Top New Restaurants in Boston 2017: The List
9. Oak + Rowan
321 A St., Boston, 857-284-7742, oakandrowan.com.
Some restaurants feel hatched by a trend lab. And then there are quirkfests like Nancy Batista-Caswell’s first Boston venture, which exuberantly meanders from low to high, now to nostalgia, soulful locavore to persnickety artiste. That randomness is its charm: a highly personal pastiche that might include salmon crudo shaped like a wreath, edgy lamb-shishito pasta, rib-eye with creamed onions, and homey buttermilk-date cake, followed by an elaborately plated cheese course straight out of some Thomas Keller biopic. It’s a risky gambit, but O+R has several key ingredients: a kitchen (chef Justin Shoults and pastry whiz Brian Mercury) with the chops to land dish after dish. And the graciously unique brand of hospitality that Batista-Caswell perfected at Newburyport stalwarts Ceia and Brine, which, as it turns out, works just as well in Fort Point.
THE NEW MOM-AND-POP
928 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-945-1761, pammyscambridge.com
This neighborhood-y hang from husband-and-wife team Chris and Pam Willis—he’s in the kitchen and she’s the namesake smile at the host stand most nights—exudes the energy and intimacy of a great dinner party, with affable front-of-the-house staff manning the glamorous, expertly antiqued dining room; a buzzing communal table; and finely tuned cocktails from seasoned barman Moe Isaza. It all sets the stage for Chris’s beautifully restrained, Italian-influenced cooking, which lets top-quality ingredients and textbook technique shine in dishes such as beets with cherries and goat cheese, braised octopus with polenta cubes, and brick-cooked chicken with endive and olives. Score one of the coveted tables by the restaurant’s fragrant wood-burning fireplace, and you’ll want to cozy up with your pals all night long.
7. Les Sablons
2 Bennett St., Cambridge, 617-268-6800, lscambridge.com
Just in case you’ve missed the recent increase in beret sightings: There’s a French resurgence afoot in Boston and beyond, as diners once again embrace the charms of Escoffier-era cuisine. Restaurant kingpin Garrett Harker and chef Jeremy Sewall’s genteel Harvard Square bistro specializes in conscientious transcriptions of the Gallic hit parade gently nudged into the 21st century, from Parisian-style gnocchi built with tangy goat butter to roasted monkfish amped up with green curry. On-the-pulse wine and cocktail lineups by sommelier Lauren Daddona and barman extraordinaire Jackson Cannon, too, feel unmistakably 2017. But then there are the pleasures that feel simply timeless: think half-shell bivalves tended to by oyster farmer and partner Skip Bennett, garnished with nothing but a squeeze of lemon and a flinty Loire white.
THE MODERN MASH-UP
310 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-945-9290, gopagu.com.
There are restaurants that bill themselves as “chef-driven,” and then there’s next-level Pagu, where Tracy Chang has created a dining experience that reads like a page out of her culinary diary. While the chef’s blend of Japanese and Spanish cuisines might seem disparate at first blush, it makes perfect sense once you get to know the ambitious mind behind the line. Noodle bowls and pillowy pork belly bao reference Chang’s role cofounding the pop-up Guchi’s Midnight Ramen; an innovative black-sesame tofu dessert recalls her time in the kitchen at O Ya; and pan con tomate was inspired by her days in Spain, where she worked at a Michelin-starred restaurant. Pagu recently started serving breakfast, so head in for an airy croissant (Chang also studied patisserie in Paris), pull out your laptop, and sit tight until sake-and-sherry hour rolls around.
THE ITALIAN RENAISSANCE
One Bennett St., Cambridge, 617-661-5050, benedettocambridge.com.
