Three Splurge-Worthy Tasting Menus to Try in Greater Boston This Weekend
Sushi and wagyu, a minimalist ode to all things local, and an uni- and caviar-filled feast.
Welcome to Three to Try. On Thursdays, we share three restaurant or dish recommendations for the weekend—sometimes new, sometimes old, always delicious.
Got a special occasion coming up? Or maybe you’re just in the mood for a blowout feast that involves caviar, thin slices of wagyu that you cook yourself on a hot rock, or minimalist plates that bring to mind Michelin-starred Scandinavian restaurants? This week’s Three to Try highlights a trio of restaurants around Greater Boston that offer excellent tasting menus worth the splurge.
Sushi tends to come to mind first when I think about what I’d like to eat for a special occasion: I want course after course of delicately plated raw seafood, rice, perfect little garnishes. I want sake, or a cocktail, or maybe both. And sure, I’d love to finish the meal by searing some really fancy steak on a hot rock. (That last bit wasn’t originally part of my special-occasion sushi fantasy, but thanks to Uni, now my expectations are impossibly high.)
Uni’s current tasting menu option is what the restaurant describes as a chef’s choice family-style menu for the table; diners can choose their own budget, but Uni recommends at least $150 per person. It dances between sashimi and nigiri selections and Uni’s cooked dishes, with both sides of the equation equally exciting. On a recent visit, I found the chili crisp-topped duck gyoza—sitting in a pool of impossibly airy corn pudding—just as compelling as the restaurant’s popular Maine uni spoon, where the briny urchin is topped with a quail egg yolk, yuzu, and caviar.
The cocktails are intriguing; you might find yourself quickly Googling some ingredients on your phone before you order. And the ambience is louder and more casual than you might expect when you’re dropping this much cash on dinner. I love it that way; it may not be for you if you’re longing for a return of the white-tablecloth era. For the best experience, book a seat at the sushi counter.
370A Commonwealth Ave., Back Bay, Boston, 617-536-7200, uni-boston.com.
Just a two-minute walk up the road from Uni, Asta offers a different tasting menu experience, one reminiscent of high-end dining in Denmark: precise plates that honor seasonal, local ingredients. (No surprise that chef and co-owner Alexander Crabb spent some time at Copenhagen’s famous Noma. Locally, he worked at L’Espalier, which was known for its France-meets-New-England cuisine.)
The ever-changing menu is “vegetable forward,” so while you may see some squab or rabbit or lobster, there’s not a huge amount of meat in the meal. You won’t miss it while tasting a savory slice of shiitake perched atop a thin curl of melon, or a sliver of zucchini covered in eye-catching flower petals and seeds, or a final snack of unexpectedly extraordinary caramel popcorn.
Here, too, the vibe is fairly casual. The simply decorated space has a few little quirks, like the Zeus painted on the wall preserved from one of the space’s previous lives as a different restaurant. Staff members wear bright, colorful clothing. You can help yourself to utensils: They’re in drawers hidden inside your table. You’ll laugh, you’ll drink interesting wines, and you’ll have an unbelievable meal.
47 Massachusetts Ave., Back Bay, Boston, 617-585-9575, astaboston.com.
Nightshade Noodle Bar
One of the region’s best tasting menus is up in Lynn. (You can get there in 20-30 minutes by car or commuter rail from Boston, and you should absolutely make the trip.) The seafood-focused menu draws inspiration from French and Vietnamese cuisines, and depending on your mood and budget, you can experience anywhere from seven to 14 adventurous courses that might feature uni in a brown butter chili hollandaise, served under a smoke-filled glass cloche; dinosaur claw-like percebes—gooseneck barnacles—with a lime pepper dipping sauce; caviar, caviar, and more caviar.
But it’s not just the most impressive-sounding ingredients that make for winning dishes here: You might also encounter, for example, a light and refreshing cabbage salad with green apple, maitake mushrooms, mint, and buttermilk-maple nuoc cham, or kabocha squash with rice cakes, green chili sauce, pickles, and crispy little duck tongues. And then there are the noodles; there’s a reason “noodle bar” is part of the restaurant’s name. Consider requesting the egg noodles with caramelized garlic sauce, a comforting showstopper. (Diners can request up to two dishes from the menu to be included in the tasting, which is otherwise chef’s choice.)
Save space for cocktails and dessert, too, which are definitely not afterthoughts. Show up early to peruse Nightshade’s sibling and neighbor convenience store, Sin City Superette, and then settle in for a truly special dinner.
73 Exchange St., Lynn, 781-780-9470, nightshadenoodlebar.com.