Bina Osteria: Aggressively Pricey, or Just Right?

1229623979There’s a spirited fight discussion currently raging on the local Chowhound board regarding Bina Osteria, the newish Italian eatery opened in Downtown Crossing by the folks behind Lala Rokh and Bin 26 Enoteca.

No one’s taking issue with the quality of the food itself: Indeed, when Chowder sampled the menu a few weeks ago, every morsel was exquisite, perhaps even some of the best cooking going on in the city right now, courtesy of (super-young) chef Brian Konefal, who did time at Atelier de Joel Robuchon and Eleven Madison Park, two of Manhattan’s finest restaurants.

The issue is the cost. Are the prices outrageous? Depends on whom you ask. One poster writes:

[I was] pretty shocked at the prices. I certainly cannot afford a ramekin sized portion of pasta for 17 dollars…. most people would find this place to be quite unaffordable, especially right now.

Then came a smattering of retorts, including two that got to the heart of the matter:

While Bina is sort of objectively expensive, relative to the city, it’s really not so outlandish. I would consider it to be, in terms of price point, on the top end of the middle range or on the bottom end of the top range.

And another poster:

If large portions are important to you, go to Joe Tecce’s. I won’t be going to there or to any other chain or food factory at a time like this because I don’t value what they do. If they don’t survive they will be replaced by a clone when the economy comes back.

So who’s right? In Chowder’s opinion, they all are, at least to a point.

First off, it’s hard to find a smaller portion of pasta in Boston for $17 (nor one as perfectly executed). Even Rocca, in the South End, which was serving similar sized pasta dishes when it first opened in 2006, has over the last year shunted them into the Appetizers section and created another category called “Entree Pastas” for those expecting heaping platters of noodles.

Pricewise, though, Bina’s $17 Cappelli with Housemade Ricotta, Beets, and Mustard Greens is an outlier. Both Rocca and Bina keep their appetizer-sized pastas in the $13-$15 range. There’s a precedent.

A bigger issue, in Chowder’s opinion, is the price-versus-portions ratio in the dishes labeled “Secondi,” a designation that most Boston Italian restaurants reserve for the Entrees. At first glance, then, $35 for the hay-roasted quail with foie-gras bread pudding and chestnut puree sounds reasonable—the upper end of many a mid-priced menu in the city. (On the other hand: Not out of the realm of, say, Hamersley’s or even Clio, for that matter.)

But wait until you see the portion, a meaty yet diminutive roasted bird served with accompaniments that are closer to plate decoration than true sides. This was possibly the best-tasting quail Chowder’s ever eaten—salty, tender, with a subtle smoke from the hay roasting—but we’re clearly not in normal entree territory, for Boston or anywhere.

You don’t have to be a Joe Tecce’s-and-Cheesecake Factory acolyte to think that this is essentially a $35 starter, aggressively priced compared to anywhere in the city, barring O Ya, perhaps, but not L’Espalier, often the exemplar for pricey Hubside dining.

Can Bina (with its somewhat misleading tagline of “Osteria,” the Italian word for midpriced bar or tavern, which this place is not) sustain these price points? Or will it have to make some capitulations to the way Americans and, specifically, Bostonians have been programmed to order and eat in restaurants, as Rocca and so many others have done before it?

Only time will tell. Food this good is worth the splurge, in Chowder’s opinion. But in a struggling economy, even those who agree philosophically may not find themselves in the financial position to cast a vote.