date published: January 29, 2007

Our annual roundup of the latest taste trends on the Boston dining scene
by Josh B. Wardrop and Christine Celli

For decades, the Beacon Hill neighborhood spot “where everybody knows your name” has referred to the Bull and Finch Pub, the inspiration for the bar in the beloved sitcom “Cheers.” But in late summer of 2006, Azita and Babak Bina, the owners of another fixture in this suave and cozy neighborhood—venerable Persian eatery Lala Rokh—made their bid to create a new casual, yet refined, spot where locals could enjoy small bites and fantastic wine. Modeled on similar-type establishments in Italy, Bin 26 Enoteca (26 Charles St., 617-723-5939) has caught on as the kind of comfy spot where friends gather after work to share a cheese plate or charcuterie, or couples visit in search of a romantic, creative dinner, with the unifying factor being Bin 26’s expansive, amazing wine list—dozens of pages long, it reads like a well-researched college term paper, beginning, as it should, with wine staples from our younger years such as Boones Farm and Thunderbird and culminating in rare vintages we all hope to one day afford.

CHEF: Guy Martin
Generally, it’s something of a crapshoot to get too excited about a chef before he’s even cooked his first meal in Boston. After all, with taste being so subjective, a chef can come with a breathlessly expansive bio but the proof of his or her abilities is, literally, in the pudding.

Still, when word got out that the currently under-construction Regent Boston Hotel would, upon opening in the fourth quarter of 2007, become home to the first North American restaurant from French chef Guy Martin, it was obviously time to sit up and take notice. Martin is one of only nine 3-star Michelin chefs in his native Paris (and the first chef with that designation ever to open a restaurant in Boston), and has racked up a long list of awards and commendations from some of the world’s most prestigious culinary institutions and publications.

What will Martin’s as-yet-unnamed restaurant be like? So far, nobody knows but the master chef himself, and he’s keeping details vague for the time being.

BUZZ-KILL: The Proposed Trans-fat Ban
Okay, time out for a mini-rant. If Starbucks wants to stop using trans-fats (the latest demon of choice for the food-o-phobes out there that are determined to wage war on everything and anything that people derive pleasure from eating) that’s a corporation making a decision about the products they sell. But when a segment of diet-Nazis look to make it illegal to use trans-fats in the products that people buy everyday, it’s time to draw the line. Very simply, people should be able to choose what they want to eat. To put it another way: if cigarettes are legal to buy in this state, donuts should be too.

SPOTS FOR PARENTS’ WEEKEND: Zocalo, SoulFire and The Deep Ellum
The chances aren’t great that mom and dad will get a kick out of eating at the same bar their college-aged kid was thrown out of the previous night. Such is the typical plight of Boston University and Boston College students living in the Allston-Brighton neighborhood in years past—too many pubs, and not enough fine dining for the ’rents. Luckily, the last year has seen some newer, more diverse eateries springing up in A-B—such as upscale, authentic Mexican restaurant Zocalo (1414 Commonwealth Ave., Brighton, 617-277-5700), the delicious down-home barbecue of SoulFire (182 Harvard Ave., Allston, 617-787-3003) and the distinctive craft beer and cocktail restaurant The Deep Ellum (477 Cambridge St., Allston, 617-787-BEER).

Boston hockey legend Ray Bourque never won a Stanley Cup with the Bruins, but now, just down the road from where he used to ply his trade for the Bs, Bourque’s latest endeavor is going gangbusters. Bourque is one of the owners of Tresca (233 Hanover St., 617-742-8240), the hottest new addition to an already phenomenal neighborhood for restaurants—the North End. Like most of its neighbors, Tresca offers Italian cuisine, but largely eschews “red sauce” pasta dishes for a more Tuscan, wood-grilled meat vibe, featuring everything from pork and veal chops to ostrich, which has helped this new arrival score plenty of raves.

NEIGHBORHOOD: Fort Point/ Waterfront District
The first new art museum in 100 years—the new Institute for Contemporary Art—was built here. New hotels to house the folks attending events at the new convention center down here are popping up daily. Heck, Mayor Menino even wants to move City Hall here. It’s official—the Fort Point/South Boston Waterfront District is Boston’s fastest-growing new neighborhood, and now that all these people are filling the area, someone’s got to feed them. That’s the thinking that’s led baker Joanne Chang to open a new location of her popular Flour Bakery & Café (12 Farnsworth St., 617-464-2500), that caused restaurant titans Legal Sea Food to debut their new restaurant concept LTK (225 Northern Ave., 617-330-7430) and which is leading acclaimed chef Barbara Lynch to open her next restaurant venture on Congress Street sometime in 2007. Add to this list the ICA’s Water Café (featuring food by Wolfgang Puck Catering), hotel restaurants like Sauciety (425 Summer St., 617-532-4670), where diners can accent their food with any of more than a dozen specialty sauces, and Miel (510 Atlantic Ave., 617-747-1000), a French-style brasserie that scores points for being the only place in Boston one’s likely to find a post-midnight raw bar, and it’s clear that by the sea is the place to be for restaurants.

