Where to Tasting Counter, a 20-seat restaurant serving one multi-course menu a night, located inside the Aeronaut Brewing Company space near Union Square. Rather than paying the check at the end of the meal, diners purchase all-inclusive tickets ($150-$165 per person) through the website beforehand.
What for Chef Peter Ungar has worked at Aujourd’hui as well as Michelin-starred restaurants in Paris. He may be best known locally for creating the Dining Alternative, serving elegant tasting menus in people’s homes. Tasting Counter, his first restaurant, offers a similar experience in a public setting. Its philosophy: to strive “toward a zero-carbon footprint, source a minimum of 50% of its products from within Massachusetts, and offer only all-natural foods and wines.”
The scene It’s trivia night at Aeronaut, and the brewery is at capacity. Squeeze through the rowdy crowd until you reach an intimate chamber, the calm corner of this world. A logo of a fork growing roots and leaves marks the spot. Inside: white walls, wood shelving filled with plants and jarred pickles and preserves, and a U-shaped counter with comfortable, cushy stools. On the other side of the counter stands Ungar in a white chef’s hat, plating dishes with precision, alongside his crew. He explains what he’s making, talks about the sourcing and the preparation, converses with guests about flavors and techniques. Couples taste savory foie gras macarons, look at each other, and swoon in tandem. A server with “love” and “hate” tattooed on her fingers sets down the next plate. Someone comes around to pour drinks, explaining each selection. Two men sip sake and speak in Japanese that becomes less formal with each pour. A man and woman take detailed notes together in a little black book. The Blow and the Cure play in the background. At the end of the meal, the guests break out in applause.
What you’re eating Foie gras and black olive macarons. An eggshell filled with custard made with kelp, black truffle, and sea urchin. A diver scallop in its own shell with citrus and avocado-oil cream (pictured). Hand-rolled seaweed pasta in bonito broth with mushrooms and anchovy. Sea bream prepared with a variety of red ingredients: rhubarb, Campari, beets. Monkfish with milk jam fennel. Miso-cured duck. Dry-aged sirloin cap with red curry. Lime curd and ginger ice cream. Bittersweet chocolate with guava, macadamia, and candied kumquats. Beet-pomegranate marshmallows. None of the above. Whatever Ungar is making that night.
Care for a drink? Pairings are included with each meal. When you purchase your ticket, choose among wine, beer (all Aeronaut’s), sake, or nonalcoholic beverages.
Overheard Ungar narrating the food: “It takes days to make the eggs.” “These are super-special scallops.” “The chocolate is truly, truly local.” Commentary about the space, a factory-turned-entrepreneurial hub, with an area devoted to culinary ventures. “The city made it easy for trendy businesses to come in,” a woman informs her neighbors. Commentary on the decor: “I want my whole house to be shelves like this.” “The counters are PaperStone.” A recently arrived out-of-towner is not feeling Zen. “I tried meditating in the airplane and discovered it’s a bad idea,” she says. Her friend agrees: “The airplane is for drinking and watching bad movies.” A man tastes a dish and exclaims, “The mouthfeel is just fabulous.” “I like this beer,” a woman says, taking a sip. “It tastes like armpits.” A guest enthuses to Ungar, “I thought I knew what to expect flavorwise, but it’s so much more!”
14 Tyler St., Union Square, Somerville, 617-299-6362, www.tastingcounter.com.