Cover Story

The year in taste

From a solitary oyster to a one-of-a-kind burger, these dishes stood out

By Devra First
Globe Staff / December 29, 2010

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In 2010, poutine and Scotch eggs colonized Boston menus. Hamburgers went high-end, and hot dogs went off the deep end, topped with kimchi or wrapped in bacon and deep-fried. Chefs Jasper White and Lydia Shire reunited to open Towne, and Barbara Lynch aimed haute with Menton. Good food was just as likely to be found at arrivals like the midpriced Bergamot, the Brookline outpost of Sichuan Gourmet, or on wheels — this was the year the city got behind food trucks. From upscale restaurants to simple sandwich spots, there were dishes that stood out — for the thought that went into composing them, for the perfect combinations of flavor and texture, for the single-syllable appreciation that first bite elicited. Wow. Yum. Unprintable. Here are some of the most memorable.

5 Corners Kitchen opened in May, chef-owner Barry Edelman’s first restaurant. He serves French-slanted food with bold flavors, including one of the year’s best versions of steak frites. But it was his house-made sausage that made me sit up straight. Smoky, garlicky, it had a crisp skin that burst open, flooding the mouth with richness. It was paired with lentils and a generous dollop of whole-grain mustard — simply the perfect thing to eat on a chilly winter night with a big glass of red wine. 2 School St., Marblehead. 781-631-5550.

Half sushi bar, half French restaurant, Aka Bistro offers innovative raw fish platters and traditional steak frites under the same roof. At the sashimi bar, chef Chris Chung pairs hamachi with ginger vinaigrette, rhubarb, and sea grape, or kinmedai with ponzu, goji berries, and shiso. One night a meal began with a single Kumamoto oyster, perched on ice in a black ceramic bowl. It looked beautiful. Topped with sea urchin and roe, touched with ponzu and candied yuzu kosho (a condiment made from the Japanese citrus yuzu, chilies, and salt), it tasted beautiful too. I wanted that bite to last all night. 145 Lincoln Road, Lincoln. 781-259-9920.

Back Bay Social Club’s burger got plenty of attention, much of it for the sandwich’s price tag: $21. For a burger? Well, yes. Because this 10-ounce patty is made from a blend of dry-aged prime rib, short rib, flank, and skirt that is so full of steak-y flavor, so juicy after searing on the griddle, you won’t feel cheated. It does not hurt, either, that it’s topped with Vermont cheddar and caramelized onions cooked down for hours into a sweet, intense jam. 867 Boylston St., Boston. 617-247-3200.

Bergamot was one of the best new restaurants of the year, and it offered plenty of dishes to love. There were plantain gnocchi, the on-the-plate equivalent of Columbus coming to the New World. There were sardines with peas, potatoes, and egg yolk, the fish so fresh, so mild, so hard to come by that chef Keith Pooler eventually had to substitute mackerel. (Sniff!) There was the lobster melt at the bar, gooey and buttery. But the dish I want to eat again and again is the pea green salad. The tendrils are interwoven with fresh peas, Berkshire ham, and Pecorino, dressed in truffle vinaigrette. Then they’re topped with a fried egg coated in crisp panko. There’s crunch and salt and fat to coat the tongue, set off by the light, springlike greens. 118 Beacon St., Somerville. 617-576-7700.

There’s no lack of good roast beef sandwiches in these parts, but when Cutty’s started serving its paper-thin slices of tender, pink meat on buttery brioche, a hush fell across the land. It was an uber-roast beef sandwich, the meat tangling with Thousand Island dressing, sharp cheddar, and crispy fried shallots. OK, so it shares a similar flavor profile to the Back Bay Social Club burger. I know what I like. Pretty much everything at Cutty’s. But especially that roast beef sandwich. (And while we’re on the subject of sandwiches, Coppa’s Italian grinder is right up there.) 284 Washington St., Brookline. 617-505-1844.

I had it once with sherry-mustard sauce, turnips, spinach, lentils, wild mushrooms, and poached peaches. I had it again with Persian spices, turnips, arugula, lentils, and foie gras-stuffed prunes soaked in Port. I’d be hard-pressed to say which I preferred, but either way, Deuxave’s duck is a lovely dish. More than that, it’s well rounded, in a way highfalutin restaurant dishes don’t always tend to be — you get vegetables with your protein, and flavors that run up and down the scale, from comforting and earthy to bright and tart. 371 Commonwealth Ave., Boston. 617-517-5915.

Of all the food in all the world, I have perhaps the deepest, most abiding love for noodles in soup. This year I got to eat Phillip Tang’s thick-cut noodles at East by Northeast. They unfurl from your chopsticks like heavy ribbon, as chewy as gum when you first bite in. Tang fixes them a few ways, but my favorite is floating in a spicy beef broth with beef shank and root vegetables, topped by a runny poached egg. Simple satisfaction. 1128 Cambridge St., Cambridge. 617-876-0286.

