Another year, another bounty of new restaurants clamoring for our attention. Which spots rose to the top of this freshman class? Behold, our look at the grade-A entrants.
There’s something truly special about Talulla, an earnest, sparkling surprise that chef Conor Dennehy and wine director Danielle Ayer have set aglow in a quiet, residential corner of Cambridge. The married couple, young but seasoned industry vets, named their 12-table restaurant after their two-year-old daughter. They pour the palpable passion of loving parents into exquisite but unpretentious plates—best relished in multicourse tasting menus—and a fascinating list of bottles to nurse. This warm, heartfelt little fine dining room proudly aims to please and pamper. 377 Walden St., Cambridge, 617-714–5584, talullacambridge.com.
When it opened at Lovejoy Wharf near TD Garden, Alcove could have played it safe by proffering even more of the area’s already-ubiquitous pub grub and red-sauce Italian. Instead, first-time owner Tom Schlesinger-Guidelli and executive chef Maxime Fanton deliver exciting, in-demand Mediterranean-influenced flavors (like charred Haas avocado with harissa aïoli and red vein sorrel) and exemplary tableside manners, thanks to the team’s consummate hospitality, honed at places like Island Creek Oyster Bar, Schlesinger-Guidelli’s old stomping grounds. Plus, we want to savor the unique, beautifully-Boston view of the Zakim Bridge before any game. 50 Lovejoy Wharf, West End, 617-248-0050, alcoveboston.com.
With Celeste, owners JuanMa Calderón and Maria Rondeau have tossed open the door to the pop-up dinner party series, previously held at their home, that eventually inspired this welcome addition to Somerville’s Union Square. Art gallery-white walls envelop 24 seats and an open kitchen offering soulful Peruvian cuisine, including rich, hearty helpings of aji de gallina and bountiful portions of spectacular ceviche that radiate light, bright flavor. The genial hosts, meanwhile, exude creative spirit and inviting hospitality. We accept, with pleasure. 21 Bow St., Somerville, 617-616-5319, celesteunionsquare.com.
Columbus Hospitality Group clearly isn’t looking to reinvent the wheel with Bar Lyon, the latest, uncharacteristically humble-sized entry to its portfolio of splashier, more spacious spots like Mistral. This South End bouchon believes, and rightly so, in the quiet, abiding power of classic regional French fare rendered expressively: Standout bavette steak au poivre and quenelle de brochet—supple pike dumplings in luscious lobster veloute—are familiar and fabulous. Bar Lyon’s menu offers balms to soothe tastes addled everywhere else by wanton reinvention. Here, faithful food heals. 1750 Washington St., South End, 617-904-4020, barlyon.com.
Take flight to the outer, industrial fringe of the Seaport, where this plucky, polished marriage of New England and Mediterranean influences has nested at the Innovation and Design Building, a sprawling complex of showrooms and creative offices. Chef John daSilva does great things with pasta—something we learned at his last stop, Spoke Wine Bar—but we’re equally smitten with the menu’s “snacks” (especially the loukaniko sausage-stuffed Scotch olives) and mains like an exceptional roasted porchetta. Fellow No.9 Park alum Ted Kilpatrick has contributed a killer cocktail program; at Chickadee, spirits soar. 21 Drydock Ave., Seaport, 617-531-5591, chickadeerestaurant.com
Fool’s Errand, the latest from chef Tiffani Faison and wife and business partner Kelly Walsh, is a no-holds-barred celebration of what the culinary power couple loves—namely, standing around (there are no seats), snacking on finger foods and drinking fortified wines in their purest forms. Surprise! It turns out we quite like this, too. The delightfully playful takes on fancified snacks—like a tin of imported tuna belly dressed like a childhood lunch-box sandwich, or a crispy stack of potatoes dripping with melted raclette and shaved truffles—are inarguably delicious. No foolin’. 1377 Boylston St., Fenway/Kenmore, Boston, foolserrandboston.com.
This multi-unit Somerville marketplace, home to nearly a dozen (and growing) small-scale food and drink purveyors, imbues an energetic, DIY, by-the-bootstrap feel to the on-trend food hall genre. The result: some of the most fun, accessible, and delicious comfort eats we’ve had all year. From the nerd-pleasing all-natural bottles at Rebel Rebel wine bar to the Masshole-perfected stoner food of Hot Box, each project has passion in common. There is no dining experience more of-the-moment than sharing a smorgasbord like this in one of Greater Boston’s most desirable developing neighborhoods. 1 Bow Market Way, Somerville, bowmarketsomerville.com.
This three-level taproom, restaurant, and roof-deck bar obviously excels with its beer selection. More than 20 draft lines flow with the hazy IPAs the brewery is known for, plus many stouts, wild ales, and new-to-the-brand offerings like lagers and beer slushies. But we also appreciate chef Michael Morway’s ambitious, locally sourced menu of fare, including burrata with Fated Farmer sour beer-poached pear, house-made sausages, and orange-glazed chicken roasted on the wood-fired grill. The staff serves with aplomb, considering the constant crowds, and we’re hopeful Trillium’s new wage policies will only improve that hospitality. 50 Thomson Place, Fort Point, 857-449-0078, trilliumbrewing.com.
The next time someone laments the fast-casual homogenization of the restaurant scene, send them here. Dakzen’s semi-service style—you might order at the counter, or tableside from a server with a tablet—is a little confusing, but the innovative approach helps keep this revelatory take on Thai street food affordably priced. Layered flavors and textures of dishes like hoi joh (crispy tofu skin-wrapped crab croquettes) and khao soi, a Northern Thai noodle bowl of coconut-creaminess, crunchy noodles, spicy funk, and fresh aromatics, are wonderfully vibrant and vivid. 195 Elm St., Davis Square, Somerville, 617-718-1759, dakzen.com.
Fans of Cambridge’s late, great Salts can dry their tears. Three years after that spot’s shuttering, married owners Gabriel Bremer and Analia Verolo have reemerged inside a former Watertown dining car, delivering Uruguayan- and Basque-inflected cuisine. The splay of small plates is inspired: Wood grilled quail bedecked with fig and brandade-stuffed piquillo peppers are elegant yet homey. And they pair well with herbaceous cocktails- like the Como Se Llama?, featuring Muscat brandy, gin, orange blossom and egg white imbued with foraged sumac. Sure, we’ll miss Salts. But this is one sweet return. 21 Nichols Ave., Watertown, 617-876-8444
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