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Boston-area dishes to be thankful for

It is the time of year to give thanks for all that we have — the food on our tables, the people we love. I am grateful, as ever, not just to have eaten but to have eaten so well. This year we saw chefs give vegetables the respect they deserve, making them the focus of the plate. We saw octopi waving their tendrils from half the menus in town, a mainstream protein now. We saw classic dishes make their exit and new classics born. Here are 14 things I was thankful to taste in 2014.

Alden & Harlow’s vegetable dishes

Chef Michael Scelfo opened his restaurant in the space that was Casablanca for so long, and it instantly felt like a Harvard Square institution. The kitchen hit on a winning formula, employed in many of the dishes: Vegetable + something creamy + something crunchy + plenty of acid = addictive eating, bite after bite. Think charred broccoli with a hummus-style spread made from squash and cashew tahini, garlicky kale salad with fennel and creamy pistachio dressing, and pickled corn pancakes with shishito peppers. (It's not all vegetables. I'm wild about the "secret burger," too.) 40 Brattle St., Harvard Square, Cambridge, 617-864-2100, www.aldenharlow.com

Whole grilled carrots are served with yogurt, honey, and a mixture of pistachios and other seeds at Alden & Harlow.The Boston Globe/Globe Staff

The Bancroft’s steak tartare

This Burlington steakhouse was one of the year's best surprises. What I thought might be a bland suburban respite for corporate lunchers turned out to be swanky, chic, imaginative, and welcoming, with tons of personality, creative cocktails, and great food imagined by executive chef Mario Capone. I'm not generally much of a filet eater, but the bone-in version here manages to be both incredibly tender and flavorful. And the steak tartare was one of the year's best: a tower of quiveringly fresh hand-cut prime beef with quail egg, pickled shallots, and violet mustard. 15 Third Ave., Burlington, 781-221-2100, www.the-bancroft.com


Steak tartare at Bancroft’s.Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff

The Daily Catch’s lobster fra diavolo

I don't wait in line for food. I'll make an exception for the Daily Catch's fra diavolo, though: a vast skillet of mussels, clams, calamari, shrimp, and a lobster perched at the rim like a figurehead on a ship. It's worth braving the crowds at this tiny North End restaurant just to watch the cooks' frenetic pace as they throw things in blenders, shove things in pots, and play with fire right beside you. 323 Hanover St., North End, Boston, 617-523-8567, www.dailycatch.com


Hamersley’s Bistro’s roast chicken

There is no way to make this list without mentioning this dish. Chef-owner Gordon Hamersley closed his South End restaurant in October after 27 years, and the roast chicken with garlic, lemon, and parsley was probably his best-known offering. I'm grateful to have eaten it one last time; he's likely grateful to stop making it for a while. I tried preparing it in my own kitchen using his recipe, and it was very good, but I will probably never repeat the experiment. Truth be told, I like the least-complicated roast chicken in the world: a bird, generously salted, chucked in a really hot oven until it's done. That's why I'm also thankful for the pan-roasted chicken at Metropolis, just a few blocks away from the former Hamersley's site. It's simpler, more everyday, and very satisfying. Metropolis, 584 Tremont St., South End, Boston, 617-247-2931, www.metropolisboston.com

Roast chicken at Hamersley's Bistro.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Juniper’s charred octopus

In the octopus history books, 2014 will go down as a year of persecution and slaughter. Chefs took every tiny octopus they could get their hands on, charred them, and served them to diners. But history is a matter of perspective, and in a region inundated with charred octopus appetizers, Juniper's was one of the best. The smoky tendrils are slowly cooked in olive oil, served with apple-jicama slaw in a warming, spicy broth. The flavors are so clear and balanced, it's hard not to lick the bowl. 13 Central St., Wellesley, 781-446-6950, www.juniperwellesley.com


Charred octopus at JuniperJoanne Rathe/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

La Brasa’s Mexican fried rice

I'm tempted to cite La Brasa's rib roast with chimichurri sauce here, just because it's fun to find a hipster restaurant in Somerville selling juicy, rare beef sliced to order, by the ounce, tableside from a rolling cart. But it's the fried rice that lives on in my memory, garlicky grains mixed with fava beans, sliced radishes, scallions, and cilantro, a combination from some happy culinary no-man's land at the shared border of Mexico, China, and New England. 124 Broadway, Somerville, 617-764-1412, www.labrasasomerville.com

Liquid Art House’s desserts

I'm always happy to find a restaurant that invests in desserts. Too many exciting meals taper off to a dull finish. There is nothing boring about the elaborate, multicomponent creations of Liquid Art House pastry chef Giselle Miller. They match chef Rachel Klein's pretty savory presentations step for step. I particularly appreciated a coconut rice pudding with mango, aloe, black sesame, and Asian basil sorbet, as well as a young coconut semifreddo with lemon verbena ice cream and coconut-lime snow. 100 Arlington St., Back Bay, Boston, 617-457-8130, www.liquidarthouse.com


Rice pudding at Liquid Art House.Essdras M Suarez/ Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Mei Mei’s mapo tofu

