The 50 Best Restaurants 2012: Flying Solo
From left: Louis DiBiccari, Tim Wiechmann, Will Gilson, Michael Pagliarini, and Alex Crabb. (Photo by Scott M. Lacey / Styling by Molly Shuster)
What do these talented chefs all have in common? They’ve each recently opened (or will soon) a new restaurant that has a chance to land on next year’s 50 Best list. They’re also pushing back against the notion that the independent, chef-driven restaurant is an endangered species in Boston. Conventional wisdom has it that you’d have to be crazy to try a new project in this climate of expensive real estate, breathtaking liquor-license prices (as much as $435,000 in the Back Bay), and competition from the extravagant, and remarkably successful, big-box chains in the Seaport. Well, don’t tell that to these guys.
Restaurant: Tavern Road + TR Street Food (attached concepts)
Location: Fort Point
Opening: This winter
Résumé: Sel de la Terre, Storyville
The Elevator Pitch: “It’s rustic, scratch cooking. Totally casual, high-energy, a really hip space. TR Street Food will be focused on lunch. I want to do our version of street food.”
Menu Snapshot: Sweetbreads with guanciale and cippolini onions.
Inspiration: “I have a lot of history in the arts community in the city. This restaurant doesn’t have any confines. We want the restaurant to be a blank canvas at all times.”
The Challenge: “A lot of success comes from getting your ego out of the workplace a little bit—and if you’ve hired the right people, let them show you why they are talented. Let them have some creative freedom. At 24 and at 29, I wasn’t ready to do that with anyone. At 37, I get it a little bit more.”
On Opening a Restaurant Right Now: “If you’re not in favor of what’s going on with social media, or think it’s a flash in the pan, you are out of your mind. Nothing will ever make up for bad service or bad food, no matter how good you are with your social media. But you need to adjust to what’s going on in the world.”
Résumé: Sel de la Terre, Ten Tables J.P., T. W. Food
The Elevator Pitch: “It’s a European bistro with influences from Germany, Italy, and Eastern Europe.”
Menu Snapshot: Handcut Swabian Käsespätzle with house-cured bacon.
Inspiration: “I have always liked making sausages, so I decided to make that a major component of the restaurant. I also eat a lot of farm-to-table food, and I like Italian food.”
The Challenge: “It’s a risky business, and you have to commit a lot of time to it. Even for people like me who are very committed to it, it’s daunting. We are going into a new neighbor-hood, and there are those cultural challenges to being accepted. You have to step gingerly and be careful, or you could be standing in front of an empty restaurant—which I have done. It happens.”
On Opening a Restaurant Right Now: “I like the enthusiasm that everyone has, and the relationships all the way through the food chain—from the farmer all the way to the diner and everything in between. It’s a good city where people are psyched for things. But you know, there could be a lot of conversation about a restaurant and it still comes down to having people come to the door.”
Restaurant: Puritan & Co.
Location: Inman Square
Résumé: The Herb Lyceum, Oleana, Garden at the Cellar, Eat at Adrian’s
The Elevator Pitch: “The food is going to be seasonal, fun, New England, progressive, and tasty.”
Inspiration: “A lot of the design and the feel of Puritan & Co. has to do with the Herb Lyceum [Gilson’s family farm in Groton]. What’s really going to drive the restaurant is kind of selfish for me. I want you to eat my food in my environment.”
Menu Snapshot: Quahog “stuffie” croquettes with Aleppo pepper, served on the half shell.
The Challenge: “My architect is my construction manager, and I’m doing a lot of the design. It’s fun, but it adds another line in the Yelp review if someone is upset with the design of the restaurant. If someone says, ‘The music sucked, the food sucked, and I didn’t like the design,’ I take responsibility.”
On Opening a Restaurant Right Now: “If I have a customer coming in now who understands that serving duck with its feet on is okay and not creepy, it’s great. People are more adventurous—they are okay with having things served with bones in it, and eating around it. The years of the boneless, skinless chicken breast and super-thick steak with Sysco fries are kind of done.”
Location: Between Harvard and Porter Squares
Résumé: Radius, Via Matta
The Elevator Pitch: “We are going to have an emphasis on specialty handmade pastas, and it will follow a traditional Italian progression. It’s absolutely going to have our own interpretations and a modern twist.”
Menu Snapshot: Lobster-stuffed tortellini with chive-and-lobster-stock butter sauce and Umbrian truffles.
Inspiration: “I fell in love with Italian food at Via Matta. Those are the flavors I go to most often when I am cooking at home.”
The Challenge: “It’s a long, long process. It’s really the patience. I looked at 10 or 12 properties, and you’d think something was going to work out, and it wouldn’t. It’s the patience, and remembering why you did this, and staying true to the vision that you had in the first place. You have to write it down and put it on your fridge.”
On Opening a Restaurant Right Now: “[In Cambridge,] I am encouraged every day when I go to Simon’s, or Hi-Rise, or Chez Henri. I am encouraged by the amount of people out and about. We are excited and confident about the environment right now.”
Location: Back Bay
Résumé: L’Espalier, Atwood’s Tavern, Lineage
The Elevator Pitch: “It’s a strictly tasting-menu restaurant—it’s going to be high-end food, but a much more laid-back atmosphere.”
Menu Snapshot: Coriander-crusted scallops with beet-braised toasted farro, white-bread purée, and fresh thyme.
Inspiration: “The two mentors I have in this city—Frank McClelland of L’Espalier and René Becker at Hi-Rise—cook at opposite ends of the spectrum, and I try to keep both of them in mind whenever I do anything.”
The Challenge: “As it becomes so personally mine, I will get more sensitive and won’t be able to stomach reading the Yelp reviews. I will have my sous chef do it for me, and sort of edit what he tells me to protect me from it.”
On Opening a Restaurant Right Now: “What we are doing in New England has gotten really sophisticated. The product is so much better than it was 10 years ago. The education of the consumer, and the cook, and the farmer, has gotten so much better, and there’s such interesting cheese and dairy coming out of New England right now. You have to be excited.”
Check out all of our coverage for 50 Best Restaurants 2012.