Bostonians are rolling up their sleeves for interactive dining experiences.
Garlic naan, one of the many flatbreads you can use to scoop up your curry at Mela.
Dinner date You’ve met your date and you’re off for your first meal together. You want great food, but maybe you need an icebreaker, too. To the Japanese ear, “shabu shabu,” repeated in a soft voice, is an onomatopoeic description of the sound of rippling water in a lake or pond. But in this case, it’s your choice of vegetables, noodles, and wafer-thin slices of meat (Wagyu beef if you like), gently stirred as they cook in a tasty broth. At Shabu-Zen, you and your new partner may fumble a bit with your chopsticks, but lean in, close your eyes, and listen to your meal being cooked. Maybe you won’t have to worry about conversation after all. 16 Tyler St., 617-292-8828
Cheese lovers swoon for the fondue at Beacon Hill Bistro.
For the love of cheese Remember when you first met and how much you laughed and enjoyed sharing meals together (like that initial date at Shabu-Zen, perhaps)? The next step is a Sunday dinner cuddled up close to a warm pot of bubbly, cheesy love—better known as the fondue at the Beacon Hill Bistro. Maybe you could feed each other bites of the five gooey Alpine cheeses melted together and served with traditional accompaniments of bread, potatoes, and cornichon. And if you end up needing a room, the bistro is conveniently located on the first floor of the Beacon Hill Hotel. 25 Charles St., 617-723-7575
Learning together If you’re looking for an interactive experience in a group setting, you can mix things up—literally—with a cooking lesson or demonstration dinner at Stir. Surrounded by a wall of cookbooks (all for sale), you’ll gather around the chef and make your own dinner from scratch, or let the masters do it before your eyes. The lessons include basics like knife skills as well as wine pairings, California cuisine, and the dishes of Julia Child and other culinary icons. 102 Waltham St., 617-423-7847
At the romantic Japanese eatery Shabu-Zen, Wagyu beef and vegetables cook as you stir them in a spicy broth.
A passage to India If you’re yearning for an exotic vacation but can’t get away, just book a reservation at the Indian restaurant Mela. There you can eat with your hands (although the tables are set with cutlery if you prefer) while satisfying your South Asian cravings. Spicy, silken eggplant and curries made from chicken, lamb, or even goat can all be eaten using a variety of flatbreads, from garlicky naan to deep-fried poori. Or you can really play with your food by cooking your entrée at your table on a sizzling-hot flat stone. 578 Tremont St., 617-859-4805
Sunday funday If only brunch were served seven days a week. After three decades, the East Coast Grill has this meal down pat, and that’s in large part due to its impressive “make your own” Bloody Mary bar. Prefer yours spicy? Add all the Tabasco or chilies you like. More the Worcestershire type? Knock yourself out. Fresh vegetables, tomato juices, pickled this and that, and loads of spices complement the equally satisfying menu of Southern cuisine. 1271 Cambridge St., Cambridge, 617-491-6568