From the 12-foot pasta table at the back of Benedetto’s elegant, white-tableclothed dining room, chef Michael Pagliarini turns
out pasta dressed to impress: sheets of al dente fazzoletti deepened with meaty foraged mushrooms; ribbons of pappardelle fortified with smoked rabbit sugo and prosciutto. But it’s not all about the carbs at this Charles Hotel stunner, the sister spot to Porter Square favorite Giulia. From the polished secondi to the whimsically artful desserts from pastry chef Renae Connolly—recent hits include the warm hazelnut-praline bomboloni with palate-cleansing passion-fruit sorbet, and a peach crostata with citrus-semolina crust and creamy plum gelato—a meal here is the embodiment of the Hub’s Italian-restaurant revival.
5 Tyler St., Boston, 857-305-3129, ruckusboston.com.
Just when we thought Boston had reached peak ramen, our enthusiasm for the form has been reawakened at this new hip-hop-blasting, Murakami-decorated Chinatown noodle den from the owners of Shōjō and Best Little Restaurant. Here, chef Mike Stark is serving up the stuff of our quick-service dreams: springy house-made noodles luxuriating in deeply flavorful broths ranging from miso to paitan to shoyu, coupled with upgraded toppings such as braised togarashi-spiced lamb and crisp fried chicken skin. Taking a cue from the fast-casual customization model, you can also soup up your bowl with add-ons such as a whipped-pork-fat “umami bomb,” soy eggs, and tofu skin. But unlike many fast-casual spots, staffers will deliver food directly to your seat, and even clear your (sleek, black-lacquered) tray for you. Now that’s what we call slurping with style.
Ames Hotel, One Court St., Boston, 617-979-8203, cultivarboston.com.
After more than two decades as a chef, Mary Dumont finally owns her own restaurant, and she’s using it to turn out some seriously impressive flora-forward fare. While her new Ames Hotel spot certainly isn’t vegetarian (see: the house-made lamb sausage and rabbit mortadella agnolotti), plants are most definitely the star of the show, both on the plate and in the greenery-bedecked dining room. For proof, look no further than the foraged nettles brightening house-made pasta with hearty lamb sugo; the garland of greens cutting through creamy burrata with brown-butter bread crumbs; and the rooibos tea leaves lending a subtle smokiness to duck breast. And with the installation of a freight-container farm on the restaurant’s urban patio finally complete, we can’t wait to see what the chef comes up with now that her inspiration is just a pick away.
THE CHAMPION OF THE CHAR
Prudential Center, Boston, 617-807-7307, terra.eataly.com.
When we first learned that an upscale, Mario Batali–branded “Italian grill” was opening—in the Prudential Center mall, no less—we weren’t optimistic. Boy, was our spidey sense off. With Lawrence-born Dan Bazzinotti running the show, Eataly Boston’s signature restaurant has been nothing short of a smash hit, thanks to a simple, two-pronged philosophy: Strip down recipes to their essentials so that ingredient quality shines through, and give just about everything the kiss of the smoldering oak-wood fire, from the charry pork-sausage skewers to the smoked native corn in the handmade ricotta ravioli. In fact, the components of almost every dish can be purchased at Eataly’s downstairs kiosks. All of which goes to show the wisdom of keeping your local talent close, and your imported goods even closer.
1. Café Du Pays
233 Cardinal Medeiros Ave., Cambridge, 617-314-7297, cafedupays.com.
Open since July, the latest from the State Park–Mamaleh’s crew offers a snacking-friendly roster of French-Canadian fare that’s already as dreamy as Justin Trudeau. Lightly fried artichokes get tossed with herbs, then gussied up with luscious foie butter. Flawless poutine features authentic curds and fries so preternaturally crisp they defy gravy-wilting physics. The Québecois affinity for game and fish shines bright, with updated riffs on traditional fare like hearty tourtière (meat pie), fluke with juniper salt, and tender swaths of rosy, huckleberry-dotted venison. Oh, yeah…and it’s in the space once occupied by the group’s beloved Hungry Mother, so frankly, we shouldn’t be surprised it’s a winner.
See more from our 2017 Top New Restaurants feature.