The 50 Best Restaurants 2009

Additional reporting by Olga Belogolova and Alyson Sheppard

It’s a simple question: “Where should we go for dinner?” Yet ask it and brace for a cacophony of opinions, as every magazine, newspaper, and user-generated-review website vies to serve as your gastronomic guru. Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a way to pull it all together, to herd that surfeit of recommendations into one single, convenient, yet statistically meaningful index? To have a Metacritic, of sorts, for local grub? We thought so, too.

Presenting The Ultimate Ranking of Hub Dining, as determined by every major dining expert and amateur critic out there.

SEE THE SLIDE SHOW!

A Veritable Smorgasbord of Opinion

Welcome to the post-authority world. Or, as we prefer to think of it, the diffused-authority world.

As the Web has created new distribution channels for information, professional restaurant critics have lost their exclusive claim to the soapbox. Now everyone’s a critic, with bandwidth to broadcast.

All that noise can get disorienting, because every critic also has his or her own methods and biases. The paid professionals adhere to journalistic standards and know a thing or two about their subject, yet they only visit their targets a few times—and sometimes they just don’t like cod cheeks, no matter how exquisitely prepared. At the other extreme, survey-based reviews like Zagat and user-review chat boards like Yelp opt for the more-is-more approach. A noble pursuit, but as history sometimes reminds us, making decisions by polling the masses can be a fraught proposition. (For more on the predilections of local gastro-judges, including our own, seeThere’s Just No Pleasing Some People.”)

With that in mind, we undertook the ambitious task of wading through all the raw data for you. What we’ve come up with is an unprecedented ranking of the top 50 restaurants in the city, as collectively judged by the Globe, the Herald, the Phoenix, Zagat, Yelp, the Phantom Gourmet, and select posters from the Boston board on Chowhound. And, of course, ourselves, in the persons of food editor Amy Traverso and features editor Jolyon Helterman (a Cook’s Illustrated alum), with help from our critic, Corby Kummer. We reviewed the reviews, standardized the scores, and, using a little statistical wizardry (see “How We Did It), calculated a hierarchy of culinary excellence.

In the interest of transparency, one last note of explanation: When running the numbers, we weighted our own scores twice as heavily as the other sources’. Why? It’s our magazine, for one, and we naturally trust our own taste and expertise more than anyone else’s. More important: We did it because our verdicts were in almost all cases the most recent. Restaurants evolve (or devolve) faster than critics can review them, so over the past two months we sent out our judges to check up on the field. That way, we could ensure that the scores that mattered most were also the most up-to-date.

Now, back to that question on the previous spread: Where should you go for dinner? Read on.

How We Did It

 

We started with a list of 117 fine-dining establishments within the Route 128 boundary. In order to merit consideration, a restaurant had to meet our basic quality standards and had to have been reviewed by most of the major outlets. We then collected the most recent reviews of those restaurants from four traditional-media reviewers: the Boston Globe, the Boston Herald, the Boston Phoenix, and the Phantom Gourmet (the Improper Bostonian does not have searchable archives and was therefore not included). We also surveyed the two most popular audience-rated sources, Yelp and Zagat, and approached five of the most prolific and popular members of the local Chowhound community
(according to the site’s “People Reading Me” rankings) to weigh in on our list: Hiddenboston, Yumyum, Limster, MC Slim JB (also an occasional Boston and frequent Phoenix contributor), and StriperGuy. The ‘hounds ranked each restaurant from one to five stars, and we combined their scores and averaged them into a single overall Chowhound rating.

Finally, we added in Boston‘s vote, taking into account both critic Corby Kummer’s opinion and our own. We rated the restaurants on a scale of one to five stars, allowing ourselves quarter-point intervals as a tiebreaking measure.

We handed all this data off to I. Elaine Allen, a Babson College statistics professor and frequent Boston collaborator. She normalized the different ratings, then weighted the scores depending on, say, the age of the review (the older it was, the less it counted) and its source (as mentioned in the introduction, we weighted our opinion twice as heavily as everyone else’s). Allen used those calculations to come up with an overall rating (and from that, a ranking) for each of the restaurants on an adjusted scale of zero to 100, with 50 as the mean.

