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2007 restaurant awards

The best of this year's dining
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  December 19, 2007
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

Value restaurant
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

Best frites
All Star Sandwich Bar

Décor prize
Rocca, elegant and comfortable

Best post-modern décor
O Ya

Best atmosphere
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

Rookie chef of the year
Will Gilson, 25, of Garden at the Cellar

Best trend of the year
The return of French-press coffee (at restaurants including T.W. Food, Sage, and Salvatore’s). Runner-up: the return of French cuisine

Worst trend of the year
Four-size wine pricing with additional mark-ups

Restaurant trend I’d like to see
Better light; less noise (tie)

Give it up for global warming
Crème brûlée — let a thousand torches be doused

Best soup
Pistou and Sétoise mussel soup at Miel

Eponymous soup of the year
Zenna noodle soup at Zenna Noodle Bar. Runner-up: Phò Hóa’s pho — the same general idea without the fresh vegetables

Best new beer list
Deep Ellum

Best new North End restaurant
Trattoria di Monica

Best Italian outside the North End

Best fast food

Appetizer of the year
Jonah crab salad at Sasso

Entrée of the year
Rice-smoked duck breast at Sage. The Asian-style smoke process leaves just a hint of spice and smoke, like a memory of barbecue, in meaty slices of medium-rare duck. The accompanying stick of fennel custard is firm, rich, very slightly herbal and green, and truly memorable.

Best sashimi
Grilled sashimi of chanterelles and shiitake mushrooms with sesame froth at O Ya

Best traditional sashimi
Hamachi sashimi at Sage — terrific slices of white fish in a lemony sauce with frisée and grapefruit: a delicious combination. (The Italian word for sashimi is crudo.) Runner-up: tuna tartare at KO Prime

Nebula award for sci-fi food
Tuna tartare at Flat Iron Tapas Bar & Lounge, flavored with kaffir lime leaves and coconut milk, with giant tapioca balls for texture. They also have that frothed clam chowder, for a familiar flavor with laboratory enhancement.

Octopus of the year
“Fork-tender grilled octopus” at Vlora

Side-dish pasta of the year
Mafaldine in gorgonzola-cream sauce at Salvatore’s. I ate all the chewy pasta and took the protein part home.

Meatloaf of the year
Atomic Meatloaf sandwich at All Star Sandwich Bar. Runners-up: turkey-portabella meatloaf at Coda; “old-fashioned meatloaf” at Geoffrey’s

Rice of the year
Spicy duck fried rice at Phuket

Wine list of the year
Pops: in 2007, they had Carmignano and a great New Zealand sauvignon blanc

Vegan entrée of the year
“Subz pachmael” at Mela

Non-alcoholic drinks of the year
Hot chocolate and Canarino (lemon-peel tea) at Gaslight Brasserie du Coin

Cheese plate of the year
T.W. Food: give me some Livarot and I’m good to go

Desserts of the year

Best scallion pancake (who knew there could be such a thing?)
King Fung Garden II

Best pour of extra-virgin olive oil
Flat Iron Tapas Bar & Lounge

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Robert Nadeau:

Related: 2005 Boston Restaurant Awards, Stoli Bar and Restaurant, Burtons Grill, More more >
  Topics: Restaurant Reviews , Culture and Lifestyle, Beverages, Burtons Grill,  More more >
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