date published: February 25, 2008

Our annual look at recent restaurant trends and the Hub’s newest culinary hotspots
by Josh B. Wardrop

Turning Japanese
While Boston sports fans spent 2007 deliriously excited about the Red Sox’s new Japanese imports—pitchers Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Okajima—foodies also got their share of Pacific Rim delights as a growing number of new and delicious Japanese eateries took up residence in the Hub. From the arrival of the first two U.S. installations of popular international noodle bar chain Wagamama (Quincy Market Building at Faneuil Hall Marketplace, 617-742-9242; 57 JFK St., Cambridge, 617-499-0930), to stylish sit-down restaurants like Haru (55 Huntington Ave., 617-536-0770), O Ya (9 East St., 617-654-9900) and Gari (187 Harvard St., Brookline, 617-277-2999) to the highly unique Japanese-Mexican fusion of Sushi-Teq (510 Atlantic Ave., 617-227-5150), it seems Bostonians can’t get enough of Far East flavors.

A Real Cowtown
Restaurant and food trends may come and go, but it seems the primal allure of a juicy hunk of red meat is forever. Industry insiders might have thought Boston was at the saturation point for steakhouses two years ago, but that hasn’t stopped diners from being presented with ever-increasing new answers to the age-old question “Where’s the beef?” Newest names on the still-sizzling steak scene include Ken Oringer’s high-end KO Prime (90 Tremont St., 617-772-0202), Jamie Mammano’s whimsically monikered Mooo (15 Beacon St., 617-670-2515), Pino Maffeo’s Boston Public (234 Berkeley St., 617-266-4680) and a second Boston outpost for Morton’s The Steakhouse (Two Seaport Lane, 617-526-0410).

It’s Good to be Kingston
For Financial District drones, it’s a place to grab cocktails and a bite with co-workers after the whistle blows. For theater lovers, it’s a cozy spot to nosh before or after checking out a show at the nearby Opera House. In essence, Kingston Station (25 Kingston St., 617-482-6282) has been all things to all diners since opening last fall, succeeding at pleasing customers with a satisfying menu of brasserie-influenced dishes without pigeonholing itself as a French restaurant. The white-tiled archway that connects dining room with bar area calls to mind architecture befitting a train station, but the relaxing atmosphere makes for none of the hustle and bustle of one. Creative cocktails that recall classic libations while adding a contemporary twist complement comfort food like pork ribs and baked beans as well as upscale takes on tuna nicoise salad and steak frites—all of which makes this Station a pleasant place to find oneself waylaid between ports of call.

The More, The Merrier
Was Colonel Sanders satisfied with just one restaurant? Or Dave Thomas? Or even the Burger King? Heck, no, and neither are a growing number of Boston’s top chefs/restaurateurs who have made it their business to branch out over the last 12 months. Besides the aforementioned KO Prime, Ken Oringer also went south of the border in 2007 with the laid-back taqueria La Verdad (1 Lansdowne St., 617-421-9595), while Michael Schlow of Radius, Great Bay and Via Matta fame struck out for the suburbs with his newest endeavor, the Italian-themed Alta Strada (92 Central St., Wellesley, 781-237-6100). Schlow’s frequent business partner Christopher Myers, meanwhile, embarked on a labor of love with his sweetheart—pastry queen Joanne Chang, owner of Boston’s two Flour bakeries—to open the South End Asian eatery Myers + Chang (1145 Washington St., 617-542-5200). And with Chef Barbara Lynch (No. 9 Park, The Butcher Shop, B & G Oysters) set to open a new restaurant in the Fort Point Channel area within the next several months, this is one multi-tasking trend that shows no sign of stopping anytime soon.

Gifted Gourmands
Before a neighborhood can become home to a bonafide dining scene, there always has to be one pioneer that gets things started. In Boston’s Mission Hill neighborhood—wedged between Roxbury, Jamaica Plain and the Fenway area near the Museum of Fine Arts—that restaurant might just turn out to be The Savant Project (1625 Tremont St., 617-566-5958), an eatery boasting Latin- and Asian-inspired cuisine, a drink menu packed with unique cocktails made from cordials and aperitifs (the lack of a full liquor license seemingly not regarded an obstacle, but rather a source of inspiration) and an artsy vibe that includes graffiti-muralled walls, exhibits by local artists and regular shows by live musicians and DJs. When more eateries start pouring in and hipsters are falling all over themselves for reservations, just remember the deep thinkers at Savant that got the ball rolling.

Twice as Nice
Bostonians are used to Dunkin’ Donuts multiplying like rabbits every time they turn around, but recently, some more substantial eateries have been reproducing around our fair city. As mentioned above, steak lovers got a second Morton’s location to enjoy, while lovers of upscale Chinese food saw a second P.F. Chang’s (refer to restaurant listing) open in the Shops at Prudential Center. Z Square, the Harvard Square restaurant specializing in comfort food with international accents, opened a second location on the campus of Boston University (580 Commonwealth Ave., 617-425-0101). And one local chain continued its march toward total domination of the Massachusetts pizza market, as Beacon Hill pizzeria The Upper Crust spread into the suburbs of Waltham, Watertown and Hingham, bringing their total to eight locations, with no end in sight.

A Dinner that STIX to Your Ribs
The concept sounds like something that Kramer might have come up with on an episode of “Seinfeld”—“a restaurant that serves all its food on sticks, Jerry!” But the culinary minds behind STIX (35 Stanhope St., 617-456-7849) were smart enough to know that a gimmick done right becomes more than a gimmick—it becomes a unique dining experience. At this fresh, funky and futuristic eatery, the bulk of the menu is, as advertised, comprised of different foods (chicken, steak, scallops, veggies, lamb—even foie gras) served on skewers. But these skewers are specially designed, flavor-infused sticks that imbue the food with exotic tastes ranging from citrus rosemary to ginger mango to Thai coconut lime. Space-age technology used to tickle the taste buds? Giddyup!

South End Still Sublime
While residents of the South End might have reason to bemoan the neighborhood’s increasing move away from its artsy-boho identity of the last few decades, one thing that hasn’t changed is the borough’s status as a flashpoint for hot new restaurants. Two of the city’s most popular new eateries in 2007—and into 2008—are located smack in the middle of the South End: The Beehive (refer to nightclub listing) and Gaslight Brasserie du Coin (560 Harrison Ave., 617-422-0224). Many of the throngs of revelers that swarm to red-hot nightspot The Beehive are there for the cool cocktails, nightly live jazz and Bohemian chic vibe, but the diverse food menu—including paella, Moroccan stew and almond crusted veal schnitzel—has won over Boston foodies in droves. And Gaslight expertly recreates the traditional Parisian brasserie, serving classic dishes like the croque monsieur, steak tartare, onion soup gratinee and escargots so good they’d make a Frenchman weak in the knees. With more new openings set for 2008—including Banq Restaurant and Bar, another French-inspired eatery (with elements of Indian spice) taking up residence in a former bank building—expect the South End to retain its lofty perch as Boston’s dining mecca for the foreseeable future.

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