The craft-cocktail revival continued its steady expansion with new, more relaxed-feeling outlets like Kenmore Square's the Hawthorne, Chinatown's Shōjō, Central Square's Brick & Mortar, and Harvard Square's First Printer. Many featured spirits made by emerging local distillers like Roxbury's Bully Boy and Southie's GrandTen. And Bostonians got more serious about their coffee at a slew of indie cafes with new options like pour-over coffees, including Thinking Cup, Render, and dwelltime.
Food trucks continued on the huge roll they began in 2011, greatly expanding their number and footprint in Boston with Mayor Menino's support. This success story inspired neighbors Brookline, Newton, and Somerville to pilot their own programs, despite the concerted efforts of Beacon Hill lobbyists like Dave Andelman (yes, the Phantom Gourmet guy) and his Restaurant and Business Alliance to throw sand in their axles for the benefit of their brick-and-mortar clients.
Of course, openings are never the whole story of a restaurant year. The closing of Downtown Crossing's venerable, storied Locke-Ober, the last place in the city to insist that gentlemen wear jackets, marked the passing of a more refined and formal manner of dining in Boston. To the chagrin of many, TC's Lounge, the last real dive bar in the high-rent Back Bay, suffered a devastating fire from which it could not recover. And karma finally seemed to catch up to the owners of fancy pizza chain the Upper Crust, who notoriously abused and ripped off their (mostly immigrant) kitchen staff, fell to fighting among themselves, and finally filed for bankruptcy.
Technology and social media continued to expand their sway over the Boston restaurant scene, as Bostonians increasingly turned to the Web and smartphone apps to research places to eat and drink, reserve tables, book transportation, and share their opinions of their experiences afterward. Some restaurants continued to muff the challenge of gracefully handling negative feedback from amateur reviewers on platforms like Chowhound and Yelp. Exhibit A was the ugly flame war that erupted on Facebook between an unhappy customer of Pigalle and its chef/owner, Marc Orfaly, which expanded virally into a national news story. It probably felt good at the time, and we empathize with industry enmity toward uninformed amateurs, but that likely hurt Orfaly's business.
Forget the hate for now, and consider the humble Watertown joint that embodies everything that was good and exciting about Boston dining in 2012: Strip-T's. Long a diner-like purveyor of modest American food, it morphed dramatically under new chef Tim Maslow after he returned home from a five-year stint under NYC's David Chang. Young Maslow (son of the founding chef/owner) created an overnight food-nerd sensation with his original, globetrotting menu that somehow touched on every theme of the year — local raw bar and seafood, inventive use of offal, some Southern flavors, a vegetarian bánh mì, a knockout of a hamburger, a revelatory rendition of cauliflower, a terrific bowl of ramen, a jaw-dropping lamb-shoulder sandwich — and killed it on every one of them. Good news if you haven't made it out to Watertown yet: he's expanding into Brookline's Washington Square next year. If you want to feel the love, to put your finger on the throbbing pulse of Boston's diverse, chaotic, and wonderfully evolving restaurant scene — and maybe feel which way the culinary winds of 2013 are blowing — Strip-T's might just be the place to start.