Time Out Market Boston is set to open in Fenway later this month, the first of two or three major food halls opening in the city this year, and the portion of the lineup that has been announced so far is looking stellar:
The market will feature an impressive group of popular local chefs and restaurants, including a new outpost of chef Peter Ungár’s Tasting Counter, an acclaimed 20-seat fine-dining restaurant in Somerville, nestled inside of Aeronaut Brewing.
While Tasting Counter serves high-end tasting menus for lunch and dinner, the expansion to a casual, counter-service spot in a food hall won’t be an entirely new way of thinking for Ungár and his team: Tasting Counter transforms into the Wine Bar late at night Wednesday through Saturday and all evening on Tuesday, serving a more laidback, a la carte selection that still reflects the overall Tasting Counter ethos. The Time Out Market Boston location will be a natural extension of that.
“One of the factors that drew us into agreeing to partake in the Time Out Market Boston project was one of the first things they said to us: They want to bring fine dining to the masses,” Ungár told Eater. “Even though we only have 20 seats [in the original Tasting Counter location], that’s a large part of our philosophy as well. We’re doing our best to democratize fine dining as much as possible. We still know it’s a high ticket price, but we do work really hard to maintain a very good value. It’s a challenge trying to create food that is very labor-intensive, using very high-quality ingredients, at a price that’s affordable, so it’s nice to know that we’re partnering with a group that has that same philosophy — trying to create very high-quality dishes but in a way that’s accessible to a lot more people.”
In some form or another, Tasting Counter’s Time Out Market Boston menu comes straight from Tasting Counter’s Wine Bar menu, with some tweaks here and there — and minus the wine. (Time Out Market Boston handles beverage operations across the market; the individual vendors focus on the food.)
Read on to dive into the menu for Tasting Counter’s forthcoming food hall location and to find out how the team plans to maintain its focus on local, seasonal sourcing while bringing its fine-dining tradition into a fast-casual setting.
The shishito peppers: The least expensive bite on Tasting Counter’s Time Out Market Boston menu, coming in at $6, is a mountain of shishito peppers, smoked with applewood from an orchard in western Massachusetts, keeping with Tasting Counter’s commitment to local sourcing. The peppers are dressed with a citrusy tamari vinagreitte, which includes lime and yuzu juices, and a house-made togarashi seasoning mix, which includes black lime, preserved lemon, parsley, toasted sesame, and chile.
Similar to what the team at Craigie Burger, also opening at Time Out Market Boston, found while figuring out how to bring the spirit of an established fine-dining restaurant into the fast-casual world, some compromises regarding sourcing have to be made to keep up with the much larger volume. While Tasting Counter has grown its own shishito peppers and made its own tamari in-house at the original location, the team has to look to external sourcing for its food hall space, where it will feed “numbers that are exponentially larger than what we’re used to,” Ungár said.
The dumplings: Tasting Counter’s gremolata dumplings might not look like what you’d expect when you hear the word “dumplings,” but don’t let that stop you. The $18 dish — with its foam, luxurious ingredients, and artful plating — is a solid introduction into the world of Tasting Counter.
“The dumpling dish is turning out to be a signature dish [at Tasting Counter’s Wine Bar] — unintended, but just how it evolved,” said Ungár. It starts with what he describes as “very nice heirloom” 00 flour as the base for the dumpling batter. “Then we mix in dehydrated parsley, garlic, and preserved lemon, which is the gremolata flavoring, and the sauce the dumplings are cooked in is made with our own soured cream — fresh, local cream that’s been cultured with buttermilk — to give it this rich, tangy flavor.”
The dumplings are topped with pickled beech mushrooms and microgreens; at the original location, the greens come from the restaurant’s garden wall, but again, that won’t be possible at Time Out volumes. The dish is finished with a foamy sea urchin sauce with a base of seaweed broth, into which Maine sea urchin roe is blended and complemented with a splash of cream and butter, which helps create the texture.
The duck: Moving into larger entrees, the rice smoked duck breast ($20) is pan-seared to crisp up the skin and served on braised greens that have been sauteed with toasted garlic. The base of the dish is Tasting Counter’s version of yuzu kosho, a spicy Japanese condiment. The Tasting Counter team preserves fresh yuzu when it’s available during the winter, fermenting it with fresh green chiles that have, according to Ungár, an “incredible bright flavor with a nice pleasant kick, not too spicy.”
The duck is served with a quenelle of fermented black beans mixed with shallots, capers, and parsley, “kind of playing on the tapenade idea,” said Ungár, “but while it does look a little bit like tapenade, it doesn’t taste anything like it.” There’s some basil oil mixed into the quenelle and drizzled on the plate, too.
The market fish: The fish in this dish ($24) will vary with the seasons, but it’ll be marinated with soy molasses, torched for a charred glaze, and served on braised leeks with a Thai-inspired red curry sauce made mainly from local ingredients, even a few some might be surprised to find are grown locally, such as ginger, galangal, and lemongrass. The only non-local parts of the dish are the lime leaves, lime juice, and coconut milk.
Here’s the full menu:
“We’re really excited to begin this project,” said Ungár. “We’re excited about the unknown; we’re excited about the challenge of dealing with the volume. We’re excited about taking a menu that we’ve been developing in our own kitchen and exploring how we can execute this menu in a completely new environment, for a completely new clientele, and ultimately hoping to entice that new clientele to come check us out in Somerville.”
For those who haven’t yet visited the original location, the bottom line for Tasting Counter is “locally sourcing as many ingredients as possible and cooking seasonally,” said Ungár. “We are creating eclectic dishes based on ingredients that you’re already probably familiar with — we’re not trying to do anything that is shocking or completely out of the blue. We want you to enjoy food that you recognize on some level, but it may be cooked, prepared, presented in a unique way that in turn creates a new experience for you. That’s a philosophy we have with our lunch and dinner tasting menus [in Somerville] that’s then been passed over to our Wine Bar menu and is now ultimately going to be continued with the Time Out menu.”