouth!
BBQ. Casual. Messy. Decadent. Fatty. American. Goodness. Perfection. Wash it down with a local craft beer; I like the Lagunitas IPA.

AND the cheese at Formaggio. Guilty. Weekly. Pleasure. Current favorites: Challerhocker, Brebis Abbaye de Belloc, Harbison, Robiola, and a beautiful soft goat. I always leave with a great aged Gruyere and a pound of the best Reggiano. By the way, oddly, the tuna fish here is fantastic. Great staple in the fridge for the week.

What’s one dish you tried in Boston that blew you away and left you wishing you came up with the recipe yourself?

The charred broccoli, butternut squash hummus, Bianco Sardo, and cashew at Alden & Harlow. Yes, the dish is delicious and unexpected but mostly because when I first had it, the dish represented a new way of thinking about food. Michael Scelfo, the chef there, broke through to another place in taste, in texture, in combination of ingredients. How do we define this way of cooking, thinking, and creating food? It is beyond new American; it’s playful yet serious. It’s downright original, experimental, yet familiar, and it is new school.

We also see this mode of cooking in a few other chefs in the city like Matt Jennings at Townsman. Do we take our cue from art to define it—is it post-modern or futurism—or is it best left undefined?

What are some of your favorite places to go to for good cheap, quick eats?

Italian subs and tuna subs from Monica’s in the North End.
Sicilian slices and arancini at Galleria Umberto.
Ramen from Little Big Diner.
Falafel from Falafel Palace in Central Square.
The Loaded Dog at The Automatic.
Any sandwiches from Something Natural in Nantucket.
Guacamole and tacos at Lone Star.
Cuban sandwich from El Oriental de Cuba.

Since Eats Abroad is geared toward travelers, are there any favorite restaurants or bars at Logan Airport or in Boston’s hotels that you particularly enjoy visiting?

My sister’s restaurant Stephanie’s at Logan in Terminal B.
I am a fan of the Bristol Lounge in the Four Seasons.
The Lenox bar is a blast!

Are there any specific watering holes you like to frequent? And are there any specific cocktails or drinks at these places that you can’t find elsewhere?

Tiger Mama: Any tiki drink at all and some Thai snacks. Share the bun cha Hanoi (crispy pork rolls) or the crispy little ribs.

Bristol Lounge: I am here a lot, drinking California Cabernet, Iconoclast, or Manhattans with my husband and snacking on the nut mix with crunchy sesame sticks in it. Many nights that is our dinner.

Hojoko: Solid sake selection—the Panda Cup and late night Japanese treats. Try the burger.

Are there any snacks or foods native to Boston that you particularly like and that visitors should try to seek out while there?

Cape Cod Potato Chips. Nothing beats them. Triple Eight blueberry vodka made in Nantucket mixed with lemonade. Parker house rolls at Mooo. Boston cream pie at Flour and Boston cream doughnut at Blackbird.

What do you love best about Boston’s food scene?

Boston is a seafood town that is world class. From Neptune and Ostra, to Island Creek, Legal’s, and Saltie Girl. We all offer a unique Boston seafood experience that you cannot have anywhere else.

It is always compelling to see how a city takes shape over many years. Boston early on in the ’60s/’70s was a Saturday night continental cuisine kind of town—big, expensive restaurants—Pier Four, Joseph’s, Stellar’s, Number 9 Knox, Jimmy’s, Maison Robert.

In the ’80s it started to become a bit more chef-driven (thanks in part to my dad [Jack Sidell]): Todd English’s Olives, Jasper White’s Jasper’s, Lydia [Shire]’s BIBA.

Currently, the scene has become more intimate and modest with boutique neighborhood places that are more specific in terms of their cuisine. Places you can stop in any day of the week. Kava, which serves simple delicious Greek food; Chilacates which serves excellent Mexican; Sarma, which dishes up outstanding Turkish food.

Venues that are casual and offer more fun are emerging from restaurateurs as their second or third concept, like Roxy’s Central/A4cade and The Automatic.

Finally, what would you say is the one thing any visitor must see or do before leaving Boston?

For sure, ride the Swan Boats in Boston [Public] Garden. Memorable.

Get on a ferry or a plane to Nantucket and spend the day or weekend on a drive on beach. No place in the world like it. Magical.

