PERSEPHONE: Our 2008 restaurant of the year is fit for the gods.
And so we conclude a surprisingly good year on the dining scene. After the very scattered results of 2007, this year I was able to award four stars to 11 restaurants. (I consider this a good step toward my goal of flattening out the usual bell curve that makes star-rating systems worthless.)
What's been happening this year? Let's compare the current economic disaster to the last recession, the late-'80s/early-'90s crash of the "Massachusetts Miracle." Back then, we saw more pasta formats and fewer fish houses (same thing now — check), established operators opening second and third locations (check), and even some cheaper interior decorating (wait for it). One difference: now we find ourselves in the midst of fondue/shabu-shabu mania. Why pay cooks when the customers will do it themselves?
Despite the present turmoil, many restaurants have held fast to the same trends they've been following for years. None of the warnings about fossil fuels and global warming have cut into the supply of crème brûlûe on Boston menus, for instance, even though the butane that could be saved if we just had flan could heat Anthony's Pier 4 for a whole year. I figured that STIX might finally end the vertical-food madness, and that Restaurant Marliave might run the duo/trio/quartet platter concept off the cliff. But even Finale, the all-dessert place, opened yet another outpost in 2008. The era of excess may be coming to an end, but there's little indication of that inside our restaurants.
Wine prices continue to escalate. I can accept that a glass of wine is one-fourth the restaurant bottle price for one-sixth of the bottle, but I can't accept the jump from double retail for a bottle to triple in many new restaurants. The stronger dollar toward the end of the year has brought European wines back on to the part of the wine list I actually look at, but minimum bottle prices just keep climbing. All this makes small-production beers a better buy, and despite the decline of brewpubs, the proliferation of restaurants with a raft of craft draughts is not daft. Cocktails are also increasingly competitive, so perhaps we'll see a new science of food-martini matching.
(Note: this is my personal reviewing year — you may have done even better elsewhere.)
RESTAURANT OF THE YEAR
Persephone, featuring a great chef (Michael Leviton of Lumière) focused by the limits of running a second restaurant
ASIAN RESTAURANT OF THE YEAR
o Jo Taipei
THE ANNUAL HOWARD MITCHUM MEMORIAL MEDAL FOR INNOVATION IN SEAFOOD COOKERY (THE ONE AWARD HERE THAT REALLY MATTERS)
Charles Draghi of Erbaluce
PALACE OF COMFORT FOOD
BREAD OF THE YEAR
Tng Mo steamed whole-wheat buns at Tashi Delek
OLIVES OF THE YEAR
Eight kinds of roasted olives with lemon and spices at Central 37/Market
APPETIZER OF THE YEAR
Grilled vegetables at Benatti
ASIAN APPETIZERS OF THE YEAR
"Mama Chang's pork and chive" dumpling, tea-smoked pork spareribs, and spring rolls at Myers + Chang
BEST SINGLE DIM SUM
Shumai at Shabu Shabu Toki
BEST VEGAN APPETIZER
Cabbage chitwa at Tamarind Bay Coastal Indian Kitchen
BEST KOSHER APPETIZER
Peking ravioli at Taam China Glatt Kosher Chinese Cuisine