Dining Out: Bina Osteria
The Binas have style. If you didn’t know it from Lala Rokh, you did from Bin 26 Enoteca, their always-crowded Charles Street wine bar. And now, in a terrible economy, the brother-sister team of Babak Bina and Azita Bina-Seibel, along with executive chef Brian Konefal, have opened their most stylish—and ambitious—restaurant yet: Bina Osteria, a new-wave Italian restaurant in the super-luxurious Ritz-Carlton Towers, incongruously situated between Chinatown and Downtown Crossing.
I’m a longtime and very big fan of the sibs, who are the soul of Beacon Hill and now are redefining downtown hospitality. What I found most unexpected about the cuisine of the new place is its modernity, even if it is built on the simple blocks the pair has long favored—fresh ingredients treated so you taste the quality. Not since Dante de Magistris (first across the street at Blu and now at Cambridge’s Dante) has a kitchen taken off from a base of classic Italian cuisine and risen so high on flights of fancy. I was reflexively wary of the studied novelty of much of what arrived at the table—the prettified presentations, the whimsy, the (gasp!) foams. But I was, for the most part, happily surprised by how it tasted.
The innocent Italian descriptions on the menu belie how out-there some of Konefal’s food is. I got a strong signal with an amuse-bouche, a small cup of lobster consommé with chocolate ganache and Meyer lemon. It sounded awful (lobster with vanilla we’re used to, but chocolate?) but was terrific, the chocolate adding a depth charge to an already-strong broth, the lemon waking it up without being piercing. Here’s a chef I need to know more about, I thought.
The names of most dishes might be Italian, but you don’t expect, say, a celery foam on top of carne cruda, or Italian steak tartare ($15). While the era of foam may have come and gone, Konefal, who trained at a cooking school in Italy’s Piedmont region and worked in fancy French kitchens in New York, hasn’t given it up, and he makes a persuasive case for it. Celery, that underused, pungent flavor, is right with beef, as is the excellent Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese that Konefal employs as seasoning. The tepid foam nicely blankets the cool hand-chopped meat, which is intense with beefy essence from the dry-aging Konefal does in the cellar (he buys grass-fed beef from River Rock Farm in Brimfield). The chef’s sure hand with meat shows in the other standout antipasto, homemade coppa di testa ($11), a pig’s-head sausage with sweet Spanish peppers, tomato chutney, and fennel with Pernod. (If pig’s head makes you squeamish, you might take some comfort in the fact that all the pork is from New England farms.) It’s like a crumbly meatloaf with a slightly smoky flavor and a lightly peppery and sweet sauce.