THE LIST

1. O Ya

Score: 98.33 High: Herald A; Phoenix **** (out of 4); Boston 5 (out of 5)
Low: Globe *** (out of 4)
Hey, the computer doesn’t lie. As predictable as O Ya’s first-place finish is, it’s also wholly deserved. Housed in a narrow, rustic firehouse, its 40-seat tavern-style dining room is the unlikely setting for some of the best Japanese cuisine in the country. Every last dish is a showstopper, from a heady matsutake mushroom broth brightened with yuzu zest and fragrant rosemary to a swath of raw hamachi laid over a boule of seasoned rice, lightly torched, spritzed with truffle oil, and finished with a dollop of spicy banana pepper mousse. The prices will make the flushest foodie blanch, but, well, you only live once.
ORDER THIS: That banana pepper mousse dish.

 

2. L’Espalier

Score: 92.72* High: Herald A; Globe ****
Low: Yelp  **** 1/2 (out of 5) Our score: 4.5
When Frank McClelland moved his team out of a charming but cramped townhouse on Gloucester Street and into the glossy Mandarin Oriental (complete with custom dream kitchen), his fans offered only conditional support. How could this Boylston Street behemoth preserve the charm of the original? Well, it couldn’t, exactly. Much as we hate to echo the naysayers, we have to agree something’s been lost in translation. The beautifully plated food, however, is still glorious, and the cheese service still matchless.
ORDER THIS: Thai-spiced Colorado rack of lamb.

 

3. No. 9 Park

Score: 90.55 High: Herald **** (out of 4)**
Low: Globe ***  Our score: 4.5

Barbara Lynch is on a roll these days, with the much-hailed openings of Sportello and Drink, her new lunch counter and cocktail lounge, respectively, in Fort Point. But her flagship restaurant remains a jewel, a tribute to the power of pitch-perfect service, ace cooking, and a superlative wine program, not to mention a lovely view of the Common (provided you’ve avoided the stuffy back room and grabbed a prime table near the front). Lynch has a sure hand with pasta—particularly stuffed pastas like ravioli—and she’s no slouch with meat and fish, searing a halibut filet to a golden crust while leaving the inside fork-tender.

ORDER THIS: Easy: the famous prune-stuffed gnocchi (see why it’s considered the Best Dish).

 

4. Uni

Score: 84.623 High: Herald ****
Low: Yelp **** (out of 5) Our score: 4.5

 

Ken Oringer’s ode to raw fish features some of the most skillfully prepared (and most addictive) pristine gems in town.

ORDER THIS: Spicy bigeye toro tataki with seared foie gras, poire d’Anjou, and rhubarb coulis.

 

5. Clio

Score: 83.94 High: Herald ****
Low: Yelp & Chowhound **** (out of 5)
Our score: 4.25

Ken Oringer cooks some of the city’s most technically sophisticated food at his marquee property. Just look at how he deconstructs a Muscovy duck to preserve the crisp skin, succulent breast, and fatty thigh; how he lacquers foie gras with honey, cinnamon, and buttermilk. He’s an ardent collector of exotic ingredients—from Hokkaido squash to gooseneck barnacles to goat’s-milk butter—and one of Boston’s few remaining students of molecular gastronomy. This love of novelty may read like so much razzle–dazzle to some, but across the board, you’ll find great examples of a skillful, sexy, and inspired fusion cuisine.

ORDER THIS: The lacquered foie gras. For vegetarians, the chocolate “croustillant.”

6. Aujourd’hui* This restaurant has been closed

Score: 83.89 High: Herald A
Low: Boston 4.25

 

Tucked as it is among the ballrooms at the Four Seasons, Aujourd’hui is easy to overlook, or to dismiss as merely another fancy hotel restaurant. Don’t. Chef
William Kovel brings an impressive personal style (part farm-to-table earnestness, part high French technique) to the storied room, making him just the chef for this restaurant at this time. His training at London’s Orrery boosted his chops for turning out perfect chops, roasts, and racks, like the magnificent cumin-scented Vermont organic lamb with eggplant caviar and cranberry beans. There are few better places in town to indulge in a chef’s-whim tasting menu.

ORDER THIS: Rack of wild boar with Alsatian sausage and mustard spaetzle.

 

7. Radius

Score: 82.34 High: Globe & Herald ****
Low: Chowhound *** Our score: 4

 

Michael Schlow came to town determined to inject Boston’s dining scene with a little glamour. Not just glamour, mind you—he also raised the bar on a class of artier, more conceptual…oh, all right, more New York–y cooking. Ten years later, Radius continues to create leading-edge menus: sweet scallops studded with bacon and served with hazelnut purée, Muscat grapes, and roasted parsley root; or thick-cut rib-eye trimmed like a filet mignon, but (thanks to the generous marbling) so much more flavorful, and just as tender.