Kathy Sidell’s Shortlist

MET Back Bay, 279 Dartmouth Street (Back Bay); new American, breakfast and lunch Monday-Friday, dinner daily, brunch Saturday-Sunday.

Saltie Girl, 281 Dartmouth Street (Back Bay); seafood, lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday, closed Monday.

The Nautilus, 12 Cambridge Street, Nantucket, MA; seafood, lunch Friday-Sunday, dinner Wednesday-Sunday, closed Monday-Tuesday.

Toro, 1704 Washington Street (South End); Spanish tapas, lunch Monday-Friday, dinner daily, brunch Sunday.

Coppa, 253 Shawmut Avenue (South End); Italian, lunch and dinner daily, brunch Sunday.

Mooo, 15 Beacon Street (Beacon Hill); steakhouse, breakfast Monday-Saturday, lunch Monday-Friday, dinner daily, brunch Sunday.

Area Four, 264 East Berkeley Street (South End); new American, dinner daily, brunch Saturday-Sunday.

Regina Pizzeria, 11 1/2 Thacher Street (North End); pizza, lunch and dinner daily.

O Ya, 9 East Street (Chinatown); Japanese, dinner only Tuesday-Saturday, closed Sunday-Monday.

Townsman, 120 Kingston Street (Chinatown); New England cuisine, lunch Monday-Friday, dinner Monday-Saturday, brunch last Saturday of the month, bar open daily.

Peach Farm, 4 Tyler Street (Chinatown); Chinese, lunch, dinner, and late night daily.

Gourmet Dumpling House, 52 Beach Street (Chinatown); Chinese, lunch and dinner daily

Q Restaurant, 660 Washington Street (Chinatown); Asian, lunch and dinner daily.

Beard Papa, 31 Harrison Avenue, Unit A (Chinatown); Japanese bakery, open daily.

Blackbird Doughnuts, 492 Tremont Street (South End); doughnuts, open daily.

Flour Bakery + Cafe, 12 Farnsworth Street (Fort Point); bakery/cafe, open daily.
1595 Washington Street (South End); open daily.
190 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA (Central Square); open daily.
131 Clarendon Street (Back Bay); open daily.

Sofra Bakery and Cafe, 1 Belmont Street, Cambridge, MA (West Cambridge); Middle Eastern, open daily.

Hi-Rise Bread Company, 208 Concord Avenue, Cambridge, MA (Observatory Hill); bakery, brunch daily, dinner Monday-Friday.
Second location: 1663 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA (Porter Square); brunch daily.

Tiger Mama, 1363 Boylston Street (Fenway-Kenmore); southeast Asian, dinner only daily.

Toscanini’s, 899 Main Street, Cambridge MA (Central Square); ice cream, open daily.

Neptune Oyster, 63 Salem Street (North End); seafood, lunch and dinner daily.

B&G Oysters, 550 Tremont Street (South End); seafood, lunch and dinner daily.

Ostra, 1 Charles Street South (Back Bay); Mediterranean seafood, dinner only daily.

Sweet Cheeks, 1381 Boylston Street (Fenway-Kenmore); Southern/BBQ, lunch and dinner daily.

Formaggio Kitchen, 268 Shawmut Avenue (South End); cheese shop, open daily.
Second location: 244 Huron Avenue, Cambridge, MA (Observatory Hill); open daily.

Alden & Harlow, 40 Brattle Street, Cambridge, MA (Harvard Square); new American, dinner daily, brunch Saturday-Sunday.

Monica’s Mercato & Salumeria, 130 Salem Street (North End); Italian market/deli, open daily.

Galleria Umberto, 289 Hanover Street (North End); pizzeria, lunch only Monday-Saturday, closed Sunday.

Little Big Diner, 1247 Centre Street, Newton, MA; Asian fusion, lunch and dinner daily.

Falafel Palace, 25 Central Square, Cambridge, MA (Central Square); Middle Eastern, lunch and dinner daily, late night Friday-Saturday.

The Automatic, 50 Hampshire Street, Cambridge, MA (Kendall Square); American, lunch Monday-Friday, dinner and late night daily.

Something Natural, 50 Cliff Road, Nantucket, MA; sandwich shop and bakery, breakfast and lunch daily (fall and winter hours may vary).

