Best Restaurants in Boston 2014
— 1 —
9 East St., Boston, 617-654-9900, oyarestaurantboston.com.
Seven years in, dinner at Tim and Nancy Cushman’s downtown sashimi bar is still the most fun you can have while parting with a full week’s salary. It’s laid-back. It’s endearingly dorky. Ingredients are impeccable (see: primo wild spot prawns, tubes of lobster leg meat painstakingly pried from the shell), techniques are labor-intensive, and combinations are as imaginative—sesame-chicken-skin nigiri with schmaltz powder; squid-ink soba noodles tangled with torched squid and uni consommé—as they are transporting to eat. Setting the experience apart is the way that it’s all presented: in a small, welcoming space where you wouldn’t be out of place in jeans, with light touches (Carl Douglas’s “Kung Fu Fighting” on the speakers; the Comic Sans font on the menu) that proudly defy cool-kid convention. It remains to be seen whether the O Ya team will be able to keep its focus on the jewel of its burgeoning empire once it opens a casual izakaya in the Fenway and additional concepts in New York. For now, though, O Ya remains the city’s premier destination to splurge on a multi-course tasting menu—or, for a (slightly) more-affordable snack, an à la carte mini meal at the bar.
Can’t-miss dish: Quail egg chawan mushi with uni, trout roe, and soy-maple dashi.
— 2 —
370 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, 617-536-7200, unisashimibar.com.
Everyone rightfully raves about Uni’s late-night menu, with its house-made ramen and street-food-inspired snacks like octopus tacos and puffed-rice-topped hot dogs. But you really need to visit Ken Oringer’s sleek, subterranean sushi den during prime time, when sashimi chef Tony Messina’s ambitious, risk-taking menu combines incongruous ingredients (fat slices of raw tuna with creamy burrata) and cross-cultural flourishes (Spanish lubina accented by North African charmoula and Italian gremolata) to astonishing effect. Sit at the sushi counter for the full experience—and if you time it just so, you can pad your stomach with an order of tako tacos on the way out.
Can’t-miss dish: Spicy tuna tataki with foie gras, raspberry, goat cheese, and black walnut.
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1665 Beacon St., Brookline, 617-232-2322, ribellebkline.com.
Late this summer, Tim Maslow and his father, Paul, dialed back the funkiness of their Watertown restaurant, Strip-T’s, focusing instead on gourmet sandwiches and plates of fried chicken. Though we’re still coming to terms with the change, the silver lining is that the younger Maslow has now channeled all of his creativity into Ribelle, his edgy one-year-old Washington Square spot. The long, narrow space is packed with young, discerning-of-palate diners perusing the intriguing drink list (a Laphroaig cocktail or Beaujolais of the day?) and an Italian-leaning menu stacked with dishes that are as good as they are wildly creative (chicken with endive, buttermilk chawan mushi, and poppy seeds; black-bass crudo with fermented sour cherry and sprouted wheat berries). Such spark springs in part from a collaborative mindset, as Maslow constantly workshops new ideas with the restaurant’s staff. Team spirit and olive-oil gelato? Count us in.
Can’t-miss dish: Pappardelle with Bolognese, lemon, and charred kale.
— 4 —
47 Massachusetts Ave., Boston, 617-585-9575, astaboston.com.
With its blond-wood tables, naturalistic platings, and pull-out silverware drawers, the dining room at Asta seems straight out of the fashionable New Nordic playbook. But don’t let appearances fool you—this passion project from chef Alex Crabb and partner Shish Parsigian is truly unique. First, there are the quirky three-, five-, and eight-course set menus, which we suggest ordering while seated at the dining bar by the open kitchen. Then there are the dishes themselves, at once avant-garde and familiar: burnt-onion purée with crisp shreds of duck and cheddar; sweet-and-sour eggplant topped with crushed peanuts; and desserts that riff on classics like tiramisu and apple cake. The restaurant serves only beer and wine, with a focus on geeky French vinos from regions like the Jura and the Loire Valley.
Can’t-miss dish: Burnt-onion purée with duck and cheddar.
— 5 —
77 Walden St., Cambridge, 617-864-4745, twfoodrestaurant.com.
This cozy Cambridge bistro has accomplished the impossible: offering forward-thinking dishes (orecchiette with baby octopus and hazelnut–black garlic gremolata; johnnycakes with bacon, ricotta, and beets) in an environment that’s calm, even sweet. De rigueur communal tables, loud music, and mason jars are nowhere to be found—instead, chef Tim Wiechmann’s food is served in a Parisian-style boîte with exposed-brick walls, French-wine-country maps, and attentive servers who happily present amuse-bouches from the kitchen. Add in the city’s most glamorous sundae, topped with bitter-chocolate ganache and chocolate-oat crumble, and you have a spot that’s as exciting as it is underrated.
