A second incarnation of Chris Coombs’ South End steakhouse, Boston Chops, comes to Downtown and aims to up the city’s luxury dining ante.
Everyone around my age has a memory of Mantra,” asserts thirtysomething chef Chris Coombs. “It’s an enormous undertaking.” No, he’s not getting suddenly philosophical. The much-lauded Boston kitchen wizard—everyone from Food & Wine to Forbes has heaped awards on him and the restaurants he’s run—is actually talking about the luxurious steakhouse he’s opening this fall in the space formerly belonging to the erstwhile Downtown Crossing restaurant, Mantra. The storied eatery-cum-nightclub was housed in a converted bank—complete with soaring ceilings above a sprawling dining room and gleaming white marble walls. Now Coombs and his partner Brian Piccini have converted that into a second iteration of their successful South End eatery to be Boston Chops Downtown. And they’re well aware of the tallness of such an order—not just in terms of culinary expectations, but also in renovation and design costs that ring in around $4 million. “It’s grand, it’s amazing, it’s a huge challenge, and it’s also been a bigger study in restaurant construction than I ever imagined,” says Coombs, who says they’ve had to overhaul virtually everything in the place—from HVAC and plumbing systems to the entire floor and restoration of the bank’s original crown molding from the 1800s. The result is a Boston Chops as Bostonians currently know it in the South End (which is remaining open), but on steroids: Coombs and Piccini have doubled the seating of the original location, offered three huge private dining rooms, and are “evolving” rather than changing the menu. Favorites at the original locale are migrating over along with new creations to comprise a lunch menu designed to satiate the finance district’s midday demands. They’ve also scored a 2am liquor license, so will be sliding in a late-night program, complete with unparalleled libations. As for the lingering specter of Mantra’s shuttering, Coombs chuckles and insists he isn’t the least bit worried. “Brian and I have rehabbed three restaurants in a row now, and shown we can revive cursed spaces,” he says. “What we’re about to unveil will be on a whole other, brand new level.”
Clockwise from left: Scallops and bacon sit in a bed of clam chowder; chef/owner Chris Coombs; the South End’s swanky dining room interior.