Set to open on July 11, Porto is the follow-up to Trade, courtesy of owners Jody Adams, Eric Papachristos, and Sean Griffing. With Trade coming up on its fifth birthday this fall, the owners took their time finding the perfect location and concept for a new restaurant, and now they're excited to get Porto's doors open and welcome the public into what they see as an oasis in Back Bay, nestled up above Ring Road between the hustle and bustle of Boylston Street and Huntington Avenue.
The menu is "seafood-focused, using mostly local New England fish and shellfish and other kinds of seafood, with Mediterranean flavors," Adams tells Eater. She promises a big oyster component as well as a sea board — "as opposed to a cheese board" — that will include a variety of fresh, cured, smoked, and pickled seafoods with aiolis and more. The board's contents will change at the whim of the kitchen. Chef de cuisine Jon Sanchez (Ames Street Deli, Study) wanted to do the platter in lieu of a big seafood tower, according to Adams, in order to do something a little different and really utilize all parts of the fish.
Since the team has seen how much people like to share plates at Trade, Porto will have a variety of smaller plates meant to be shared, including raw fish preparations, salads, pastas, and more. There will also be entree-sized dishes such as a seafood stew and a whole fried fish, which Adams considers to be her "baby" and something she really wanted on the menu. She's also particularly excited about a deconstructed lobster raviolo dish that includes an aromatic curry leaf-infused butter, peas, pea tendrils, and crunchy breadcrumbs. Those who don't eat seafood will find a few options too, such as a smoked game hen and a flat-iron steak.
Porto won't just be open for dinner; like Trade, it's in an area conducive to weekday lunch. There will also be brunch on both Saturdays and Sundays, likely launching a few weeks after opening. "Running dinner-only restaurants is frankly a lot tougher," says Griffing. "We're paying rent 24 hours, so let's serve them."
On the beverage side, expect classic-inspired cocktails from bar director Neil Quigley "that use Mediterranean flavors in kind of unexpected ways," says Adams. Plus, the wine list will have a heavy focus on white wines, courtesy of general manager Elissa Rae, who is overseeing the selection. (She's also a Trade alum.)
"Really two passionate people," says Griffing of Quigley and Rae.
Porto has been in the works for a while now, according to Papachristos — the idea first came up about three years after the team opened Trade, and it was based on the idea of creating upward mobility for the staff. "We've had a very successful run over there," he says, "and what we've noticed was that we had a really high retention with our managers and our staff. We know that it's a tough industry, and when you find good talent, you've got to keep it close. We hit the market and wanted to see what neighborhoods were interesting to us and what we wanted to do."
"As we were with Trade, we were really picky in the process of finding a space," says Griffing. "Signing a lease and deciding to build a restaurant — it's like getting married." Though they looked at spaces from the South End to the Seaport District and beyond, it was a former leasing office built around the 1970s that caught their eyes. "We feel we found a great space in a great neighborhood," says Griffing, noting that despite Back Bay's density, there aren't so many independent restaurants.
The team used Watertown-based Maryann Thompson Architects (who also designed Trade) to design the space, which includes various nods to the sea, from some mirrored tiling meant to look like the inside of an abalone shell to the fishing nets hanging above the dining room, dripping with shimmering gems. There's also fish scale-inspired tiling in a couple of spots.
"Very similar to the idea behind Trade, we wanted to keep a lot of the interior architecture of the building and the space intact and just highlight it," says Papachristos. "It wasn't the best era for construction — very concrete and boring — but there are some interesting things, like the coffered ceilings, so we wanted to expose that."
Adams, Papachristos, and Griffing spent a lot of time personally involved in the design process, putting in about five hours a week each for over a year, hand-picking Greek marble for the bar, striped fabric for the chairs, and all the other little details. The layout includes two dining rooms (one of which can be used for private events), a raw bar, a regular bar and some high-top tables behind it, and a patio with its own bar.
The outdoor aspect of Porto is important to the team and "very true to Mediterranean eating," says Papachristos, emphasizing that they wanted to create a patio that would be an "oasis" in the neighborhood. The patio includes an outdoor bar, and there's lounge seating as well as standard tables. Meanwhile, the second dining room looks out onto a public but underutilized "secret garden," says Adams, and the kitchen gets a rare view of the garden as well. "Bringing the outside in truly has happened here," she says.
When Porto opens next week, find it by entering "Ring Road" into your navigation device of choice, and look for the entrance near Saks Fifth Avenue. While Porto's address is technically 780 Boylston St., you won't find it directly on Boylston; the address is a remnant of old construction.