Monday, December 17, 2012

2012: Favorite Restaurants

What were some of my favorite restaurants of the past year?

I have already posted several of my drink-related Favorites' lists and and now I want to concentrate on my Favorite Restaurants of the past year. This is certainly not a complete list but it is more a sampling of memorable matters I have experienced and/or posted about over the past year. You will even find Favorites from outside Massachusetts as I traveled some this past year.

There is also a section later in this post called Consistent Favorites, and it includes a list of a number of restaurants which have been my favorites for subsequent years. Restaurants which are consistently good certainly deserve recognition, and I have tried to note some of those places to which I return again and again. I hope you enjoy all of my recommendations.

Favorite High-End Restaurant: Superb cuisine, an amazing wine list and impeccable service combine to make L'Espalier a Boston treasure. I have dined there before, and always been impressed, and this past year I attended an amazing Barons de Rothschild Champagne lunch and Cheese Tuesday. The restaurant can transform even the simplest of dishes, such as roast chicken, into a wonder. It is well worth the splurge.

Favorite Restaurant Comeback: My last visit to Avila Modern Mediterranean had been a few years ago and my dinner was disappointing. A few others who I spoke to at that time had also reported less than pleasant experiences. However this year, I recently attended a Glenmorangie Scotch dinner at Avila and was surprised at the high quality and creativity of the food. It was an amazing meal with such compelling items like goat cheese croquettes, creamy corn soup, chicken liver ravioli, and braised Waygu beef cheeks. It seems Avila has greatly improved and I will definitely return.

Unfortunate Tragedy to a Favorite RestaurantPrezza, in the North End, has been one of my favorite high-end Italian spot but this past July the restaurant suffered a kitchen fire. For the last six months, they have been closed as they have conducted extensive repairs and remodeling. This has been a great loss to the community but fortunately it appears the restaurant is set to reopen any day now. When they reopen, please dine there and give them your support. Their food is exceptional and I am sure you will enjoy whatever you order. Good luck to Chef/Owner Anthony Caturano and all his staff.

Favorite Local Food Dinner Series: Numerous Boston area restaurants are emphasizing local ingredients but special kudos must go out to Post 390 for their monthly Farm to Post dinner series. Each month they emphasize a different local purveyor, from farmers to fishermen, and not only use their products but also bring in the purveyors to talk to diners. That helps diners better understand the sources of their food and it also helps immensely that the food is creative and delicious. Check out their Farm to Post dinners.

Favorite North End Restaurant, Old SchoolLucia Ristorante, with a second location in Winchester, opened in the North End back in 1977 and recently celebrated its 35th anniversary. It is very much old school yet the food is actually quite tasty. Their chef's skill was quite evident at a fantastic polenta dinner and their anniversary celebration also emphasized their culinary skills. You may not consider Lucia when selecting a North End restaurant, but you should give it some consideration. Their Winchester location also carries excellent pizzas.

Favorite Italian Restaurant Outside the North End: For some of the most creative Italian fare in Boston, you can't go wrong with Erbaluce, Chef Chuck Draghi continues to impress with his unique take on many traditional Italian dishes and the restaurant also has a compelling Italian wine list. How many other restaurants in Boston make fried sunflower heads? His dishes, generally prepared without butters and creams, are often lighter yet still full of flavor. Dine there and check out their ever changing menu or attend one of their compelling events.

Favorite Spanish Restaurant: Chef Deborah Hansen of Taberna de Haro in Brookline continues to invest great passion into her Spanish cuisine. The restaurant has recently expanded in size, nearly doubling, and have added a bar. They are also adding more Spanish wines to their already expansive wine list, including more Sherries. One of their newest culinary events is Roasted Sucking Pig Tuesdays, which I haven't yet attended but plan to do so soon.    

Favorite Mexican Restaurant: Chef Joe Cassinelli of Pizzeria Posto, one of my favorite Italian spots, opened a second restaurant, The Painted Burro, which offers Mexican cuisine. The food I tasted during my two dinners and brunch there have all impressed, including the Yucatan Meatloaf. I am usually not a meatloaf fan but this opened my eyes to the potential and I cannot recommend it enough. The Burro also has an extensive list of tequilas and mezcals, with plenty of tasty cocktails. A great addition to the local area.

