Fuel for Innovation: GATHER, Boston

gatherDistrict Hall, in Boston’s burgeoning Innovation District, is a great idea: provide a place where people can gather and exchange ideas. More important (for those who read this site, at least) is to provide a place for all those innovators to eat and drink. Gather, the bar and restaurant inside District Hall, fulfills that purpose nicely.

One advantage shared with the other new restaurants opening on this once-desolate stretch of Northern Avenue is the truly spectacular view. The wall facing the harbor is all glass; night or day, there’s a sweeping panorama to inspire innovative thoughts. Gather’s style is “honest industrial”—my two favorite decorative items are the intriguing lighting fixture of hundreds of light bulbs dangling on black cords, and an art mosaic along an inner wall that is the result of a design competition. The space is striking and modern without being chilly, thanks to plenty of old wood and a great big communal table. in addition to high tops, low tops, and seats at the bar. (There’s a deck outside, so I hope there will be tables out there once winter loosens its grip.) I arrive in the early evening and watch the place fill steadily. It’s a buzzy atmosphere, with a diverse crowd, age-wise, and friends have reported that the place is usually packed.

That’s not surprising: brainpower burns calories, they say, and Gather’s menu is not hesitant to replace them. I tried both their soups: an oxtail onion soup and a quahog stew with corn. Both bowls were generous and the very definition of “hearty.”

The quahog stew, big on the bacon, features disks of fingerling potatoes (a cute innovation). Several big chunks of clam were tender and flavorful. The briny broth was maybe a little too thick, but the bowl was satisfying, especially with winter winds sweeping the sidewalks clear outside.

Vidalia onions give the onion soup a sweet first impression. Then one gets the big, beefy umami of oxtail. As in the quahog stew, the flavors here aren’t shy. The plentiful cheese melted on top is Swiss, rather than the more assertive (and salty) Gruyere; along with the Vidalias this tips the scale toward sweetness. Liberal garlic on the crostini hidden beneath the cheese helps pull things back into balance.

These dishes, along with the others on offer, are modern bistro classics. The rest of the menu features eclectic touches from all over: you can get a Korean BBQ pork sandwich or chicken and waffles; short rib gnocchi with ricotta salata or a Maine lobster roll. It’s a whimsical place that’s open to all kinds of ideas. In that way, it’s channeling the soul of the Innovation District, and it’s clear the denizens have given this friendly, casual venue a warm welcome.

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