ORDER THIS: Slow-roasted rib-eye, accompanied by potatoes “Robuchon,” pearl onions, and red wine sauce.

 

8. Hungry Mother

Score: 81.24 High: Phoenix ****
Low: Chowhound **** Our score: 4.25

 

Hungry Mother instantly became a sleeper hit when it opened last spring. Few restaurants manage to feel as personal, welcoming, or fresh. Chef Barry Maiden is cooking a kind of fusion cuisine that this city hasn’t seen before: specifically, one that’s part southern comfort, part French polish. And whoo-wee does it work, as embodied by dishes like tender bourbon-braised pork shoulder; light, crisp cornmeal-crusted catfish; the creamiest shrimp and grits; and down-home corn bread served with a little crock of sorghum butter.

ORDER THIS: Shrimp and grits.

 

9. Hamersley’s Bistro

Score: 79.96 High: Herald ****
Low: Boston 4

 

The French places in Boston mostly fall into two camps: hyper-nouvelle establishments and unapologetically casual brasseries. Somewhere in between (matching the former’s level of cooking, but without the fussy plating), Hamersley’s is an authentic bistro of the sort you’d find in France—not Paris, but farther south, in Provence, where lavender, honey, mint, and garlic define the gutsier regional palate. Two decades after Gordon Hamersley opened shop in a desolate South End, the neighborhood has grown up into a trendy mecca, and his restaurant has remained relevant by ignoring the revolution completely. Devoid of Kobe this or yuzu that, the menu remains a paean to rustic comfort food.

ORDER THIS: Roast chicken with garlic and lemon.

 

10. Oleana

Score: 75.91 High: Phantom 91 (out of 100)
Low: Globe ***; Herald *** Our score: 4.25

 

Ana Sortun and Maura Kilpatrick have been raking in the kudos for their new Middle Eastern bakery-café, Sofra, but big sister Oleana should not go forgotten in the rush to praise the baby. All the national attention it’s received underscores one key fact: Sortun has created a style of food that you won’t find anywhere else in this country. Traditional dishes from Turkey, Greece, Lebanon, and Egypt, remade by a French-trained American, form a unique cuisine of the eastern Mediterranean. What if you substitute braised rabbit for the lamb in shawarma, or augment the olive oil in hummus with butter? You get something delicious, made even better by the freshest ingredients. Sortun’s husband runs Siena Farms, which supplies produce to the restaurant in season.

ORDER THIS: Warm buttered hummus with basturma and tomato.

11. Craigie on Main

Score: 75.81* High: Boston 4.5
Low: Globe ***; Herald ***

 

Tony Maws shuttered the old subterranean Craigie Street Bistrot last fall so that he could take over a bigger, brighter space with an added bar, near MIT. This new Craigie is allowing Maws to do more of what he does so well: producing made-from-scratch (down to the butchering) French fare with occasional Asian accents, using only farm-fresh and seasonal ingredients. To wit: crispy fried Maine clams with baby potatoes and preserved lemon; octopus à la poêle; cod cheek tempura; and a host of excellent pig dishes, from sausages to pork jowl “croutons.”

ORDER THIS: Vermont organic suckling pig.

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: *Most of the available reviews of L’Espalier and Craigie on Main pertain to their former locations. Those scores, properly weighted, were included in our rankings. Both restaurants still have the same chefs and have preserved much of their old menus, and our visits to their current locations confirmed their high standings. **Herald critic Mat Schaffer switched from star ratings to letter grades in 2005.

 

12. Meritage

Score: 75.13 High: Yelp **** 1/2
Low: Globe *** Our score: 4

 

The restaurant’s name is pretentiously Frenchified (the word, describing American Bordeaux-style blends, properly rhymes with “heritage”), but so what? Chef Daniel Bruce is an undersung local hero, turning out vino-enhanced dishes on a menu organized around wine. A brilliant notion if ever there was one.

ORDER THIS: Prosciutto-wrapped venison loin.

 

13. Salts

Score: 72.02 High: Yelp **** 1/2
Low: Zagat: Food 26 (out of 30), Décor 22, Service 26 Our score: 4.25

 

Forgoing the glad-handing glitzy chef routine, Gabriel Bremer instead quietly cooks beautiful food using peak ingredients, like the heirloom potatoes he folds into gnocchi served alongside truffle-poached sturgeon.

ORDER THIS: The boneless whole roast duck for two.

