Comfort Food in Beantown
In preparation for our Boston Rising Stars in November, we’ve been eating our way through beantown uncovering the most talented young chefs, pastry chefs, mixologists, and sommeliers in town. The recession has brought chefs back to basics. The food being served all over Boston is comforting, approachable, and takes diners back to their childhood roots.
As always, we were impressed by Ken Oringer and his mini Boston empire where we took a culinary world tour with traditional Mexican cuisine (La Verdad), high end sashimi (Uni), Spanish tapas (Toro), and upscale contemporary French-American (Clio).
Chef Jamie Bissonnette of Toro is a chef’s chef who cooks straightforward food with an incredible depth of flavor. Check out his technique for Navajas a la Plancha—the razor clams have just the right tangy kick. Courtney Bissonnette shook us up some refreshing cocktails that fit the summer season, like the Fresita with strawberry, rhubarb, Kalamansi lime, and Hendricks gin.
The mixology scene in Boston is definitely thriving. We caught up with Mixologist Jackson Cannon at Eastern Standard, who is one of the city's standard bearers for classic cocktails, aperitif culture, and house-made vermouth. Read more about Jackson in our Mixologist Feature. We also tasted with Jackson’s protégé, Tom Schlesinger who is at former Rising Star Tony Maw’s restaurant, Craigie on Main. Tom has taken after his mentor, creating his own purees, juices, bitters, and vermouths and mixing them in original cocktails for every palate. The two of them are the inspiration behind our feature on Artisanal Vermouths.
We caught up with many past Rising Stars award winners and are happy to see their restaurants are thriving. Andy Husbands of Tremont 647 has the right idea—he’s got a kitchen full of women who know how to deliver comfort food on a plate that has you coming back for more. Maybe there’s something to this gender thing after all! Chef Izzy Sarton’s Spring Pea and Mint Soup was bright and summery with savory accents of jamon Serrano and garlic croutons. And Craddock’s rustic Peach Tart with Oolong Tea Crème Anglaise was a simple pleasure so lovely we took a piece home to eat later.
Where Andy has a kitchen full of women, Chef Dante deMagistris surrounds himself with the brainy types—both Chef de Cuisine Will Foden and Sommelier Chas Boynton of Dante were science majors in college. Chef Foden's food appears to be understated, but is in fact intense and complex—his refined Italian dishes employ an advanced level of technique that goes into everything from artichokes alla Romana to truffle béarnaise. And Boynton pairs affordable, Old World wines to match—read more about his philosophy on bargain hunting, educating guests, and pairing in our Sommelier Feature.
Dante also has a new place tucked away in Belmont, Il Casale. We were able to check it out on our last trip for Chef Tony Susi’s surprise 40th birthday party. For the occasion, Dante made Tony’s favorite dish—his mother’s veal cutlets.
At Oleana, Chef Ana Sortun continues to cook the soulful Middle Eastern food that we fell in love with when we first met her. Ana’s food—and the restaurant—is a labor of love full of exotic spices, creative flavor combinations, and authentic techniques. In the wine pairings, Ana and sommelier Theresa Paopao are in such sync that whatever the dish was missing the wine added; they were total yin and yang.
L’Espalier conveys all the trappings of a fancy night out with white glove service, elegance, and attention to detail that reflects on the food prepared by Chef James Hackney and Pastry Chef Jiho Kim. They put molecular spins on otherwise familiar dishes, like butter-poached lobster that comes with licorous sugar and dehydrated fennel or classic Oreo cookies that are re-imagined as a Chocolate Milk Tart with Oreo Cookie and Milk Sorbet. Sommelier Kate Moore’s pairings are classic and elegant, as in chicken, morels and truffles that she served with a 2005 Chateau De Puligny-Montrachet Monthelie that rose to the dish to become chewy and chocolaty, an ideal complement to the earthy flavors of the dish.
Bakeries are new on our Rising Stars hit list. We visited Flour, Joanne Chang’s original concept, and Sofra, Ana Sortun, Gary Griffin, and Maura Kilpatrick’s joint venture, and we stopped at Japonaise to get our adzuki cream fix. Pastry Chef Maura Kilpatrick is at the helm of Sofra, a Middle Eastern bakery in Cambridge where we could happily eat every day—we keep asking them to open one near us! Read more about Maura in our Pastry Chef feature. Flour has definite Asian influences and serves desserts and savory items that are clever, well-executed, and slightly left of center, like a breakfast sandwich with egg custard, portabella mushrooms, and greens.
Chang is also the mastermind behind Myers + Chang, a hip pan-Asian restaurant in an edgy part of town. Bright graphics decorate the walls and windows, Chinese newspapers act as placemats, and tea canisters are filled with chopsticks. The food is as fun as the restaurant, with clever dishes that are fiery and addictive, ranging from Asian Braised Short Rib Tacos to Indonesian Fried Rice to Taiwanese Shaved Ice with Fresh Fruit and Grass Jelly. We wish all Asian restaurants could make it this fun and use this quality of ingredients.
Chef Nicolas Boutin is the new kid on the block from Hong Kong at Asana in the Mandarin Oriental. We loved his clever flavor combinations like lamb, mango and basil in Poached and Seared Lamb Loin with Sauteed Mango, Basil, and Caramel Jus. And the new hotel (it’s only been up-and-running since the fall) is simply stunning with Frank Stella's dramatic, modern artwork decorating the walls.
The swank Liberty Hotel is one of our favorites in Boston—where else can staying in a former prison seem so chic? Chef Joseph Margate of Clink goes above and beyond standard hotel food with dishes like Chilled Yellow Tomato Soup with Smoked Yogurt.
We were even able to maneuver a quick getaway to Cape Cod (in the rain, of course) to visit Chef Jerome Watkins at his new restaurant Lyric. It was worth the trip, as much for meeting Jerome as for his food. Jerome is somebody who we are undoubtedly going to be hearing a lot more about.
We stayed at the Hotel Marlowe (which, as the host of our first ever Rising Stars in 2003 will always be one of our Boston favorites) and had Chef Jay Silva's lobster rolls at Bambara. We also tasted with Chef Barry Maiden and Pastry Chef Heather Tirrell at Hungry Mother, Pastry Chef Shane Gray at Mistral, Chef Robert Jean at Sorellina, Chef Katherine DeWitt See at Kingfish Hall, Chef Bobby Bean at Bonfire, Chef Zee Vassos and Sommelier Andy Cartin of Bin 26 and Chef Mary Dumont of Harvest.
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: the recession isn’t over, but we’re definitely beginning to see the light. Read our interview with Christine Keff of Flying Fish in Seattle to see what practices she's put in place to keep her employees motivated through tough times.
And with the economy looking up and budgets thawing, you may be thinking about remodeling or revamping your kitchen. No other appliance is as vital as your range, so be sure to check out the results of our Range Survey to see what other chefs think about their ranges.
If you’re in the New York area don’t miss the latest Chefs for Scher event on July 13th to benefit the Steven Scher Memorial Scholarship for Aspiring Restaurateurs in association with The James Beard Foundation. Click here for details.
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