Can’t-miss dish: Any of the house-made pastas.
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249 Pearl St., Somerville, 617-764-4464, sarmarestaurant.com.
The Mediterranean small plates at this meze bar from chef Cassie Piuma (formerly of Oleana, which shares an owner in chef Ana Sortun) straddle the line between tradition and reinvention, incorporating eclectic ingredients from near and far. Here, dolmades are stuffed with lobster and corn, and warmly spiced lamb köfte are presented in playful slider form. Then there are the plates that are distinctly Piuma’s, including dense corn cakes slathered with sweet-salty date butter and goat cheese; and harissa-spiced barbecue duck atop a silky carrot purée. The oft-changing dim-sum-style meze platters floating around the colorful dining room, meanwhile, only add to the intrigue, showcasing must-grab items like ultra-crunchy sesame-fried chicken with a tahini remoulade, and uni-topped rice cakes.
Can’t-miss dish: Corn cakes with date butter and goat cheese.
For more on Sarma, see Inside the 50.
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Craigie on Main
853 Main St., Cambridge, 617-497-5511, craigieonmain.com.
Before every restaurant in the city offered a variation on crispy Brussels sprouts, Tony Maws was roasting his in duck fat until nutty, browned, and as addictive as potato chips. Before octopus began popping up on menus everywhere, the chef was charring it on a plancha and marrying the curled tentacles with an earthy black-garlic vinaigrette. And before nose-to-tail cookery spread to gastropubs on every corner, Maws made then-out-there dishes, like his fish-sauce-coated pigs’ tails and confited-and-roasted pig’s head with Peking pancakes, some of the most game-changing eats around. New innovations continue to emerge from the kitchen, but the menu staples remain as good as ever—a testament to this boisterous, influential bistro’s staying power.
Can’t-miss dish: Spanish octopus a la plancha.
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134 Hampshire St., Cambridge, 617-661-0505, oleanarestaurant.com.
Once the default answer (along with—sob!—Hamersley’s Bistro) to the question “Where should I eat in Boston?” chef Ana Sortun’s Cambridge landmark seemed in years past to have lost its focus. Recently, however, the Middle Eastern-Mediterranean restaurant has returned to form, with alluringly spiced dishes like moussaka with tahini and crisp Brussels sprouts; and kohlrabi pancakes topped with peppery labne. Such dishes are best enjoyed, when the weather allows, in an outdoor garden that is as enchanting as the food.
Can’t-miss dish: Sultan’s Delight (tamarind-glazed beef with eggplant and pine-nut purée).
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354 Congress St., Boston, 617-737-0099, mentonboston.com.
We may no longer require white tablecloths and doting, formal service for a celebratory meal, but there are times when such unsubtle signifiers of luxury are welcome—and it’s on these occasions that we book a table at Barbara Lynch’s ambitious temple to extravagance. Here, a meal opens with petite, honey-drenched croissants and closes with a glass goblet of multi-hued, thimble-size macarons; the cheese cart looks like it could sleep six; and a trip to the gilded bathroom feels like a mini spa vacation. Under recently installed chef de cuisine Scott Jones, dishes are refined yet gutsy—think: pan-seared salmon accessorized with veal bacon, bone-marrow-soaked croutons, and baby-octopus tentacles; and lumps of peekytoe crab fanned out next to hiramasa, lardo, and dollops of crab-and-tomato aioli. If you opt out of the wine pairings, servers will eagerly guide you to one of the many values (a bargain Muskateller, perhaps?) on Cat Silirie’s novel list.
Can’t-miss dish: Pan-seared salmon with veal bacon and bone-marrow croutons.
For more on Menton, see Inside the 50.
— 10 —
53 Shawmut Ave., Boston, 617-391-0902,
When Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette decided to open an outpost of Coppa’s sister restaurant, Toro, in New York, many fretted over how their Boston darlings would fare. The answer? They’re both doing great—and in the case of Coppa, with the kitchen in the hands of chef de cuisine Meghann Ward, we might argue that the intimate enoteca has never been better. Beyond the regular roster of impeccable charcuterie, blistery pizzas, and bold vegetables, find exciting specials like briny gemelli con vongole (spiral pasta with uni, clams, and prosciutto) and crackly skinned bass collar with greens. All of it, of course, pairs wonderfully with a swig of Lambrusco—which is offered by the glass and the bottle.
Can’t-miss dish: Wood-oven-charred cauliflower head with manchego and bagna cauda.