 

14. Oishii

Score: 71.06 High: Phoenix ****
Low: Boston 3.75

 

Like salmon toro? Here you’ll find it draped over perfectly seasoned rice, or drizzled with chives, truffle oil, yuzu wasabi, tempura oba, and a flash of gold leaf. We find the variety to be a bit excessive, but there’s one thing we never question: the consistently high quality of the raw materials.

ORDER THIS: Sashimi in ponzu sauce.

 

15. Ten Tables

Score: 70.34 High: Chowhound *****
Low: Globe ** 1/2 Our score: 4.25

 

The neighborhood eatery that every neighborhood craves, with entrées like swordfish and chorizo “cassoulet” all for $25 or less.

ORDER THIS: The four-course vegetarian tasting menu, which is satisfying even for avowed carnivores.

 

16. Neptune Oyster

Score: 68.01 High: Phoenix ****
Low: Globe ***; Herald ***
Our score: 4

 

Would that every North Ender reached these heights: the freshest fish, with just enough zingy touches (caramelized eggplant, cucumber crème fraîche) to keep things interesting.

ORDER THIS: The oysters, of course.

 

17. Icarus* This restaurant has been closed

Score: 66.35 High: Phantom 91
Low: Chowhound *** Our score: 3.5

 

Icarus was South End before South End was cool, and 30 years on, it’s still serving fine New American fare.

ORDER THIS: The appetizer of simple polenta with braised mushrooms.

 

18. Persephone* This restaurant has been closed

Score: 66.33 High: Phoenix ****
Low: Globe ** 1/2 Our score: 4

 

Thanks to his stint in San Francisco, Michael Leviton’s food reflects the best of California cuisine: immaculately sourced ingredients, cooked with a light hand to let them shine.

ORDER THIS: Fried egg with leeks, bacon, and sauce ravigote.

 

19. Mistral

Score: 66.25 High: Phantom 91
Low: Globe ** 1/2 Our score: 3.75
Mistral has been a standard-bearer for fine dining in Boston since 1997, boasting classy French favorites like roasted cod with lobster and artichoke risotto in chic surroundings.
ORDER THIS: Beef tenderloin pizza with mashed potato and white truffle oil.

 

20. Sorellina

Score: 65.94 High: Phantom 92
Low: Phoenix **  Our score: 3.75

 

Hailing from the same family as Mistral and L’Andana (which placed #36), Sorellina serves highly polished Italian food for the power-broker set, plus some of the tastiest desserts around.

ORDER THIS: Lemon ricotta gnocchi with rabbit ragu.

 

21. Rialto

 

Score: 65.89 High: Globe ****
Low: Boston 3.5; Yelp *** 1/2

Jody Adams’s affinity for Italian ingredients (caciotta cheese, figs) makes Rialto’s menu sing.

ORDER THIS: Duck with braised escarole, roasted fingerlings, and Sicilian olives.

 

22. B&G Oysters

Score: 65.14 High: Phoenix ****
Low: Herald ** 1/2  Our score: 4.25

 

Creative takes on seafood standards, including skate wing in brown butter sauce and a lobster roll lined with bacon, shore up this Barbara Lynch venture as our go-to for fine, if pricey, finned fare.

ORDER THIS: The lobster roll.

 

23. Troquet

Score: 64.55 High: Yelp **** 1/2
Low: Globe ***; Boston 3.75

 

Prime views of the Common make this classic French outpost an inviting, often-overlooked retreat; the 40-plus wines by the glass make it an oenophile’s paradise.

ORDER THIS: Roast suckling pig.

 

24. Lumière

Score: 64.24 High: Yelp **** 1/2
Low: Chowhound ***1/2 Our score: 4

 

Some of the most personal, well-imagined restaurants thrive in left-of-center locations. So it is with West Newton’s most esteemed eatery, where Michael Leviton (see Persephone, #18) expresses his love of hearty French cooking.

ORDER THIS: Seared sea scallops.

 

25. Pigalle

Score: 63.53 High: Phantom 85
Low: Chowhound *** 1/2  Our score: 4

 

At Marc Orfaly’s French hideaway in the Theater District, standards like cassoulet, coq au vin, and crème brûlée are worth lingering over. (The chef’s experimental, Asian-tinged stuff is less reliable.)

ORDER THIS: Pheasant and foie gras tortellini.

 

26. Toro

Score: 62.96 High: Yelp **** 1/2
Low: Globe ** 1/2  Our score: 4.25

 

If it were only up to us, we’d have nudged this a little higher on the list, given the genre-busting tapas, hip fiesta vibe, and hidden gem of a weekday lunch service.

