Back in 2010, when chef Alex Crabb and his partner and front-of-the-house manager, Shish Parsigian, started thinking about opening a small Boston restaurant, they planned to call it "Princess Sparkle Power Pickle Bunny" — a list of their favorite words. "We were reacting to the fashion of one-word restaurant names," says Crabb, a vet of L'Espalier. "But our investors couldn't get in the spirit. They wanted us to pick two names on the list. One of them kept referring to it as 'Pirate Sharpie Pumpkin Head,' which is completely different and didn't seem funny to us at all." Ultimately, they went with much less of a mouthful. With Asta slated to open by the end of the month, we checked in with Crabb and Parsigian to get a taste of the new Bay Back spot — and learn how it got its name.
You did end up with a one-word name. What is Asta? Is it Italian?
AC: No, not Italian at all. It really stands for Alex & Shish's Taste Adventure. But it also might be named after Nick and Nora's dog, Asta, in all the Thin Man movies.
SP: Here's really where the name came from. I grew up watching all the old black-and-white movies with my uncle and loved The Thin Man. Alex and I were in Chicago on an eating trip, meditating on names and writing down every name on every sign we passed. We went into the famous Pump Room in Chicago, and it had all these photographs of movie celebrities from the '30s and '40s. Alex wondered why one of them had a dog sitting at the dinner table. I said, "That's Asta, Myrna Loy's dog." We both said, "That's a good name for a restaurant," and Alex wrote it down on a napkin. The napkin made its way home and lived on our kitchen table, and the name stuck.
Alex, why did you want to open your own restaurant?
AC: I'd been cooking for 17 years, since I was 16, the last seven of them at L'Espalier. Quite honestly, I'm friends with everyone, but I didn't want to work for anyone else in the city anymore. I felt I was always one of the most creative people in the kitchen, and I was ready; it was time to capitalize on my own culinary point of view, build my own team.
What's the concept?
AC: It is going to be an all-tasting-menu restaurant — three-, five-, and eight-course menus. The three-course menu will be home-style food, perfect for dinner in the neighborhood. The five-course menu and the eight-course menu get more adventurous. I am trained in French style, but my food has evolved into a lighter, more flavor-specific cooking — less fireworks, less emphasis on butter, lemon juice, and truffle oil, more of carrots just pulled out of the ground, oysters, mini turkey pot pies. I love turkey thighs! Rich red color, with lots of connective tissue. Why don't we eat it more often? We also have a really, really open kitchen with two high-top food bars. My peers in the chef community are really excited.
Shish, what is your vision for Asta?