Dining Out at Bina Osteria

By Corby Kummer | Boston Magazine |

BINA OSTERIA IS A VERY WARM, essentially modest restaurant inside a very cool, futuristic space. Its starkly elegant architecture — soaring windows, dazzling planar trapezoidal ceiling panels, white metal lights that look like the arms of a giant industrial robot — implies something glossy and modernist. And when Bina opened in November 2008, at the intersection of Downtown Crossing and the Theater District, it showed plenty of forward-thinking ambition, especially in the form of Brian Konefal, a talented chef who wanted to put a modern stamp on the classic Italian cuisine the owners had intended. Konefal used too many foams and too much butter, but he was a striking original. I’d still travel far for his butter-infused potato gnocchi.

[sidebar]Then Konefal left after seven months in a high-profile, dead-of-night defection. His replacement, Bruno Guadagnin, kept a low profile, and Bina never recovered the crowds and the buzz it had initially attracted. That’s a shame, because with chef number three, Will Foden, who’s been at the stove since last November, Bina Osteria has finally become the place its owners — siblings Azita Bina-Seibel and Babak Bina — always believed it could be: a comfortable neighborhood spot for area office workers and the high-income residents of the Ritz-Carlton condos next door, and a place to go before or after the theater or a movie at the huge Loews cinema down the street.

The owners have long offered style, comfort, and professionalism in abundance at Lala Rokh and Bin 26, their other restaurants across the Common on Beacon Hill. They excel at fresh food with a Mediterranean simplicity that emphasizes the kind of quality ingredients the siblings grew up eating in their native Iran. My favorite is Lala Rokh, where the lovely, intimate interior is warm and sophisticated. It’s a perfect complement to the Persian food.

Bina’s setting, though, seems to clash with the pure-lined Italian menu, unless you are thinking of Milan. But the ingredients are fresh — an heirloom tomato soup that tasted like the essence of summer (pictured right); grilled whole orata so fresh you’d think you were at a seaside café in Italy or Greece.

At its best, Bina offers Italian food of an authenticity you can typically get only at Coppa, in the South End, or Il Casale, in Belmont. (Reminder: You won’t find it in the North End.) The tapas-size stuzzicare ($3 each) prove this, and at bargain rates: milky, sweet homemade ricotta with Sicilian eggplant caponata; a little cube of wild Maine bluefin tuna belly served with radish and salsa genovese; sweet peperonata stewed in oil and white balsamic vinegar. Chicken liver crostini were too silken for me (in Tuscany they’re lumpy and rustic) and didn’t taste enough of liver — but that will be a boon for the liver ambivalent, who will instead taste sage and rosemary in what could be a meaty butter.

The best of the stuzzicare was an unexpected star, given that it’s a red-sauce-joint workhorse: baked littlenecks with home-cured pancetta and buttery, lightly garlicky bread crumbs (pictured below). The clams were perfectly hot but not the least bit tough, and broiled so briefly that they still had plenty of juice to mix with the gritty, toasty crumbs. I’m not sure I’ve ever had better (and I’ve sure had worse, recently at Locke-Ober) — and two clams were just $3, my new nomination for the best deal in town.

As for the salads, they are remarkably bright, showing attention to detail that few restaurants bother with. The shaved asparagus salad ($14) features hand-shelled fava beans, mint, and grana Padano, which I prefer to Parmigiano-Reggiano for its sweeter flavor.

Photographs by Michael Piazza