ORDER THIS: Grilled corn con alioli.

 

27. Blue Ginger

Score: 62.90 High: Phantom 93
Low: Chowhound *** Our score: 3.5

 

With Blue Ginger’s new lounge and Asian tapas menu, celebrity chef Ming Tsai has again proved his business acumen—even as he continues to pull off an impressively coherent fusion of Asian and Mediterranean cuisines.

ORDER THIS: Garlic–black pepper lobster with lemongrass fried rice.

 

28. UpStairs on the Square

Score: 62.63 High: Phantom 88
Low: Boston 3.5

 

The décor, evoking a bohemian princess’s private chambers, draws us in; the solid, imaginative food, like the crackling duck confit with toasted gingerbread and quince and the handmade ricotta cavatelli with short ribs, puts this place over the top.

ORDER THIS: Butterscotch pudding.

 

29. Excelsior* This restaurant has been closed

Score: 61.60 High: Phantom 91
Low: Chowhound *** Our score: 3.5

 

At this polished eatery overlooking the Public Garden, chef Eric Brennan’s well-sourced menu (Point Judith calamari, Wolfe Neck filet mignon) can rival the dramatic view, but consistency is an occasional bugaboo. Even non–sweet tooths should give the stellar desserts by pastry whiz Molly Hanson a whirl.

ORDER THIS: Lobster schnitzel with sunchoke-roasted garlic custard.

 

30. Benatti

Score: 61.51 High: Phoenix ****
Low: Boston 2.75

 

Soon after arriving in town last winter, Italian native Andrea Benatti set up shop in an off-the-beaten-path location in East Cambridge and nailed glowing reviews in the papers and on Chowhound. Pastas and risotto shine, though the kitchen is sometimes heavy-handed with sauces. Also costing points on our scorecard: out-of-season standards like prosciutto with cantaloupe.

ORDER THIS: Porcini risotto.

 

31. Sage* This restaurant has been closed

 

Score: 60.98 High: Globe *** 1/2
Low: Yelp *** 1/2  Our score: 4

 

Once a North End upstart, now a South End hot spot, Sage remains a showcase for Tony Susi’s inventive Italian fare, like pillowy lobster gnocchi and Kobe beef carpaccio. Some under-whelmed Yelpers pulled the average down, citing consistency problems and steep prices—neither of which has marred our own experiences here.

ORDER THIS: Rice-smoked duck breast.

 

32. T. W. Food

Score: 60.62 High: Yelp **** 1/2
Low: Phoenix ** Our score: 4

 

The beauty is in the details at this Huron Village bistro, yielding complex delicacies such as foie gras “crème brulée” with broiled sugar topping. Some flavor experiments go off the rails, but the kitchen’s skill can be breathtaking.

ORDER THIS: Berkshire pork loin and pan-fried trotter galette.

 

33. Locke-Ober

Score: 60.28 High: Herald A-
Low: Boston 3

 

This old-guard institution remains fixed in time, despite Lydia Shire’s much-touted “updating” of the menu and ancient interior. The food is tasty, however, and there’s something appealing about dining on liver and bacon amid such elegance.

ORDER THIS: Lobster stew.

34. Taranta

Score: 59.59 High: Yelp **** 1/2
Low: Globe ** 1/2 Our score: 3.5

 

Peruvian cuisine is a dizzying fusion of Spanish, African, Asian, Italian, and French influences. At this North End spot, Peruvian meets southern Italian for an even headier mix.

ORDER THIS: Pork chop with sugar cane–rocoto pepper glaze.

 

35. Rendezvous

Score: 59.57 High: Phoenix ****
Low: Yelp *** 1/2  Our score: 3.75

 

Steve Johnson calls on Mediterranean flavors from North Africa to Italy, yet his best dishes come from local ingredients, like the rosemary grown on his roof.

ORDER THIS: Gascon duck three ways.

 

36. L’Andana

Score: 58.66 High: Phantom 91
Low: Globe ** 1/2 Our score: 4

 

Jamie Mammano of Mistral and Sorellina brings haute cuisine to the ‘burbs, with a Tuscan-inspired menu of pastas and grilled meats. Of his three properties on the list, this one is Boston’s favorite.

ORDER THIS: Veal chop with mushroom Marsala and polenta.