Favorite Suburban Restaurant, Italian: Italian restaurants are ubiquitous in the suburbs, but too many of them are simply average. However, the new A Tavola in Winchester, the second restaurant of Chef Vittorio Ettore (who also owns Bistro 5 in Medford) rises above the masses. Lots of Piattini, small plates, make a great way to start your dinner from their homemade charcuterie to seafood dishes. Then you can move onto their killer pasta, their exceptional risotto, smoky Porchetta and more. It is an intimate restaurant, showcasing the culinary genius of Chef Ettore, and can compete with any Boston restaurant.

Favorite BYOB Restaurant: In the suburbs, you can find a number of BYOB restaurants and one of them is my usual go to spot when I want to bring my own wine or Sake. Kyotoya, in Stoneham, is an inexpensive Japanese restaurant with delicious food, such as superb tempura, and they do not charge a corkage fee. I have dined there numerous times, usually bringing wine or Sake, and those I have introduced to the place have all very much enjoyed it.

Favorite New Hampshire Restaurant: Moxy, situated in Portsmouth, would shine wherever it was located. Chef Matt Louis, with an impressive culinary resume, has created a superb restaurant which emphasizes Spanish inspired tapas, using local ingredients and a New England flair. The food is excellent and the menu concept works well. They also have a good drinks program, from wine to cocktails and including numerous local beers. I would even stop there just for their desserts, such as mini-Whoopie pies. It gets my highest recommendation and I eagerly look forward to my next visit.

Favorite Connecticut Restaurant, Casual: At the Mohegan Sun Casino, there are plenty of restaurants but which one should you select? For amazing fried chicken, in a casual atmosphere, check out Big Bubba's BBQThe restaurant serves BBQ and southern cuisine and the plates are quite large, stacked high with food. The Finger Lickin Fried Chicken plate included two large chicken breasts and two wings, more than enough chicken to satisfy any craving. It was superb, perfectly cooked, with a nice crispy and well seasoned coating and very moist, tender white meat.

Favorite Connecticut Restaurant, High-End: If you are seeking something more elegant for dinner at the Mohegan Sun, then Bobby Flay's Bar Americain would be a good choice. It has a menu of American favorites, some with a southern flair, as well as plenty of fresh seafood. The food is delicious, well prepared, and worth the high prices. Enjoy their Buttermilk Fried Chicken or Duck with Dirty Wild Rice, Pecans, & Bourbon. I would also highly recommend ordering a side of Hot Potato Chips with Blue Cheese Sauce, a decadent delight with crisp chips and a creamy, tangy sauce.

Favorite Louisville Restaurant, Casual: Sometimes you stumble upon a restaurant and end up having a delicious meal. Seeking a quick lunch, I stopped at the Bluegrass Burgers in Louisville, Kentucky, knowing nothing about it beforehand. This burger joint prides itself in serving mostly local ingredients, from their meats to their produce. The Kentucky Grass Fed Bison Burger, topped by local Bleu-Gouda cheese, was an excellent burger, moist with plenty of tasty flavor and the cheese added an intriguing and compelling element. Their sweet potato fries were also addictive, with a bright sweet potato flavor and a crisp exterior. I wish we had a burger place like this in the Boston area.

Favorite Louisville Restaurant, Mid-Range: Another restaurant dedicated to local ingredients, Harvest has huge portraits of the farmers they use on their walls. The food, from the Buttermilk Fried Chicken to Crispy Pork Confit, is tasty and reasonably priced. And for dessert, their Bourbon Bread Pudding was amazing, one of the best bread puddings I have tasted. It has a casual ambiance, a good wine list and service was excellent. A great choice in Louisville, Kentucky.

Favorite Louisville Restaurant, High-End: After attending the Kentucky Derby, a group of us went to Corbett's for a special post-Derby prix-fixe menu. From a Smoked Salmon Parfait to a Creekstone Tenderloin, the food was exquisite, with killer wine pairings and superb service in an intimate dining area. The cuisine could compete with any high-end restaurant in Boston.

Favorite Nova Scotia Bakery: While visiting Dartmouth, my hotel was just around the corner from the Two If By Sea Cafe, where I had heard they made exceptional croissants. I found that was not an understatement. They are heavier than the usual croissant, containing far more layers, and probably weigh at least twice as much than the usual croissant. Yet they remain flaky and soft throughout the croissant, each bite a pure delight. Their prosciutto & cheese was my favorite, the prosciutto adding a salty flair to the croissant and some of the ham that stuck out the ends was satisfyingly crispy. This is one of the best croissants I have ever tasted, putting to shame so many meager ham & cheese croissants. Highly recommended.