Lone Star, 479 Cambridge Street (Allston); Mexican, brunch and dinner daily.
Second location: 635 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA (East Cambridge); brunch and dinner daily.

El Oriental de Cuba, 416 Centre Street (Jamaica Plain); Cuban, breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily.

Stephanie’s, Logan Airport, Terminal B; American, breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily.

Bristol Bar at the Four Seasons, 200 Boylston Street (Back Bay); cocktail bar, open daily.

City Bar at Lenox Hotel, 61 Exeter Street (Back Bay); cocktail bar, open daily.

Hojoko, 1271 Boylston Street (Fenway-Kenmore); Japanese, dinner and late night daily.

Island Creek Oyster Bar, Hotel Commonwealth, 500 Commonwealth Avenue (Fenway-Kenmore); seafood, dinner daily, brunch Saturday-Sunday.

Legal Sea Foods, 270 Northern Avenue (Waterfront); seafood, lunch and dinner daily.
Multiple locations in and around Boston; also in Washington, D.C., Georgia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Virginia.

Kava neo-taverna, 315 Shawmut Avenue (South End); Greek/Mediterranean, dinner daily, brunch Saturday-Sunday.

Chilacates, 224 Amory Street (Jamaica Plain); Mexican, lunch and dinner daily.
Second location: 658 Centre Street (Jamaica Plain); lunch and dinner daily.

Sarma, 249 Pearl Street, Somerville, MA (Winter Hill); Mediterranean, dinner and late night daily.

Roxy’s Central/A4cade, 292 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA (Central Square); grilled cheese restaurant/arcade and bar; restaurant open for lunch and dinner daily, arcade/bar open daily.

Swan Boats, 4 Charles Street (Boston Common); boat ride, open daily spring-fall (weather permitting).

About the Restaurateur: Given that Kathy Sidell’s father, Jack, helped finance restaurants such as Hamersley’s Bistro, Todd English’s Olives, and Jasper White’s Jasper’s, it’s not surprising she ended up becoming a successful restaurateur herself.

What was the moment when you knew you wanted to pursue a career in food?
I was a very young girl when I understood that being around food made me happy. Watching my grandmother Dora cook so beautifully was awe-inspiring. She was a regal baker. From popovers to Bubka to pies, the smell filled her beach house and exuded love. Both my grandmothers became legendary due to their talents in the kitchen. There was something about feeding people and making them happy that I found deeply satisfying from a young age. I think this is something passed on in the genes. My mom would always say that I would travel miles for a fresh fig. This is still true of me.

Perhaps, when my Dad got so involved in the restaurant business, I started to understand it from a different vantage point. And of course, my sister’s restaurant, Stephanie’s, is 22 years old. Her opening certainly made me understand that owning a restaurant was a real possibility!

Talk about how food was important to you while growing up and how it was a big part in your family life.

My father and mom were both foodies. My mom was epic at entertaining; she always made dinners look great. She didn’t cook, but she had a knack in finding the best quality food and knew how to plate things; she set a spectacular table and had a profound design sense. She collected fabulous plates and serving pieces of which my sister and I now are the proud recipients.

My dad was insane about food and very intense about how he liked his food prepared. He was a Sunday cook; he would make us the best grilled hamburgers and Dagwood sandwiches. He totally lived to eat.

He ultimately took his passion for food, and as a banker was able to get involved in the business by financing many of the great chefs in Boston back in the 80s: Todd English, Jasper White, Steve DiFillippo, Gordon Hamersley, Charlie Sarkis. He was the restaurant business guru. He helped shape the city as far as chef-driven destination dining goes and surely that had a huge impact on me.

Explain the concept behind your latest restaurant Saltie Girl.

Saltie Girl is a seafood bar that has a modern and worldly approach, serving a wide range of quality seafood. The concept was conceived in part due to my travels to France and Spain, and mimics a certain European lifestyle – a small local bar with a passionate staff and excellent fresh food served simply. Of course, the concept also sprung organically from my life growing up sailing the coast of New England with my dad and cooking many of the region’s extraordinary seafood in a small kitchen galley on his boat. I long for those days, so I suppose Saltie brings that back to me.