 

37. The Butcher Shop

Score: 58.42 High: Boston 4; Yelp ****
Low: Chowhound 2.8

 

This ultimate carnivore’s haunt (and none-too-shabby wine bar) turns out expert charcuterie, plus pasta and meaty entrées like Kobe tri-tip with sweet-and-sour shallots.

ORDER THIS: Truffled tagliatelle.

38. Via Matta

Score: 56.82 High: Yelp **** 1/2
Low: Herald ** Our score: 3.75

 

When Via Matta hits its groove, it produces the most authentic Italian food in the Hub; a standout is fedelini with tiny clams.

ORDER THIS: Crunchy eggplant with basil-marinated tomatoes and Reggiano.

 

39. Dante

Score: 56.81 High: Phoenix ****
Low: Herald B- Our score: 3.75

 

This riverside hotel restaurant serves just-tweaked-enough Italian classics. Our pick for “Best Italian” in 2008.

ORDER THIS: Any of the house-made spaghetti dishes.

 

40. Scampo

Score: 56.39 High: Herald B+
Low: Globe ** 1/2  Our score: 4

 

Lydia Shire is all about big flavors and big portions, but she always manages to stay her hand before things get too wacky. The result: creative dishes that still flat-out work.

ORDER THIS: Kurobuta pork.

 

41. 51 Lincoln

 

Score: 56.05 High: Phoenix ****
Low: Globe ** 1/2  Our score: 3.5

 

Jeff Fournier is the best kind of hands-on chef, making his own pasta and charcuterie and imprinting all his dishes with an independent flair. We might not go as far as the Phoenix’s four stars, but the food is terrific all the same.

ORDER THIS: The updated caesar.

 

42. Lineage

Score: 55.11 High: Phoenix ****
Low: Chowhound ** 1/2 Our score: 3.5

 

We loved Jeremy Sewall’s cooking at Great Bay, and his modern eatery brings a welcome don’t-mess-with-a-good-thing restraint to the bistro standards.

ORDER THIS: Cod cheeks in smoky tomato sauce.

 

43. Bistro 5

Score: 54.80 High: Yelp ****1/2
Low: Boston 3.25

 

Chef Vittorio Ettore has earned a cult following with his lively ingredient combos, such as acorn squash tortelloni with cabrales and pears. The Medford restaurant is expensive for the suburbs; it’s also waaay better than Bertucci’s.

ORDER THIS: The veal Milanese.

44. Grill 23

Score: 54.77 High: Herald ***1/2
Low: Globe ** 1/2  Our score: 3.75

 

Grill 23 has been a Best of Boston steakhouse pick seven times in the past 10 years, thanks to both its classic cuts and its more exotic offerings, all of them tender and buttery. The bar pours a tip-top martini.

ORDER THIS: Dry-aged prime New York strip.

 

45. East Coast Grill

Score: 54.62 High: Globe ***1/2
Low: Boston 3.5
Owner Chris Schlesinger specializes in big south-of-the-border flavors. You’ll find some of the area’s freshest fish (and the tangiest barbecue, too) at his Cambridge flagship. The kitchen is terrifically steady, though we’d love to see more new tricks.
ORDER THIS: Buffalo-fried Gulf shrimp.

 

46. Estragon

Score: 54.29 High: Phoenix ****
Low: Globe ** Our score: 3.75

 

Little adventures abound at this tapas spot, where tongue, cod cheeks, and sweetbreads are staples. The squeamish can take refuge in delish potato-filled tortillas and croquettes.

ORDER THIS: The duo de croquetas.

 

47. Union Bar and Grille

Score: 52.86 High: Phantom 89
Low: Chowhound ***  Our score: 3.25

 

Once Gaslight opened and Aquitaine installed a hotshot new chef de cuisine, their sibling, Union, fell off our radar. A shame, since comfort food this nicely done is hard to come by.

ORDER THIS: Potato gnocchi with duck confit and grilled radicchio.

 

48. Beacon Hill Bistro

Score: 52.57 High: Herald A
Low: Globe *** Our score: 3.75

When chef Jason Bond took the helm in 2007 (following a stint as chef de cuisine at No. 9 Park), he turned a charming little inn with an adequate dining room into a destination restaurant. The food is mostly French, fully of-the-season, and not to be missed.

[sidebar]ORDER THIS: The house-made charcuterie, a Bond specialty.

 

49. Il Capriccio

Score: 51.88 High: Herald ***1/2
Low: Boston 3

 

A suburban favorite for northern Italian for more than 25 years, Il Capriccio wins partisans with the solid cooking and seasonal ingredients it showcases in dishes such as Cape scallop and leek risotto.

