SHINING STAR: The Reuben at All Star Sandwich Bar is a dynamite dish.
What were the best dining-out experiences of 2007? Restaurants are so variable and the universe of choices so large that it’s impossible to know them all. But in my reviewing experience this year, the new restaurants of 2007 were unusually erratic, reinforcing my belief that there are no great restaurants, only great dishes. The most generally satisfying meal I had was at Pava, but the chef who made it so, Susan Regis, has left. The arrival of a new chef will test whether the owners were the real auteurs of my experience almost a year ago, or whether we have to wait for Ms. Regis to recapture the magic somewhere else. You readers, who can return again and again to a restaurant and fine-tune the staff to your own preferences, can potentially dine out far more consistently and better than can any restaurant critic. Our explorations of new restaurants in this column should be merely your jumping-off point.
Trend wise, 2007 continued our descent in a recessionary restaurant culture, so on your quest for the perfect restaurant you’re likely to come across many new openings in the low-end bistro category and a revival of neighborhood bar food. The avant garde for sustainable and local food ranged from the modest thrills of Garden at the Cellar to the made-over Green Street to the high-end extremes of T.W. Food. The symbol of 2007 is Rachael Ray: the chef as ordinary person. Our chefs here in Boston launched second and third restaurants (another sign of recession: conservative financing) with steak, tapas, steak, Italian menus, steak, even sandwiches. Did I mention steak? The steak trend passed the point of ridiculousness. Also in the recession-financing column are the many chains reaching out to Boston, from Wagamama to Salvatore’s to Burtons Grill. I could also do a whole column on topical sushi: everyone has a different spin on a Dice-K roll. In a year of expensive restaurants with short names, O Ya proved to be a lot better than Mooo. And it’s certainly a crazy year when the best sashimi dishes are Italian raw fish and Japanese grilled mushrooms.
Restaurant of the year
All Star Sandwich Bar, with dynamite Reuben sandwiches, the meatloaf of the year, the best French fries, the cornbread (with chili) of a lifetime, and free Oreos. (A bonus: it was probably the cheapest meal I reviewed all year.) Runners-up: Pops; 51 Lincoln
Asian restaurant of the year
Grain and Salt
Gaslight Brasserie du Coin
Best steak (the most hotly contested category)
Gaslight’s small but exquisite hanger steak, with or without the béarnaise sauce
Best cheap steak
Montreal rib-eye at Galway House
All Star Sandwich Bar
Rocca, elegant and comfortable
Best post-modern décor
The Beehive: its big, rambling setting and bohemian feel are unlike anything else we’ve seen in town in a long time
Best conversion of a difficult space
Best restaurant for the deaf
Kingston Station: where jackhammer operators go for a quiet night out
The annual Howard Mitchum Memorial Medal for Innovation in Seafood Cookery (the one award here that really matters)
No award in 2007