Friday, July 24, 2015

My Most Anticipated Restaurant Opens: Chef Peter Ungár & Tasting Counter

The Tasting Counter is now open!

Last December, in my year-end Favorite Restaurants post, I noted that my Most Anticipated Restaurant Opening for 2015 was the Tasting Counter, owned by Chef Peter Ungár (pictured above). As I said then, and continue to believe, Chef Ungár "is a highly skilled chef, who I believe is one of the best in this area, and has remained beneath the radar for many diners in the Boston area."

I first met Peter in 2008 when I attended one of his Chef's Table multi-course dinners which was held in his home. I was thoroughly impressed with Peter's cuisine and attended several more of his Chef's Table dinners, including having him host a special birthday dinner for me. I was excited last year when I learned he was going to open his first restaurant.

The Tasting Counter officially opened yesterday, though I attended a Friends & Family dinner on Wednesday evening. The restaurant is located in Somerville in the Aeronaut Food Hub building, the site of other food & drink businesses. It offers a nine-course tasting menu, paired with ten selections of wine, beer, Sake, or nonalcoholic beverages. The restaurant seats twenty people at a time, at their U-shaped counter (pictured above). Peter also has a mission that his restaurant should be 0 Carbon, and source at least 50% of their ingredients from Massachusetts.

Currently, the restaurant is open for a single dinner service each night from Tuesdays through Saturdays, from 8pm-10pm. In the near future, they plan to add a second, earlier dinner service, as well as a lunch seating. You purchase your dinner ticket online, priced at $150 for Tuesday through Thursday seatings, and $165 for Friday and Saturday night seatings.  They will also welcome walk-in guests (for an additional $15) dependent on whether there is a free seat or not.

The price includes your nine-course dinner, 10 selections of drink, tax and your gratuity. I think that it a very fair price for the quality and quantity of food and drink you receive. Sure, due to the price, most people will view the Tasting Counter as a special occasion restaurant. However, you should seriously consider it when deciding on a venue for those special occasions.

When you purchase your ticket online, you indicate your choice of drink and note any allergies and dietary restrictions. As their website states: "We are happy to accommodate various diets, including nut-free, lactose-free, pescetarian, gluten-free, and shellfish-free. We may do gluten-free only if you have a sensitivity to gluten. We work with flour in our kitchen and unfortunately cannot guarantee a menu for any guest with celiac disease. We currently do not offer vegetarian or vegan menus, however, aim to do so in the near future."

As for your beverage choices, their wines are all natural wines, primarily sourced from Mise Wines. These wines are generally from France and Italy, and I'm familiar with some of Mise's portfolio, having enjoyed what I've tasted. The beers are from Aeronaut Brewery, and offer a variety of styles and tastes. Over time, the drink choices will change, offering new choices for your dining enjoyment,

I designed the Sake program for the Tasting Counter and it now has the largest Sake menu of any non-Asian restaurant in the Boston area. That is quite an accomplishment, showing Peter's passion for Sake and confidence in its ability to pair well with a variety of dishes. We put together a list of 10 Sakes, obtained from Classic Wine Imports and Ruby Wines, and including a diverse mix, from Sparkling Sake to Nigori.

The Sakes are generally from small, artisan breweries, and include Sake which may be organic, made from heirloom rice, use traditional production methods, and more. The list is diverse, showcasing a wide range of Sake types and styles. When is the last time you tasted ten different Sakes? When is the last time you drank Sake with a non-Asian meal? Many people have probably never had either of those two  experiences so the Tasting Counter is offering something unique. As with the wine and beer, the Sake selections will change with time, offering new experiences with the various dishes.

At the dinner on Wednesday, about 60% of the guests chose wine pairings, 20% chose beer and the other 20% chose Sake.

The restaurant grows some of their own herbs.

Dining at the Tasting Counter is an experience, as you get to watch much of the preparation of the dishes you'll be served. It is a personal experience, insinuating the guest into the kitchen, giving you access to the Chef and the rest of the staff. It is a reflection of Peter's previous Chef's Table dinners, which were held in his house, in a large living room/kitchen area. And if you ever enjoyed one of those Chef Table dinners, you will equally enjoy the Tasting Counter.

I was thoroughly impressed with Peter's cuisine this past Wednesday evening. From my first bite, I was enthralled and each course brought an appealing presentation with intriguing, delicious flavors. I also felt that the Sake pairings did very well with the various courses, a belief shared with others at the dinner who also ordered the Sake.

Let me provide you a glimpse into what you will find at the Tasting Counter. This isn't a formal review, as the restaurant has just opened, but I honestly can say that I very much enjoyed every dish and it would be impossible for me to choose my favorite among so many tasty choices. I've also added the Sake pairings for each dish. Please note that the menu may vary from what you experience, dependent on the availability of ingredients.

Welcoming Bites
--Black olive, almond, duck liver (bottom):  Wow! Wow!! Wow!!!
--Sourdough, gruyère, onion (top left)
--Sichuan, fennel, hake, roe, lime, rice (top right)
Paired with the Asahi Brewery Dassai “Otterfest” 50 Sparkling Junmai Ginjo.

Sea Urchin
Kelp custard, white truffle, & wakame. An umami bomb. Creamy, briny, and savory.
Paired with Daishichi Brewery Classic Kimoto Junmai.

Sea Scallop
Yuzu, grapefruit, preserved lemon, & avocado oil cream. Clean, fresh and bright flavors.
Paired with Shiragiku Brewery Ohtouka “Cherry Peach Blossom” Honjozo Namazake.

Hand Rolled Seaweed Pasta
Hen of the woods, anchovy, & bonito broth. Another umami bomb. Taste of the earth & sea.
Paired with Doi Brewery Takatenjin “Sword of the Sun” Tokubetsu Honjozo,

Sea Bream
Beet, pomegranate, campari, rhubarb, & sake. Fresn, tender fish with bitter acents. And a Sake gel with rhubarb cubes.
Paired with Kikusui Brewery Organic Junmai Ginjo.

Milk jam fennel, brown butter, & cucumber. A bone-in, tender fish with an intriguing milk jam fennel.
Paired with Katokichibee Shouten Born Muroka Nama Genshu Junmai Daiginjo,.

Schisandra Berry
Pine nut. A cold brewed tea which was sweet and salty, sour and bitter. A tasty palate cleanser.

Miso Cured Duck
Pear, daikon, celery, & soy. Such a silky, creamy taste to the duck, Wow!
Paired with Tomita Brewery Shichi Hon Yari “Seven Spearmen” Junma

Dry Aged Beef Sirloin Cap
Burdock, cilantro, ginger, & red curry. Tender, flavorful beef with a fine curry sauce and creamy burdock.
Paired with Huchu Homare Brewery Wataribune "Ferry Boat" 55 Junmai Ginjo.

Lime Curd
Passion fruit, lime & ginger ice cream. Light and fruity.
Paired with SakeOne Brewery Momokawa Organic Nigori

Bittersweet Chocolate
Guava, macadamia nut, & kumquat. Who doesn't like a little chocolate at the end of the meal?
Paired with Saiya Brewery Yuki No Bosha “Cabin in the Snow” Nigori Junmai Ginjo.

Parting Morsels
Raspberry lychee rose tart
Pear lemongrass chew
Beet pomegranate marshmallow
The last little taste before the dinner ends. And as you already bought your ticket online, you don't need to dip into your wallet. You just finish and leave.

I highly recommend tat you dine at the Tasting Counter and enjoy this compelling culinary experience. Chef Peter Ungár has created a fine restaurant and is worthy of your support.

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