TOP NOTCH: “Vertical” food is still alive and well, as evidenced by the delicious chicken marsala.
Bina Osteria may be the last luxury restaurant to open in Boston for a long time — or at least the last that isn't situated in a boutique hotel. This period coming up just doesn't look like a hyper-chef, super-luxe, food-as-bling kind of epoch. But before we say goodbye to the destination restaurant, we should lift our glasses once more to toast the pleasures of avant-dining, and Bina Osteria might just be the perfect place to do so. (If my grandchildren find this review hard to believe, so be it.)
|Bina Osteria | 617.956.0888 | 581 Washington St (North Tower Ritz Carlton Residences), Boston | Open Sun, 11 am–2:30 pm and 5–10 pm; Mon–Wed, 11:30 am–2:30 pm and 5–10 pm; Thurs–Fri, 11:30 am–2:30 pm and 5–10:30 pm; and Sat, 11 am–2:30 pm and 5–10 pm | AE, MC, VI | full bar | Discounted validated parking in Ritz Millennium garage | Street level access|
This new upscale restaurant, located in the North Tower of the Ritz Carlton residences, is, after all, an ode to opulence, and is full of surprises. Take the butter, which is blue with some blended-in herb, tiny piles of sea salt, and sprigs of rosemary and thyme — all to put on wonderful crusty bread with big holes. Will such over-the-top indulgences exist in the future? Sometimes I worry that we won't even have sliced bread.
Platters here bear a similar upscale mark: it's as if three different chefs go to work just to make the appetizer "3 from the Sea" ($13). One bit is a Chinese soup spoon full of chopped raw tuna with radishes; another, an oyster in a marvelous orange sauce; and a cute little cup of chowder, intense as bisque and filled with periwinkles. I liked the last best, as it really captured the flavor of sea snails.
How about an "Autumn Salad," for $12? (Just imagine! If we continue down this financial course, that's as much money as I might someday make in a week, bailing water out of the Big Dig for the WPA.) It's a clever display, with Jerusalem artichokes made into a kind of potato salad, crumbs of toasted hazelnuts, and greens of small corn salad served even in the dead of winter. A "Piccolo Insalata" — that means "little salad" in Italian — is "only" nine dollars. It comes with arugula and other greens, plus thin slices of turnip stained to look like sliced tongue, and is served with a wonderful dressing. "Bresaola" ($11) — dried beef spiced like salami with more arugula and some powdered parmesan cheese — makes a fine bar snack.
Bina Osteria follows the Italian tradition of serving four-course meals, with little dishes of pasta in between. So if you're among those who are still able to afford it — and there will be even fewer of you soon — don't miss out. These are small plates that won't fill you up, but they really are delicious. I loved the "Cappelli" ($17 small/$25 dinner size): little dumplings of ricotta with just the right amount of salt, in a sauce with thin sliced beets and greens. Potato gnocchi ($17/$29) is light and melts in your mouth, with little morsels of seafood and lemon. And "Spaghetti alla Carbonara" ($15/$27) brings just a little bowl of square, crunchy spaghetti with a wisp of egg sauce and a heap of bacon-flavored foam. (The foams at this restaurant are egg-white based, and I don't think they carry the flavors as well as the milk-protein foams elsewhere, but foam is soon to be a historical footnote, I fear.) The risotto ($15/$25) is creamy with fully cooked rice. The crunchy bits are fried sweetbreads — the lightest possible meat.
Back when the US was wallowing in its wealth, restaurants would make towers of vertical food to amuse diners. That trend seems to have faded a bit, but it's still alive here, so the chicken marsala ($29), for instance, is topped with a postcard-like piece of refried chicken skin. The breast of chicken is stuffed with mushrooms, and the sweet wine sauce is arranged in spirals on the plate. "Crispy Suckling Pig Confit" ($33) — if this is making you too hungry, have some more gruel, my grandchildren — brings pulled pork that's been pressed together in the shape of a brownie and crisped on top. A side of turnips is cut into crescents that look like Peking ravioli, while apple sauce is smeared on the plate like a modern painting.
Even a sirloin steak ($33) has been cut into odd-shaped pieces to make it seem new and different, and is served with a cast-iron pot of cheese grits with nutmeg. The greens are sweet and sour with raisins. Slow-poached Atlantic blue cod ($26) features an orange romesco sauce of red bell peppers, olives, and little potatoes.