Best of Boston

2003 Best New Restaurant

UpStairs on the Square and Via Matta

In replacing their much-loved UpStairs at the Pudding (some considered it the real institution of Harvard Square), Deborah Hughes and Mary-Catherine Deibel had big shoes to fill—their own. But they’ve done it, creating an outstanding restaurant that has surpassed the expectations of even their most loyal following. The décor is at once outrageous and glorious—plaid patterns on the walls with animal-print carpeting, jewel-toned upholstery, massive fireplaces, gilded mirrors, and lots of pink. Two menus, in the hands of chefs Susan Regis and Amanda Lydon, offer everything from simple grilled cheese and rich tomato soup to flavorful Kumamoto oysters, roasted lamb, and rabbit. Don’t miss the “wedding cake for one” dessert: The portion is large enough to share, but this is a divine indulgence for you and you alone. Via Matta, meanwhile, has had the kind of debut year legends are made of: Mick Jagger commandeered a table not once, but twice in the restaurant’s first two months of business. Add to that gushing praise from critics nationwide and you’ve got, by all accounts, a bona fide success. But is that really a surprise? Schlow and partners Christopher Myers and Esti Benson know how to put on a show, as evidenced by the success of their powerfully stylish Radius. At Via Matta, the gloss is toned down, but the style still shines through, with an elegantly casual dining room, cozy bar, and adjacent café. Then there’s the food: perfectly executed traditional Italian fare bursting with flavor, from the simple spaghetti aglio e olio to pan-roasted chicken—all dishes that will make you long for another serving.

UpStairs on the Square: 91 Winthrop St., Cambridge; Via Matta: 79 Park Plaza, Boston, UpStairs on the Square: 617-864-1933; Via Matta: 617-422-0008,;