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Banyan Bar + Refuge, Middle Gray Cafe: Reviewed

Plus, a look at Hojoko's cocktail options. Here's what the critics are saying these days.

Banyan Bar + Refuge
Banyan Bar + Refuge
Katie Chudy for Eater

Banyan Bar + Refuge, an Asian fusion project from the Gallows and Blackbird Doughnuts team, opened in July following much anticipation. MC Slim JB of the Improper Bostonian called the interior breathtaking and the menu ambitious. Under the auspices of chef Philip Tang, chef/owner of Inman Square's former Asian restaurant East by Northeast, the kitchen at Banyan turns out "frequently sensational" dishes.

Banyan opened in the South End, close to Toro, so having grilled corn on the menu might have been a risk. But, according to Slim, it is reinvented at Banyan, where it's served with espelette, whipped coconut instead of aioli, and toasted coconut in place of cotija. A take on Japanese octopus fritters, takoyaki, "is superb," served with drizzles of aioli and dusted with bonito.

Slim praised Tang's lobster roll, with special emphasis on the bread itself: "a chewy, English-muffin-like bun with lots of warm lobster dressed with honey miso butter." As for the entrees, the whole fried fish demonstrates "flawless cooking," while the cream puffs for desert offer "a sweet parting nod to East/West fusion."

An artist-friendly workspace called The Middle Gray Café, which opened in Brookline Village in August, offers an inviting work and visiting space for all manner of folk, according to the Boston Globe's Catherine Smart. Owner Catalina Piedrahita said the café is ideal for showing off art and also serves as a performance space and gallery.

Piedrahita runs the restaurant with her husband, Alvaro Morales, and her mother, Adriana Garces, who cooks Colombian cuisine for patrons. Smart says the café shines in the morning, with rich lattes and "immensely satisfying" egg and chorizo sandwiches, with a taste of Colombian bread pudding.

The Middle Gray offers dinner Thursday through Saturday. Smart suggested that some items fell flat, noting a "chewy" eggplant escabeche and "lukewarm" couscous and beef meatballs. "Many of the dishes we sample have potential but suffer in execution," she said.

Smart praised the arepas with shredded-beef filling as "comfort food at its best" but said the menu items overall would improve "if they were heated."

Heading over to Fenway, the Globe's Raul Zelaya tasted cocktails at the Japanese-inspired Hojoko, a restaurant from O Ya creators Tim and Nancy Cushman. The contemporary cocktails have an Asian twist to go along with the "quirky Japanese design aesthetic" of the restaurant, following a menu bar manager Joe Cammarata calls "fun, weird, easy."

On the menu: shooters, frozen slushies, and tipples, in addition to sake, beer, and wine. Zelaya called the Kyoto cocktail "smoothness mixed with spice and smoke." Made from rye whiskey, Fernet Branca, amaro, and a Japanese, pepper-like spice called sansho, the drink "offers intricate aromas and tangy flavors," Zelaya said.

Hojoko

1271 Boylston Street, , MA 02215 (617) 670-0507 Visit Website

The Middle Gray

6 Station St, Brookline, MA 02445 (617) 608-3480 Visit Website

Banyan Bar & Refuge

492 Tremont St, Boston, MA 02116 (617) 556-4211

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