In this week's Globe review, Devra First pokes fun at the word "chef-driven" but revisits two two-year-old restaurants, Asta and Puritan & Co., that do warrant usage of that term.
"Food writers love to throw around the term "chef-driven" when describing restaurants. It helps us differentiate from all those other restaurants driven by comedians, endocrinologists, and forest rangers — or worse yet, those without any designated driver at all, careening all over the road."
Asta's chef/co-owner Alex Crabb earned high praise from First last year; she called him the "chef of the year" in the Globe's restaurant awards. "I haven't changed my mind," she writes now, adding that the tasting menu-only restaurant "achieves something rare, serving memorable, satisfying tastes dish after dish." She describes a recent eight-course dinner and concludes that Asta "delivers serious food with a lightness of spirit."
Over at Puritan & Co., where chef/owner Will Gilson "takes tried-and-true local ingredients in unexpected directions," there's plenty to like, from the swordfish pastrami to the lamb belly ("glazed in Moxie for a wonderful sweetness.") Puritan's menu "treats vegetables with the respect they deserve," she writes, although that means there's "too much onion" this time of year. Despite some "awkward moments" in service, First still seems warm towards the restaurant.
Back in Asta's part of town, the new Chef Chang's on Back Bay gets reviewed by MC Slim JB in The Improper Bostonian. He seems excited to have found cuisine "far away from the greasy familiarities of American-Chinese fare" in a "food nerd's least favorite neighborhood." Skip the crab rangoon and dive into the authentic stuff:
"Chef Chang’s on Back Bay is doing something far more interesting, taking on a dozen regional Chinese cuisines—including several little-seen ones with fascinating flavors—and justifying its higher-than-average prices with fine technique."
Some of his recommended dishes include the Shaanxi Chinese hamburger, Bashu flavored chicken, and sweet and sour Mandarin whole fish with handmade dragon whiskers noodles.