Favorite Nova Scotia Restaurant: In Halifax, Chives Canadian Bistro offers a menu based on seasonal produce from local farmers, artisan cheese and meat producers, and sustainable seafood. The cuisine offers contemporary Canadian bistro dishes rooted in European culinary history. It is an intimate place, with cool decor, and the food and wine impressed. General Tao's Bacon, New Orleans Po' Boy Sandwich, Lobster Tagliatelle and more. The chef has won numerous awards and they are well deserved.

Favorite Carnivore Dinner: It is no secret that I love meat. When I traveled to Tuscany, I had a dinner that would have satiated even the most demanding carnivore. At the Officina della Bistecca, famed butcher Dario Cecchini offers an incredible prix fixe meal, which includes five courses of beef. All of the meat was superb, especially the beef tartare, which melted in my mouth. Cecchini uses high quality beef, simply prepared, and the flavor fills your mouth with joy. Seated at communal tables, dinner is more of an experience than simply a meal. My highest recommendation.

Favorite Dessert: At the Red Lantern in Boston, their Pineapple Bread Pudding, with coconut ice cream, was superb, a perfect blend of tropical flavors. The bread pudding had a nice firm, but soft, texture and it was bursting with fresh pineapple flavors. I really think an enterprising baker should open a bread pudding dessert shop, offering a variety of different bread puddings. Forget cup cakes, let us see more bread puddings.

Consistent Favorites

Favorite Brunch, Traditional Fare: For a third year, the winner is AKA Bistro in Lincoln.

Brunch, Traditional Fare-Honorable Mention: For a third year, my choice is Tupelo in Inman Square.

Favorite Brunch, Non-Traditional Fare: For the fourth year in a row, the winner is Myers & Chang in the South End.

Favorite Suburban Restaurant: For the third year in a row, the winner is AKA Bistro in Lincoln.

Favorite Japanese Restaurant: For a third year, the winner is Oishii in the South End.

Favorite Chinatown Restaurant:
For a third year, the winner is Gourmet Dumpling House.

Favorite Somerville Restaurant: Last year, Bergamot was my Overall Favorite Restaurant and it continues to be worthy of kudos. I haven't been there as much this past year but need to remedy that in the new year. My highest recommendation.

Favorite Underappreciated Restaurant: For the third year, the winner is T.W. Food in Cambridge.

Favorite Asian Buffet: For a fourth year, the winner is Taipei Tokyo Cafe in Woburn.

Favorite North End Restaurant, High End: For a third year, the winnner is Prezza.

Favorite North End Restaurant, Moderate: For a third year, the winner is Nebo.

Favorite North End Restaurant, Fusion: For a third year, the winner is Taranta.

Favorite Italian Restaurant, Somerville: For a third year, the winner is Pizzeria Posto.

Favorite Suburban Steak House: For a fourth year, the winner is Beacon Grille in Woburn. 
Favorite Fried Seafood: For a third year, the winner is the Clam Box in Ipswich.

What were some of your favorite restaurants this year?


Unknown said...

Hi there! This is a good read. I will be looking forward to visit your page again and for your other posts as well. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about boston dining deals. I am glad to stop by your site and know more about Boston dining deals. Keep it up!
Your passport to the best restaurants in Boston.

Kerrie Urban said...

Great picks! I loved seeing some surprises on here like Tarberna de Haro and Bar Americain, and you've definitely added some to my list of places to try! You should consider Tomasso in Southboro for suburban, suburban Italian, or local dinner series. It's my all time favorite restaurant :) I'm curious, have you tried Journeyman in Somerville? I've never been but have been hearing tons of great things lately and thought maybe it would be mentioned somewhere on your list.

Unknown said...

I am more than suprised that out of all the restaurants you selected I have only been to
Gourmet Dumpling House and have only heard of another two. Definitely looking forward to
trying many out!
Visited this blog for the wines, but staying for the food recommendations as well! Outstanding blog!

Unknown said...

This is really a useful article!! I will definitely use these ideas when I will visit a new restaurant; otherwise I always prefer Chicago restaurants because I love their menu, and taste is too good of their dishes.