I loved most things I ate at Mei Mei's brick-and-mortar restaurant this year, from a rich and spicy kung pao chicken dip to a winter warmth curry with eight seasonal vegetables and Korean rice cakes. But I'd eat their smoky, spicy mapo tofu every week this winter if I could. The version I had included smoked beef shank, bean curd, chewy wheatberries, chile-bean paste and fermented black beans, lamb's head broth, and crunchy, fresh apples for contrast. 506 Park Drive, The Fenway, Boston, 857-250-4959, www.meimeiboston.com

Merrill & Co.’s mussels

After a shaky start, this South End restaurant grew on me. The tipping point was a skillet of mussels — plump, briny, and juicy — in a heady and complex red curry broth with ginger and cilantro. Or maybe it was the Pimm's cup slushie that won me over. Imparting summery brain freeze, flavored with ginger and mint, it was one of my favorite cocktails this year. 1 Appleton St., South End, Boston, 617-728-0728, www.merrillandcoboston.com

Mussels at Merrill & Co.Essdras M Suarez/ Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Ostra’s high-end seafood

It seems important for Boston to have at least one all-out splurge of a seafood restaurant. Elegant and expensive, this Columbus Hospitality Group spot is it. Crudo dishes are always lovely, from the raw hamachi with citrus, microgreens, jalapeno oil, and chiltepin pepper to a sea bass tartare with truffle aioli, shaved truffle, and fennel crostini, light and luxurious. For a black-tie event of a supper, have the ricotta gnocchetti with lobster, beech mushrooms, and black truffles and a glass of Champagne. 1 Charles St. South, Theatre District, Boston, 617-421-1200, www.ostraboston.com


Hamachi crudo at Ostra.Lane Turner/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Parker’s Restaurant’s lobster dinner

Every once in a while it's fun to be a tourist in your own city, to eat somewhere more notable for its history than the creativity of its menu. Parker's has been open since the 1800s. A lobster dinner here begins with a waiter in formal attire tying on your bib, and it ends with a finger bowl. The lobster is eaten on a snowy tablecloth while sitting in a supremely comfortable leather chair. The whole experience is kind of a kick. 60 School St., Beacon Hill, Boston, 617-227-8600, www.omnihotels.com

Lobster dinner at Parker House.Lane Turner/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Row 34’s deviled crab toast

Lobster is always wonderful, but ounce for ounce I prefer crab. The deviled crab toast at Row 34 is highly craveable — mouthful after mouthful of sweet, delicate meat, touched with smoked paprika, studded with crunchy bits of celery. It's even better with beer, and Row 34's program is something to be grateful for, one of the best in town. There are 24 draft lines, and offerings change frequently. 383 Congress St., Fort Point, Boston, 617-553-5900, www.row34.com

Boston, MA - 02/12/14 - Dining Out review of Row 34 in Fort Point. Deviled crab toast with smoked paprika and celery salad. Lane Turner/Globe Staff Section: FOOD Reporter: Devra First Slug: 19dinpicThe Boston Globe/Globe Staff

Sarma’s small plates

This is Somerville's version of a Turkish meyhane, a tavern where one shares meze and drinks with friends. Every dish on the menu is appealing, from seven-layer hummus decorated with tabbouleh, pine nuts, avocado, pomegranate seeds, and more to red lentil and crab kibbeh to lamb kofte sliders. And then there are the off-menu passed dishes, like sesame fried chicken with tahini remoulade, totted up dim sum style on a card. It makes each meal feel like a festive cocktail party. 249 Pearl St., Winter Hill, Somerville, 617-764-4464, www.sarmarestaurant.com

Lamb kofte sliders at Sarma.Lane Turner/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Tenoch Mexican’s tortas

This North End Mexican restaurant is tiny, sweet, and friendly, and the food is great. (It's the offshoot of a Medford place with the same name, and the same folks also have a food truck.) The tortas, or sandwiches, are a highlight. The torta choriqueso is a decadent combination of chorizo, melted cheese, beans, avocado, and chipotle mayonnaise, made even better with the addition of Tenoch's vibrant chile de arbol salsa. 3 Lewis St., North End, Boston. 617-248-9537. www.tenochmexican.com

Torta choriqueso at Tenoch.Lane Turner/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Related coverage:

- Alden & Harlow: Harvard Square's new standby is a standout

- The Bancroft a steakhouse successfully reimagined

- Is dining in the North End worth the wait?

- Fans say goodbye to Hamersley's Bistro in South End

- Middle Eastern flavors, Wellesley flair at Juniper

- La Brasa fits in while standing out

- Liquid Art House aims to be an arbiter of taste

- Mei Mei crew inventively spins off its truck menu

- Merrill & Co. is an imperfect craving

- Ostra, a luxurious seafood restaurant

- Parker's Restaurant is proudly past its prime

- Oysters, beer, good cheer: Row 34 is hard to beat

- Ana Sortun's Sarma shines in Somerville

- Tenoch brings Mexican food to the North End

Devra First can be reached at dfirst@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @devrafirst.