The 50 Best Restaurants 2009
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
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
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.
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.
* 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.
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.
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.