Oscar’s Petit Filet Mignon at Locke-Ober

Bostonians of a certain age may have fond memories of yuletide excursions into the city with Grandma, back when Filene's Basement was a major tourist attraction and kids could goggle at the Christmas Village window displays at Jordan Marsh. Times sure have changed: there's a giant crater where Filene's once stood, and Jordan Marsh is now a Macy's, its animatronic Victorian carolers banished to a suburban Jordan's Furniture. Even if you're still employed, chances are Downtown Crossing isn't first on your list of holiday shopping destinations anymore.

However, the Downtown Crossing Partnership has spearheaded some promising efforts to revitalize the area, and not all of the neighborhood's old glories have withered away. Fading fine-dining institution Locke-Ober (3 Winter Place, Boston, 617.542.1340) got a second life when Lydia Shire took it over in 2001, restoring its Victorian mahogany-and-mirrored luster and refreshing its fusty menu. But shortly after last year's financial crisis hit, Locke-Ober suspended its lunch service: you know times are tough when a place that caters to the well-heeled can't fill up its midday seating chart. Now there's a glimmer of hope: Locke-Ober recently reopened for lunch, offering a two-course prix fixe for a mere $18.75. The dining room is once again buzzing with deal-making Financial District suits, frosty Beacon Hill Brahmins with lockjawed accents, and the occasional older-man/much-younger-babe tandem.

The luncheon menu changes weekly, but one appetizer typical of Shire's updated Continental/Olde New England fare is the Baked Giant Sea Clam "Casino." A gargantuan bivalve is baked, chopped, creamily dressed with breadcrumbs and lemon and lots of garlic, topped with excellent lean bacon, and served in the shell - like a Rhode Island stuffed quahog that went to finishing school. Another bit of modernized mid-century cooking is the surf 'n' turf entree called Oscar's Petit Filet Mignon, a small, thick chunk of beef tenderloin pleasantly charred and perfectly medium-rare, bedecked with a fat tail-on prawn stuffed with crabmeat. It's accompanied by a fine red wine sauce, good mashed potatoes, and too-underdone green beans. There's no knock-your-socks-off innovation here, just platefuls of high-quality ingredients in the kind of traditional preparations that Grandma would still find familiar and comforting after prowling the nearby shops. She wouldn't kick at the prices, either: this might be the sweetest bargain of a fancy lunch in town. So soak up the vintage atmosphere - and perhaps a glass of the 2004 Château D'Agassac ($16), a lovely Bordeaux. This tranquil, gilded oasis is just the spot to recall more innocent, flush, and carefree Decembers in downtown Boston.