Five Boston-area restaurants that inspire long-lasting love
New restaurants have allure. They draw us in with inventive concepts, ply us with dishes we haven’t tasted before, and send us home infatuated (if all goes well). We might go back once, twice. We might move on to the next place. Every once in a while, we might stick around, rewarded by consistency and food that always delivers.
It is one thing to open with a splash. It is another altogether to maintain excellence over the years, to remain invested, to keep head down and shoulder to the wheel day after day. It isn’t usually a recipe for getting rich, but it may be a recipe for a rich life, feeding people well, making them comfortable and happy.
This city is home to a burgeoning number of new restaurants, which are happily and frequently discussed in this space. But we are also fortunate to have many places that, thanks to the dedication of chefs and proprietors, quietly and steadily go about serving us well in the long term. It is a labor of love, and this week we celebrate love. So, then, let us celebrate some of the stalwarts of the local dining scene, restaurants that keep on doing what they do very, very well. Roses and baubles to all you fine new places; this is a hand-written, old-school love letter to the long-lasting. Bonus: All of these restaurants are perfectly Valentine’s Day appropriate.
Beacon Hill Bistro
Beacon Hill Bistro, part of Beacon Hill Hotel, looks charmingly fusty — a narrow space paved with black-and-white tiles where the neighborhood’s blue bloods and young professionals rub shoulders. From this apparently classic bistro, one might expect onion soup au gratin and leathery steak frites. Instead, it is a delight to find creative, French-inspired food fueled by the seasons. Since opening in 2000, owners Peter and Cecilia Rait have made a practice of cultivating talented chefs who offer unexpected dishes along with a few classics. Currently heading the kitchen is Josh Lewin, who began here as sous chef under Jason Bond, now of Bondir in Cambridge and Concord. Lewin serves the likes of scallop tacos with dried lime and saffron; duck two ways with butternut squash, cranberry, and puffed rye; and bar-menu dishes such as monkfish consomme and mutton pastrami Reubens. And for the sake of keeping up appearances, there is steak frites, too. (Pictured: Beacon Hill Bistro’s Josh Lewin.) 25 Charles St., Beacon Hill, Boston, 617-723-7575, www.beaconhillhotel.com.
It’s hard to park in the North End, and the food can be overpriced. That’s not the case in Roslindale, where chef JoAnne LeBlanc presides over the kitchen at Italian restaurant Delfino, opened in 2001. This neighborhood spot is busy, friendly, and cozy, packed with locals who come for the likes of clams with chorizo and tomatoes in garlic-white wine sauce, pasta with porcini, and duck with red cabbage and seasonal vegetables in a cranberry-Port demi glace. Watching LeBlanc working at a fever pitch in the open kitchen makes one appreciate that lusty Bolognese even more. (Pictured: Clams with chorizo and tomatoes in garlic-white wine sauce at Delfino.) 754 South St., Roslindale, 617-327-8359, www.delfinorestaurant.com.
For another helping of fine Italian cooking, there is La Morra in Brookline. For more than a decade, co-owners Josh and Jen Ziskin have been serving food inspired by their time living in Piemonte — a mountain village called La Morra, to be exact. (A 2011 fire closed the place for several months, but it reopened strong as ever.) He is the chef; she is the wine director. Sit at the bar in the two-story, brick-lined space and snack on cicchetti, small plates of fried sage leaves with anchovy, pickled vegetables, salt cod with garlic and lemon, and meatballs with porcini and prosciutto. Or settle into a table for house-made pasta — toasted gnocchi with braised oxtail and dates, artichoke-filled agnolotti — and wood-grilled steak, Cornish hen under a brick, or haddock with vegetables and Meyer lemon aioli. (Pictured: Salt cod with garlic and lemon at La Morra.) 48 Boylston St., Brookline, 617-739-0007, www.lamorra.com.
Rendezvous in Central Square
There are many reasons Rendezvous in Central Square has been a favorite since it opened in 2005. Chef-owner Steve Johnson, formerly of the Blue Room, takes great care with the restaurant. The service is lovely, the wine list thoughtful and the cocktails well made, and the food consistently delicious. The menu is regional with Mediterranean touches — Rhode Island squid with arugula, fennel, and borlotti beans; tortiglioni with spicy lamb ragu; skillet-roasted skate with cauliflower, Meyer lemon, and hazelnut brown butter; lemon-buttermilk pudding with huckleberry sauce. There’s a $38 three-course Sunday supper, and Mondays mean after-work tapas at the bar. Nothing chases away those early-work-week blues like grilled sardines with fennel-caper vinaigrette. If Rendezvous is an ideal neighborhood restaurant, it is also worth going out of one’s way to eat there. (Pictured: Lemon-buttermilk pudding at Rendezvous.) 502 Massachusetts Ave., Central Square, Cambridge, 617-576-1900, www.rendezvouscentralsquare.com.
Taberna de Haro
Tapas — the real Spanish kind, not those world-influenced small-plate things — are always romantic, garlicky, bold-flavored nibbles perfect to share with an intimate. Taberna de Haro has been serving the likes of gambas al ajillo, tortilla espanola, spinach with pine nuts and raisins, and salt-cod meatballs since 1998, when small plates were actually hard to come by. Chef-owner Deborah Hansen lived in Spain, and her take on the tabernas of Madrid is about as authentic as you’ll find in these parts. Hansen also puts great thought into her wine list, composed of more than 300 bottles, all Spanish, with a focus on sherry. For anyone interested in the wines of the region, it is a compelling reason to visit. (Pictured: Gambas al ajillo at Taberna de Haro.) 999 Beacon St., Brookline, 617-277-8272, www.tabernaboston.com.