It’s a lovely evening, but not on Boylston Street. The hungry hordes have descended, rubbing elbows at outdoor tables placed so close together the occupants must be getting elbow burn. Bostonians are so starved for al fresco dining that a mediocre salad and a view of Lord & Taylor’s can seem pretty appealing.
But resist the impulse to give in, and instead move on to Hamersley’s Bistro on Tremont Street. Though the restaurant’s indoor environment can be stuffy, its outdoor patio is a breath of fresh air.
On a recent breezy night, tiny white lights twined around a railing twinkle, festive striped canvas umbrellas float overhead, and the elbow room is ample. A steady parade of dogs and owners are out for their evening walks, and a bus briefly blusters by. We wait to order, losing one utensil after another through the filigree of the wrought-iron table and commenting on the pedestrians’ ensembles. One woman seems to have found half her outfit at Eros Boutique down the street and the other half next door at the BCA in a trunk marked “Titania: ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream.’ “ It’s a look.
Just as impatience is about to set in, our archetypal waiter turns up; in a movie, he wouldn’t be believable in any other role. He hands us Hamersley’s regular menu and a special patio menu, then trots off again to bring us mojitos and glasses of wine. That’s when we notice our fellow diners. Two tables over is chef-owner Gordon Hamersley, eating with his family. Arriving is Clio chef Ken Oringer; he and a friend sit to our left. Dante de Magistris, formerly of blu, joins them shortly. Oringer is on his cellphone. “Ming Tsai!” he exclaims into his headset.
You can’t have Hamersley’s patio entirely to yourself, but at least you’re in good company.
The outdoor menu is filled with lighter fare, not appetizers, exactly, but not really entrees. Think of them as entretizers. Mussels come steamed in white wine with saffron and garlicky croutons. The saffron isn’t discernible, but the sauce is still a dip-worthy excuse to deplete the breadbasket, and the mollusks are plump and plentiful. Grilled flatbread pizza adds up to more than the sum of its simple parts: The crust is buttery and crisply perfect, the cheese adds salt, and the tomatoes have a deep, fresh flavor. At the center sits a salad cloaked in dressing, a tangy counterpoint to the rest of the pie, and basil is scattered over it all. Who would have thought it possible for pizza to be refreshing?
Cold lobster, on the other hand, is inherently so, and Hamersley’s offers it elegantly, with creamy chunks of avocado, mild feta, greens, and a champagne vinaigrette. It’s perhaps the perfect patio dish, something that should never be eaten indoors.
Dishes from indoors, however, seem even better on the patio. The standout among them is a plate of sea scallops, seared and sweet, each topped with a tiny pat of foie gras melting like butter. Bitter endive, bright lemon, and watercress cut the richness.
As the night grows late, we linger over a trio of fruit sorbets. The Oringer party is just tucking into entrees, and the smell of beef tenderloin wafts toward our table. On Boylston, people are probably rushing to catch cabs and move on to the next part of the evening, but here on Tremont, we’re in no hurry to leave the lights, the umbrellas, and the tastes of the patio.
Of course, there’s the Butcher Shop right across the street . . .
Hamersley’s Bistro’s patio is located outside the restaurant, 553 Tremont St., 617-423-2700; www.hamersleysbistro.com. Patio menu $4.50-$18; regular menu, entrees $25-$36.