ORDER THIS: Porcini soufflé.

 

50. (tie) Bin 26 Enoteca

Score: 50.84 High: Phoenix ****
Low: Chowhound & Yelp ***1/2 Our score: 3.75

This stylish Italian wine bar beckons with dozens of by-the-glass options and a well-matched menu of salumi, cheeses, inventive pastas, chops, and fish. Without a five-star ranking in the mix, this one settled lower than might be suspected.

ORDER THIS: Cocoa tagliatelle with porcini ragout.

 

50. (tie) Avila

Score: 50.73 High: Herald B+
Low: Chowhound *** Our score: 3.25

 

Traditionally earthy Mediterranean fare gets a high gloss from owner Steve DiFillippo, who knows how to please the power crowd.

ORDER THIS: Grilled spiced swordfish.

 

Best Dish?

If we’d applied our rankings methodology to dishes instead of restaurants, what would have come out on top? We’d put our money on No. 9 Park’s famous prune-stuffed gnocchi with foie gras, which must be the most uniformly gushed-over order in the city:

“Pure bliss.” —The Phantom Gourmet

“I have dreams about it.” —Yelp

“To die for.” —Zagat

“Humble gnocchi never had it so good.” —Boston Herald

“Irresistible.” —Boston magazine

“I’d rather have a T-bone than a filet any day, especially my last one…but I’m not sure what I’d actually ask for if my time were up. I might go highbrow and demand No. 9 Park’s prune gnocchi.” —Boston Globe

“OMG. SO yummy!” —Chowhound

Next Bests?

Too new to have been widely reviewed yet, the following spots should have this year’s top 50 watching their backs.

Bina Osteria

The upscale Italian upstart from the Bin 26 folks serves a smoky, salty quail —roasted in hay and paired with foie gras bread pudding—that might already be the dish of the year.

581 Washington St., Boston, 617-956-0888, binaboston.com.

Erbaluce

Charles Draghi’s Bay Village restaurant revives the style he premiered at the late, lamented Marcuccio’s, with vibrant flavors coaxed from fresh herbs and hearty meats, including wild boar.

69 Church St., Boston, 617-426-6969, erbaluce-boston.com.

Sportello

Barbara Lynch’s retro lunch counter serves high-minded food like strozzapreti with braised rabbit and salt-roasted pork shoulder with porcini mushrooms.

348 Congress St., Boston, 617-737-1234, sportelloboston.com.

 

There’s Just No Pleasing Some People

The pros, cons, and perceived preferences of the Hub’s chief dining critics.

CRITIC
Boston
Corby Kummer

Primary Ingredients
If our own critic has any shortcomings, we’re blissfully blind to them, of course. Views a heavy hand with butter as cheating, and tends to give beloved veterans the benefit of the doubt, more so than newbies. Also, he doesn’t do the star system for his columns: “The rating is only as good as how often a critic eats there.”
Loves
Homey sweets, well-appointed dining rooms, obscure ingredients and techniques.
Hates
Butter, salt, truffle oil, “unnecessary” commas added during the editing process.
Best For
Resonant historical context, thanks to a long tenure chronicling the local dining scene.
Typical Fare
“The dish itself is very rich—overly rich, even—especially with melted butter sprinkled
on the filling. It’s a good thing the portion is small.” (From a 2007 review of Sagra.)

CRITIC
Chowhound

Primary Ingredients
The website’s members are united by a crusade for good eats, regardless of price point—though expensive is eyed with suspicion—and a disdain for the single-reviewer model. Opinions can tend to fall into lockstep with those of respected ringleaders, who are fiercely defended against perceived attacks. Like Smurfs, posters have a fondness for neologisms.
Loves
Offbeat, hard-to-find eateries; anything served from the side of a truck.
Hates
First-time posters with contrarian opinions, the Phantom Gourmet, the label “foodie,” big media.
Best For
Continually updated with fresh postings, it’s a good place to scout out a chef’s current best dish.
Typical Fare
“I know it’s not very chowish, but I like Big Macs.” (From a 2008 review of Big Macs.)

CRITIC
The Globe
Devra First

Primary Ingredients
While predecessor Alison Arnett favored white tablecloths, First is a self-styled gastro-populist who will review the kind of off-the-beaten-track spots more commonly spotlighted by the Chowhound crowd. She’s an engaging writer, but sometimes lets splashy phrases trump clear description. On the job for more than a year, she has yet to give her first four-star review.
Loves
True neighborhood haunts, jokes with long setups.
Hates
Very spicy dishes.
Best For
Often being the first critic to review new spots, thereby giving readers an early take.
Typical Fare
“Catfish fingers are fish sticks gone to heaven…. But when the barbecue arrives, Houston, Kansas City, and Memphis, we have a problem.” (From a 2008 review of Roadhouse.)

