Upstart restaurants worthy of lasting affection.
Whether the craving is for a new shirt, an unknown author, an untried recipe or even just a fresh outlook on life, we all attempt inaugurations once in a while (some more frequently than others). And just like anything else, trying out a new restaurant involves certain hazards of the unknown. To put your palate at ease, we’ve assembled the following group of culinary newcomers whose short-term histories are already generating long-term allegiances. Try any of the following once and you might soon find yourself a regular.
In & Around Boston
There’s Troublemaker (red wine) on tap, brazen beer cocktails and wood-fired pizza available till 1:30 a.m. But before you get the wrong idea, Pastoral is also a favorite spot to grab lunch or dinner with your family after a visit to the nearby Children’s Museum. In South Boston’s up-and-coming Fort Point neighborhood, chef/owner Todd Winer’s year-old venture has created a buzz around its robust flavored food and cool-vibed industrial space with warm, rustic touches and coveted patio seating come spring. Large groups hit the jackpot by ordering several dishes to pass around: octopus with pancetta and cannellini beans; warm gorgonzola-topped kale and spinach salad; and a baker’s dozen of pizzas so luscious-sounding that it’s hard to choose. Will it be sweet potato, duck sausage and aged provolone or escargot, smoked pancetta and basil mousseline? Less exotic pizzas are equally delicious and all can be ordered with a gluten-free crust.
—Janice Randall Rohlf
Executive chef Rich Vellante turns the preparation of seafood up a notch with his coastal Italian-style approach to cooking at Legal Oysteria. The neighborhood restaurant, housed in the former space of Todd English’s Olives, is marked by an open floor plan with floor-to-ceiling windows and a white marble-topped bar that seats 30. Diners can peek into the open kitchen and see the brick oven responsible for so many of Vellante’s delicacies. Start with small plates like salt cod crostini and chickpea and shrimp fritters; then dive into full entrées such as grilled salmon, brick oven-braised cod and sausages stuffed with truffle cheese. The wine list focuses mostly on Italy and Spain, with options by the glass, half-bottle and even a few tasting flights for the adventurous. End your meal with a bang by sipping an Italian amaro.
Entrance doesn’t require a special handshake, but you’ll still love the feel of Wink & Nod, a 1920s-style speakeasy with modern flair tucked away in the South End. Booths and tables populate this intimate, plush underground lounge, where knowledgeable mixologists concoct everything from tiki drinks to an Old Fashioned in handpicked glassware. Signature cocktails include Indian Summer, made with Nolet’s Silver gin and house ginger beer; The Cure with apple-wood smoked Bulleit bourbon and honey syrup; and Grapefruit Gimlet with house grapefruit cordial. The restaurant’s Scotch Club, a weekly tasting affair for enthusiasts, is equal parts fun and instructional. And while the quality of Wink & Nod’s cocktails never wavers, its kitchen is run by a new restaurant group every six months, ensuring menu selections that never go stale.
Known for the cozy Italian restaurant Sweet Basil in Needham, chef and restaurateur Dave Becker opened his second restaurant, Juniper, in July 2014. This newcomer to Wellesley’s dine-out landscape offers creative plates filled with the feel-good flavors synonymous with Eastern Mediterranean cuisine. Blending both regional staples like couscous, phyllo dough, pita and falafel with locally sourced produce and proteins, Juniper’s menu ranges from small, shareable meza plates to generously portioned entrées prepared with homemade spice blends. House specialties include lamb agnolotti and grilled baharat skirt steak. Craft cocktails and a wine list boasting few bottles over $42 make any night out a celebration. And the eclectic interior, complete with refurbished furniture and a custom cork floor, continues Becker’s sustainable business intentions.
The best things in life are worth a little effort, so if you’re game, head to Harvard Square to find chef Michael Scelfo’s 165-seat restaurant Alden & Harlow, hidden away beneath an indie theater. The former head chef at nearby Russell Street Tavern, Scelfo is turning American fare on its head with this eatery, his first solo venture. Besides a thoughtful collection of amped-up small dishes like kale salad and braised octopus crostino, Scelfo’s infamous burger, available on a limited basis each night, is a must try. The intimate restaurant is punctuated by a long, central L-shaped bar overseen by bar manager Seth Freidus, who keeps housemade vermouth on hand. The recently unveiled late-night menu proffers delectable small plates like smoked pork belly popcorn and pork-and-olive meatballs. Sounds like the perfect way to end a night.
When Ruta Laukien opened Liquid Art House, Boston’s first gallery-restaurant hybrid, in the Back Bay, she combined her love of art and food into one sensual affair. On any given night the restaurant’s well-dressed crowd and artfully arranged plates complement the interior’s sexy, sleek vibe. Standout menu items include unctuous mushroom dumplings, velvety sweet pea velouté and smoked sable. An extensive wine list offers unexpected bottles from Macedonia and Greece. Meanwhile, Laukien and curator Ana-Katarina Vinkler-Petrovic cover the walls with rotating offers, such as a recent show with large pieces by Boston artist Giovanni DeCunto and another called “Berlin Walled” with graphic canvases by Jaybo Monk. Here, food, wine and art collide to provide a feast for all the senses.
French formality comes to Boston at Bar Boulud, a highly anticipated restaurant (formerly Asana) from chef Daniel Boulud. The cozy-chic interior and wood-board ceiling were designed by architect Adam Tihany to mimic a wine barrel’s interior. Slide into one of the velvet banquettes and order from a well-curated menu of Boulud’s signature dishes like tender coq au vin, fresh crudités with silky aioli and escargots de Bourgogne with garlicky parsley butter. Bar Boulud also boasts the city’s only true charcuterie bar with homemade pâtés and terrines like the fromage de tête. Champagne fan? So is sommelier Joe Camper, who would be more than happy to present you with lesser known but delicious selections from the restaurant’s extensive wine cellar. Bonus: extend your stay and book a luxury hotel room upstairs.
This isn’t your ordinary Italian restaurant. James Beard Award-winning chefs Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier have infused the menu at M.C. Spiedo Ristorante & Bar with rustic flavor profiles collected during their travels in Florence, Bologna and Venice. Slip into one of the far wall’s elegant booths, dramatically framed with crimson drapery, and peruse a menu designed to reflect an Italy of long ago. Time travel with historic recipes and rustic cooking, such as the “Lasagna from the Borgia Table,” a recreation of lasagna prepared for 16th-century banquets held at the court of Ferrara. Another signature dish is Leonardo’s salad, which is based on a shopping list da Vinci wrote in one of his sketchbooks. We’d say even the Medici family would be proud. —Jessica Bowne