Amar, from Acclaimed Chef George Mendes, Debuts 17 Stories above the Back Bay
The modern Portuguese restaurant spearheads the food and beverage program at the newly opened Raffles Boston.
George Mendes, a renowned chef at the forefront of the modern Portuguese cuisine movement in the United States, just opened his latest restaurant, Amar, in the Back Bay. But a move to Boston wasn’t on the table for the long-time New Yorker until he received a fateful phone call. “It was the seafood of Boston that really spoke to me,” Mendes says.
- Welcome to the Real World, Central Perk: ‘Friends’ Coffeehouse Opens in Boston This Fall
- Restaurateur Garrett Harker Debuts the First of Four New Venues
- 311 Omakase Brings a High-End Japanese Feast to a South End Brownstone
- New Charlestown Entertainment Venue Urban Wild Has a Little Bit of Everything, Plus Giant Cocktails
Well, not literally. The phone call had been from a representative of Raffles Hotels & Resorts—an international hospitality juggernaut that unveiled its first North American property in Boston on Friday, September 15—who was gauging the chef’s interest in leading the 35-story hotel’s food and beverage program. (Raffles has also signed on Boston’s own doyenne of dining Jody Adams to open an Italian restaurant, La Padrona, at the hotel later this year.)
More than a year ago, Mendes, with his wife and young son, visited Massachusetts to get a feel for the project—and they returned to New York City to start packing up their apartment. “I’m a very intuitive, sensitive person when it comes to how I feel about things,” says the chef, who had closed his Michelin-starred restaurant Aldea in 2020 after nearly 11 years. “I just started seeing the impeccable quality of seafood [available in Boston], and that was it. I haven’t been this excited in a long time.”
Over the weekend, Boston got its first taste of that enthusiasm at Amar, the hotel’s signature restaurant on the 17th floor, which is dubbed the Sky Lobby level. Showcasing Mendes’s style of “refined rustic” Portuguese-inspired cooking, the menu at the 60-seat spot is centered around seafood. “The menu can change on a whim, especially the tasting menu,” says Mendes. To start, he’s offering the likes of crispy salt cod croquetas matched with vibrant roasted bell pepper dip; ember-grilled Maine lobster complemented by Azorean pineapple and preserved fennel; and brioche toast topped with a lusty combination of Maine sea urchin, cauliflower puree, shiso, and wasabi.
Mendes’s evolution as a chef can also be credited to his team of employees. There’s chef de cuisine Brad Willits, for one, who previously spent half a decade with Mendes at Aldea and recently relocated to Boston from California. “It’s really important for me to mentor and to be inspired by them,” Mendes says. “It’s constant symbiosis.”
Amar is not a white-tablecloth restaurant in the strictest sense: Dark wood tops the tables in the dining room, where a striking chandelier and floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook Copley Square illuminate earth-tone banquettes and moody floral-papered walls. But the restaurant’s approaches to both service and cooking are “a direct reflection of who I am as a chef and what I really truly love about fine dining,” Mendes says. That includes “polished” service, roving trolleys pouring madeira and port wine, and “theatrical” tableside finishing of certain dishes. In addition to the tasting menu, Amar also offers a la carte dining; reservations are encouraged either way. “You can choose which adventure you want to take when you get there,” he reassures.
On the other side of the 17th floor at Raffles, Mendes offers Long Bar & Terrace—a more casual, but no less elevated, dining scene. With windows offering a spectacular view of the South End, the lounge also has 800 square feet of outdoor seating. And it’s open all day, beginning with breakfast and serving Boston’s newest high tea service between lunch and dinner. The main menu is more typical of a New England seafood restaurant than Amar’s Portuguese-inspired approach: Think oysters and seafood platters, tinned fish, crudo, fried calamari, a lobster roll, salads, and more—and the bar beckons with craft cocktails and wine. Reservations are also available.
Later this year, Mendes and his team will also unveil two additional concepts at Raffles Boston: a speakeasy-inspired cocktail lounge called the Blind Duck, also on the 17th floor, and Café Pastel on the ground floor. The latter is slated for a November opening. Pastry chef Christina Kaelberer—who comes to Boston from the Four Seasons Fort Lauderdale, after a previous local stint at the ‘Quin House—will spearhead the bakery program, which stars pastels de nata, the Portuguese-style egg tart Mendes was known for at Aldea and the café’s namesake treat. Café Pastel will also offer sourdough breads made possible by a starter born seven years ago at Mendes’s bygone restaurant. “With time, we’ll dabble with traditional Portuguese bread,” he says, like papo seco, a crusty, flour-dusted type of white bread roll.
Back at Amar, Kaelberer’s expertise will shine through elegant versions of classic Portuguese desserts, such as: the serradura, a bright trifle of mango-passionfruit compote, shiso Chantilly, crumbled house-made Maria cookies, and passionfruit-macadamia sherbet; and a bruléed rice pudding, based on a recipe by Mendes’s uncle, accented with apple and pear compote and calamansi ice cream.
Mendes, whose parents immigrated from Portugal and raised him in Danbury, Connecticut, spent more than 25 years in New York City, interspersed with stints as a line cook in Europe at the height of the influential avant-garde culinary movement. He maintained a Michelin star at Aldea for 10 years. “It reinvigorates and pushes us chefs,” he says of earning recognition by the influential global guide. Michelin inspectors have never ranked the Boston dining scene for whatever reason, but with Mendes’s high-profile move, we’d argue there’s even more reason for the historic assessment to give the city a look. “I hope Michelin does come to Boston,” Mendes says. “There’s a lot of talent here.”
Mendes and his family, who welcomed a baby girl in August, have moved to the South End full-time, and he’s been enjoying getting to know the Boston restaurant scene as much as his limited time allows, he says. But he’s not ready to renounce his status as a citizen of the world just yet. “I have a very entrepreneurial spirit, and always will,” Mendes says. And now, he has a powerful partner in Singapore-based Raffles, which has 18 locations worldwide. “I look forward to the future.”
40 Trinity Pl., Raffles Boston, Back Bay, 617-351-8888, raffles.com.
Visit our Ultimate Guide to Boston Restaurant Openings, Summer 2023, to learn more about other exciting new openings this season.