CRITIC
The Herald
Mat Schaffer

Primary Ingredients
The tabloid’s chief critic, in the role since 1997, knows his food, and resists the urge to lecture. Instead, his critiques often name some overarching problem (“Have you noticed a theme of too much lemon here?”), then hit it home with example after example. Nobly confesses when he’s been recognized at the restaurant under review. Of all the reviewers, Schaffer’s tastes run closest to our own.
Loves
Steak tartare, which he always orders if available.
Hates
Sweet or fruity garnishes on savory mains, overly dressed steak tartare.
Best For
Sophisticated wine commentary that—a rare feat—comes without flowery prose.
Typical Fare
“There’s too much salt in garbanzos con chorizo…. There’s excess salt as well in sea urchin souquet, stewed sea urchin and potatoes…. And there’s too much salt….” (From a 2006 review of Toro.)

CRITIC
The Phantom Gourmet

Primary Ingredients
Yes, the Phantom is a single person, though he does descend upon restaurants with a trusted entourage. No, the reviews aren’t paid for by advertisers. (We’re vouching only for the numerically scored Restaurant Report Cards.) The drawback to Channel 38′s mystery critic is his scoring system, which gives equal weight to 10 subcategories, many of which have little to do with food quality. If an eatery seriously botches its Portions subscore, a perfect 10 on Entrées won’t save it.
Loves
Fried things, bad puns, “ooey-gooey” desserts, heaping piles of…anything.
Hates
Expensive fine dining, foie gras, Billy Costa’s TV Diner on NECN.
Best For
Pinpointing well-executed comfort grub in the suburbs, come-hither close-ups of the food.
Typical Fare
“Phantom got down-and-dirty with the chocolaty mud pie.” (From a 2008 review of Hungry Mother.)

CRITIC
The Phoenix
Robert Nadeau

Primary Ingredients
For much of his nearly two-decade run, Robert Nadeau—the pen name of journalist Mark Zanger—reliably championed the little guy. Then, a couple of years ago, he reinvented himself as the most unpredictable reviewer in town. (It’s striking how many Nadeau four-stars did not end up in this top 50 list.)
Loves
The underdog, except when he hates it; cheap ethnic food; the (otherwise uncelebrated) sushi and salsa joint Sushi-Teq.
Hates
Glitzy décor, pricey vino, twee gourmet flourishes.
Best For
Keeping readers on their toes.
Typical Fare
“It was far richer than a younger wine, and sang with ostrich as Burgundy (which I never could afford) might sing with steak.” (From a 2003 review of Meritage.)

CRITIC
Yelp

Primary Ingredients
A decent plate of pasta can send Yelpers into paroxysms of delight, but woe to the restaurateur whose front-of-the-house delivers the tiniest slight—bad service is punished especially harshly here. Compared with Chowhound, the site is much easier to navigate. But frequent posters have a tendency to wax food-writerly.
Loves
Exclamation points, fawning service, when their review earns multiple ratings of “Cool” or “Funny.”
Hates
Getting beaten out by a fellow Yelper for the coveted First Review.
Best For
Finding out every last detail about a restaurant, from the art on the wall to the shape of the plates.
Typical Fare
“Also, I’ve eaten upstairs in the formal dining room and the service was impeccable, the food was MARVELOUS, aaaaaand the bill scared me. Try it if you don’t mind spending.” (From a 2008 review of Excelsior.)

CRITIC
Zagat Guide

Primary Ingredients
This “seriously gimmicky” guidebook weaves together “colorful sound bites” from “totally amateur critics” and has made founders Tim and Nina Zagat “filthy-rich as Rockefellers.” But an editorial obsession with balancing pluses and minuses makes it hard to get a sense of whether a place is truly worthy. Also, the
incessant quote marks can make highbrow diners want to gouge their eyes out.
Loves
Half the dishes.
Hates
The other half.
Best For
The index of restaurants by amenity, including a quirky list of spots with historical digs, starting in 1707 (Longfellow’s Inn in Sudbury).
Typical Fare
See above.

Source URL: http://www.bostonmagazine.com/2008/12/50-best-restaurants-2009/