As is Eater tradition, we close out the year by surveying local food writers (including our own staff and contributors) on various restaurant-related topics, and we publish their responses throughout the final week of the year. Readers, please feel free to chime in with your own thoughts in the comment section below.
Today’s first question: What was the biggest dining surprise of 2016?
MC Slim JB, restaurant critic for The Improper Bostonian:
“I suppose I could say it was the spectacle of once-timid friends gobbling down the octopus that appeared on countless menus this year, but really it was the continued stamina of Greater Boston’s restaurant expansion: so many big new openings that I now fret about the ability of the economy and labor pool to support. I was more hopeful than some of my peers in this roundup last December about the prospect of a bubble, but there are ominous portents of it now. (Crap: Emma’s Pizza, Spoke Wine Bar? Really? Eff you, 2016. Eff you to hell.)”
Marc Hurwitz of Boston's Hidden Restaurants and Boston Restaurant Talk:
“That the burger craze didn't completely collapse, though there are some signs that it may be slowing down a bit. Also, the fact that we've been in a restaurant bubble for five or six years now, and it seems that more restaurants continue to open than close each month.”
Alex Wilking, food and drink contributor for Boston magazine:
“While it might not fall under ‘dining,’ I was ecstatic about all the great breweries that opened this year. Lamplighter, Bone Up, Dorchester Brewing, Idle Hands v2, the list goes on. And they’re all good. I know people love to go on diatribes about the feared craft beer bubble, but I hope this innovative and stellar beer keeps up.”
Dan Whalen, food blogger and cookbook author:
“The Table at Season to Taste was an amazing and affordable ‘four-course meal’ that was actually closer to six courses. The atmosphere and pacing and flavors were nothing short of perfect.”
Rachel Cossar, food blogger and host of the new video series Curate the Plate:
“This is kind of a 'no surprise there' kind of surprise...Josh and Katrina's Juliet opened and soared in the eyes of diners all around. A very quick turnaround by normal restaurant terms, and I'm very impressed by their outreach, dining events, and thinking-outside-the-box mentality. This doesn't always pay off in Boston, but it has for them!”
Sam Hiersteiner, contributor to The Boston Globe, First We Feast, and Lucky Peach:
“The sheer number of high-quality openings in Boston this year is a surprise and deserves to be a national story. And I am surprised that Boston has become one of the top, if not the top, cities in the country to eat elevated Mediterranean food, broadly defined.”
Korsha Wilson, creator of A Hungry Society and food writer for various publications, including Eater Boston:
“It seemed like a lot of chefs just wanted to have fun this year. There were a lot more ‘fun’ concepts — like Saltie Girl, Tiger Mama, Smoke Shop, and Mamaleh’s — that opened. I love it. I think all of us (diners and chefs) just want to enjoy ourselves at the dinner table and not take things so seriously.”
Emily Phares, writer and illustrator for various publications and websites, including Eater Boston:
“I hadn't realized Joanne Chang was poised to take over Boston/Cambridge/the world, but I think it's great that Flours are popping up everywhere. I need to go visit the one in Cambridgeport that has a fireplace.”
Dana Hatic, Eater Boston associate editor:
“Rialto closing down when Jody Adams left to open Porto. The actual closure was a surprise because the original plan was to pass the reins to a different chef. But, it did open the door for Michael Pagliarini's second restaurant, Benedetto.”
Rachel Leah Blumenthal, Eater Boston editor:
“To be honest, I was shocked that Eataly actually opened this year. It was such a big undertaking — and just one part of an even bigger construction project — that I expected it to be the next Big Dig. Didn’t really think I’d be able to set foot inside it until 2020 or so.
Maybe I should save this for next year, since it’s not open yet, but I’m mildly surprised that a cat cafe (Purr) finally appears to be on track to opening in Boston. I think part of the difficulty in opening a cat cafe here has been the marketing. If prospective cat cafe owners simply pitched the project as an adoption shelter that allows the consumption of outside food from a nearby cafe partner, that might be an easier sell for the various commissions that need to approve them. The minute you say the words ‘cat cafe,’ people’s minds immediately jump to images of food being made onsite in a gross kitchen filled with litter boxes and cat hair, but that’s not the case at all.
Another surprise: the sheer amount of new breweries that opened this year (and existing ones that expanded).
And sneaking in at the last minute, the recent news of Eventide Oyster Co.’s forthcoming expansion to Boston from Portland, Maine was a big surprise — and an extremely exciting one!”