FACELIFTS: Rendang, Rialto and Cask ’n Flagon
Change, they say, is good—especially in the restaurant game, where you need to keep with the times or get left behind. That’s no doubt why so many established area eateries found themselves expanding, changing menus and adding new dimensions to their culinary experience. Acclaimed chef Jody Adams’ Italian eatery Rialto (One Bennett St., Cambridge, 617-661-5050) is set to re-open February 8, after being closed for more than a month, with a new menu and new décor. The venerable Red Sox hangout the Cask ’n Flagon (62 Brookline Ave., 617-536-4840) updated its look from neighborhood sports bar to family-friendly pre-game restaurant, while adding a nightclub, Oliver’s, in the rear for post-game fun. And Rendang (57 JFK St., Cambridge, 617-576-2804), a popular Malaysian eatery in Harvard Square has undergone the biggest changes—changing its name from Penang, acquiring a new beer and wine license, and planning additions such as new menu items, a specially-designed range of “wine cocktails” by mixologist Clif Travers of OM Restaurant fame and a new café section that will allow people to drop in throughout the day for coffee, to chat with friends and have “an alternative to Starbucks,” in the words of co-owner Bik Yonjan.

NEW VENUE: The Beehive
That buzz you’re hearing on the streets of Boston isn’t a swarm of killer bees—rather, it’s the excitement generating about the arrival of a new killer establishment. After much delay, February is expected to see the arrival of The Beehive—a 300-seat restaurant, bar and music venue opening in the Boston Center for the Arts complex in the South End. Culture vultures throughout the city are envisioning an eclectic bistro/supper club/artsy-fartsy hangout unlike anyplace in Boston, complete with a 2 a.m. license (something of a rarity in Boston). Boston being Boston—and renovating a building from the 1800s being the task it is—there’s still a chance we’ll be waiting longer for The Beehive, but nightflys seem to agree that when it gets here, it’s going to be the bee’s knees.

PRE-THEATERE DINING: Rustic Kitchen and Avila
Nothing throws actors off worse than being interrupted by the rumbling stomach of an audience member who didn’t eat before the show. There’s no reason to be that guy—especially when the Theatre District added a couple of top new dining options in recent months. Avila (One Charles St. South, 617-267-4810) boasts Mediterranean-influenced fare from nations like Portugal, Spain, Italy, Greece and France, with a special emphasis on tapas-like small plates perfect for sharing and for avoiding the kind of gorging that will have you dozing off by Act II. Additionally, the Italian eatery Rustic Kitchen (210 Stuart St., 617-423-5700) closed two of its locations in 2006, in order to open a new massive Park Square restaurant that features a garden lounge, a private wine cellar lounge, and 200-seat bistro and bar—meaning you should never have problems getting a table in time to feast on fantastic pizza, pastas, seafood and more.

BAR FOOD: Vintage Lounge, Alchemist Lounge and The Lower Depths
Once upon a time, bar food meant pretzels, beer nuts and those pickled eggs in a jar that look like they’ve been there since the Truman administration. Today, with the line between upscale restaurants and cool lounge/bars continuing to blur, a night out centered around a few drinks can easily turn into a delicious culinary experience. Recent standout additions to the scene here in the Hub are Vintage Lounge (72 Broad St., 617-482-1900), a Financial District hotspot that marries tapas, Mediterranean and Moroccan-infleunced dishes with an extensive cocktail menu; Alchemist Lounge (435 S. Huntington Ave., Jamaica Plain, 617-477-5741), an upscale pub boasting a menu of American comfort foods with a twist and a variety of flatbreads covered in everything from BBQ pork and cheddar to roasted chicken, gravy and cranberry relish; and The Lower Depths (476 Commonwealth Ave., 617-266-6662), a new beer bar and Kenmore Square hangout boasting local brews on tap and Fenway Franks for just $1 each.

New Spot on Newbury Street: Bouchée
With the arrival of urban brasserie Bouchée (159 Newbury Street, 617-450-4343), Newbury Street feels only an Eiffel Tower shy of true Parisian flair. Providing everything one would expect from a top brasserie, including an extensive wine list, raw bar, outdoor seating and impressive, bow-tie clad wait staff, Bouchée is perfect for either a mid-day croque monsieur or long, sinfully rich meal of chef Tim Partridge’s divine cuisine.

Seafood Trend: Upscale Sushi
The exquisite sushi at Oishii (1166 Washington St., 617-482-8868) was once available only to those who braved scoring a seat at its tiny Chestnut Hill locale. Fortunately for the Hub’s growing mass of sushi obsessives, the top-ranked Zagat eatery opened a significantly larger South End restaurant in 2006, offering everyone the chance to sample its perfectly prepared fish. Better yet, last year saw Douzo (131 Dartmouth St., 617-859-8885) debut in the Back Bay, another high-end Japanese eatery knocking diners socks off. Could it be the Bay State is finally emerging from a haze of battered and fried cod?

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