As is Eater’s annual tradition, we’re closing out 2017 by surveying local food writers (including our own staff and contributors) on various restaurant-related topics, and we’re publishing their responses in these final days of the year. Readers, please feel free to chime in with your own thoughts in the comment section below.
Keep an eye on the Year in Eater archive page for other stories in this series.
Today’s next question: What was your best (local) restaurant meal of 2017? (See the 2016 responses here.)
MC Slim JB, restaurant critic for The Improper Bostonian:
“Oof, I have to choose just one? A dish that I thought about for weeks afterward was this simple, cold Hunanese salad of wood-ear fungus in a very tart and chili-hot dressing with a ton of raw garlic at Sei Bar in Wakefield.
I often find myself at the bar at Erbaluce on my rare nights off from review research. One memorable dinner there started with an elegantly reductive Pavese soup of game-bird broth floating a crostino with a poached duck egg tucked into it, topped with a shower of great Parmigiana, followed by pork cheeks braised in white wine with herbs, plus pumpkin mostarda, capped by the best version of the ubiquitous octopus I had all year, with a singular crisp/delicate texture: Chef Draghi’s is fresh, never frozen, which makes a massive difference.
But my single favorite repast was a summer feast with dear friends on the lovely patio of Mary Dumont’s stunning Cultivar: gorgeous crudos of crab, tuna, and arctic char; yakitori beets; snails on toast; octopus a la plancha; a spectacular grilled sea bass fillet; an incredible, chili-dusted squid-ink messenesi loaded with mahogany clams, squid, and lobster (more chefs should use sea beans); and three of Robert Gonzalez’s jaw-dropping, high-art desserts. In a highly-competitive field, I’d have to call Cultivar the best new restaurant of the year.”
Marc Hurwitz, founder of Boston's Hidden Restaurants and Boston Restaurant Talk, restaurant critic for Dig Boston, and more:
“Tough one, but I may go with Gene's Chinese Flatbread Cafe in Woburn. I went there on a rainy evening not too long ago and had their hand-pulled noodles, which pretty much blew me away, but then I decided I still had room and ordered their hot and sour dumpling soup and guess what — that may have been even better. Zero atmosphere but friendly people, cheap prices, and oh, is their food ever good.”
Jenna Pelletier, food editor of Boston Magazine:
“So many great meals, but the tasting menu extravaganza at Tasting Counter stands out the most (and their more casual late-night situation is pretty awesome, too). I also had an excellent dinner at Izakaya Minato, in Portland. And it was pretty special to attend chef Michael Scelfo's Outstanding in the Field dinner at Island Creek Oysters in Duxbury.”
Jacqueline Cain, associate food editor of Boston Magazine:
“Hands down, the James Beard Foundation dinner at Wright-Locke Farm that the Table at Season to Taste organized with friends from Bar Mezzana, Uni, Sycamore, SRV, and Toro. Other memorable meals: Before Eventide Fenway opened, Andrew Taylor and Mike Wiley teamed up with Tony Messina at Uni and it was amazing. Please bring back that brandade, dudes. I got into Bar Mezzana during Maine shrimp season. I had an awesome meal at Haley.Henry this fall, capped off with a quirky ‘green’ salad of smoked trout, green beans, olives, and more that I still think about.”
Scott Kearnan, editor of Zagat Boston and food editor of the Boston Herald:
“This is a toughie. My top two openings of 2017 were Cultivar and Pammy's, and I wouldn't have changed a thing about my first meals at either. Not often you can say that! Also, Nicolas Swogger's Southern-slash-global opening menu at B3 in Back Bay, which has nightly live music programmed by Berklee, was one that sticks out as a really pleasant surprise. (He's since moved on, and I haven't had a chance to return and see how they're doing now.)
MIDA never did me wrong this year, and the cozy digs made every great meal even better. Finally, and this was probably better suited to the ‘top standbys’ category, but on the fast-casual front I'm addicted to Aceituna Grill, one of the few locally-owned counter service joints to pop up in the chain-dominated Seaport (it has an original location in Kendall Square.) My order: tabbouleh salad with spicy chicken shawarma, hummus and baba ganoush... plus a piece of baklava for later.”
Sam Hiersteiner, contributor to the Boston Globe and more:
“We had this wonderful, unexpectedly awesome meal at Sunbird Kitchen in Orleans over the summer. Featured incredible, memorable local produce, including from Chatham Bars Inn Farm. And astoundingly good beef jerky.”
Dan Whalen, blogger at The Food in my Beard and author of upcoming cookbook Tots!:
“I know it isn't fair, but I am saying three: Holiday lunch at No.9 Park (a four-hour lunch on a Thursday with great friends); Brassica (food from fellow Guy's Grocery Games champ Jeremy Kean); SRV (we had, like, nine amazing desserts from Meghan Thompson.)”
Dana Hatic, associate editor of Eater Boston:
“Yes, I'm late to the game, but I had an exceptional meal at Little Donkey this year. I went with a friend, and the second we walked in, our game plan flew out the window. With cocktails served in grapefruits to guide us, we ate our way through as much as we could of the menu, including delicious pakoras and fried rice.”
Alex Wilking, contributor to Eater Boston:
“Earlier in the summer, I went to Moona with a group and ordered, like, half of the menu. Everything — from small plates of pickles and hummus to the big bowls of couscous — was just sublime. I can’t remember the last time I was so floored by a meal.”
Rachel Leah Blumenthal, editor of Eater Boston:
“At the start of 2017, I intended to take notes all year so I could easily rattle off the best few things I ate when this survey came back around. I took note of the incredible pork belly bao at Pagu, and then I forgot to write anything else down the rest of the year. Oops.
In any case, it was a solid year for eating, and there were lots of memorable meals, but I’ll just name one other here: the meal I had at Jahunger in Providence just a few nights ago. It’s a Uyghur restaurant — we’ve only got one of those in the more immediate Boston area — and the food was spicy, deeply satisfying, and not quite like anything else around town. Make the trip. And then make it again. (Shoutout to Molly Birnbaum’s Providence Heatmap for Eater.com for steering me in the right direction!)”