Sorrel is an ingredient you don’t see often enough. I love its refreshing sour note in soups. But I’d never seen it in dessert until I had EVOO’s sorrel sorbet with fennel sugar cookies. The bright green scoops were herbal, slightly lemony, and very refreshing. The fennel-scented cookies grounded its lightness with a bit of butter. It was excellent, elegant, and fleeting. When I returned, it had been replaced with rhubarb sorbet: the perils of eating locally in swift-moving spring. 350 Third St., Cambridge. 617-661-3866.

The sushi bar Fish Market does a lot of things well. It serves sparkling seafood incredibly simply — such as Maine shrimp with their own roe, or live uni still in its spiked shell. It also manages to be creative without crossing the line into gimmickry. One dish, the avocado ball, is a perfect example of this. It’s a bright green sphere of overlapping avocado slices with a pink bayberry on top; it looks like it might hatch, and tiny baby dragons would cavort atop your table. But it’s filled with tuna, white tuna, and wasabi roe, mixed with lemony mayonnaise. Looking at it makes you smile, but it tastes seriously good. 170 Brighton Ave., Allston. 617-783-1268.

Not long ago, South End hangout the Gallows started serving brunch. Yes, it offers a breakfast version of its nighttime poutine. Even better are its huevos rancheros, scrambled eggs and black beans with salsa, sour cream, and carnitas. The succulent shredded pork is what makes the dish, the perfect cushion in your belly after perhaps just one too many the night before. 1395 Washington St., Boston. 617-425-0200.

Menton showcased many flashes of inspiration — rock crab salad with caviar, grapefruit, and almonds; pea veloute brimming with tiny vegetables and streaked with curry-tinged yogurt. Kataifi-wrapped langoustines were more like a complete thought, a particularly well-conceived package of tastes, textures, and sheer prettiness. Each crustacean was wrapped in shredded phyllo dough, its crunch evoking the sensation of biting into peel-and-eat shrimp. Slices of pink pickled rhubarb arched over the langoustines’ backs, green pea sauce pooled underneath, and a bright pea tendril accented the plate along with dots of pumpkin seed oil. It looked and tasted like spring. 354 Congress St., Boston. 617-737-0099.

In a different life, I would be one of those people who catches her own trout and cooks them over the campfire. I have a real fondness for these delicious fish. Fact is, I haven’t picked up a rod since I was a kid, and I’m happy when someone else prepares them for me. At Parsons Table, chef Chris Parsons served trout with Maine potatoes, cipollini onions, and pancetta cubes. Its skin was crisp, its flesh juicy. Mustard sauce and chives fancied it up a bit, but it was still simple enough to eat by the campfire. 34 Church St., Winchester. 781-729-1040.

It seems silly to use the word “subtle’’ to describe a dish in which pepper is a main ingredient. But Sichuan Gourmet’s fish fillet and tofu with pepper was just that. Delicately flavored white fish mingled with delicately flavored, pillowy bean curd in a sauce suffused with black and red pepper. It was heady, with a pleasant burn. But compared with the bowls and plates bristling with whole chilies beside it on the table, it was a relatively tame tiger. 1004-1006 Beacon St., Brookline. 617-277-4226.

In a year when restaurants celebrated snacks, none did it quite so well as Think Tank, a groovy Cambridge spot that re-created the experience of hanging out in a basement rec room, but with a much better liquor selection. Chef Collin Davis dreamed up craveable bites such as fried pickles, sriracha wings, and ribs, then piled several different kinds into one bento box. It was after-work-with-a-beer nirvana. 1 Kendall Square, Building 300 (lower level), Cambridge. 617-500-3031.

Dishes at Journeyman often juxtapose unexpected tastes and textures. Especially successful was one that combined roasted squash and clams, along with butternut panna cotta, seaweed, crisp sea beans, and bright orange roe. Every bite was a surprise. Will I ever get to have it again? Probably not, as it appeared on one of Journeyman’s ever-rotating tasting menus. But I will remember the “huh, whodathunkit’’ pleasure it offered, however ephemeral. 9 Sanborn Court, Somerville. 617-718-2333.

Most of the time, I think angel food cake is about the most boring dessert in the world. Not when it comes with a sticky-sweet halo of maple cotton candy, as it did at Towne Stove and Spirits. The cake tasted like brown sugar, rather than airy egg whites, and caramel ice cream rounded out the warm flavors. The dessert made an impression. When you saw a server carrying it past your table, you immediately said, “I’m having one of those.’’ 900 Boylston St., Boston. 617-247-0400.

Devra First can be reached at


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