Right now, Boston dining—the entire city, really—is defined by tension between old and new. Let’s look to Uni for guidance. Three years ago, Ken Oringer’s small subterranean sashimi bar at the Eliot Hotel pushed out his 19-year-old flagship, Clio, usurping the space with a frisky izakaya lineup executed by chef-partner Tony Messina: innovative sashimi, sophisticated Asian street food, and freewheeling fancies such as a spoonful of smoked sea urchin, caviar, and quail egg yolk. Old bones plus new ideas built the best version of Uni. It can work for Boston, too. Back Bay, uni-boston.com.
Everything about Peter Ungár’s 20-seat showplace defies old modes of fine dining, from its advance-ticketing reservation system to its setup inside a Somerville warehouse. Behind the counter, Ungár and his team move like a small orchestra, composing tasting-menu experiences that excite and constantly change: starting points such as sake-lees-marinated squab, and sweet finishes like chamomile sherbet with tomatillo pearls. Somerville, tastingcounter.com.
Craigie on Main
Tony Maws’s slow-food standard-bearer continues to have the uncompromising vision. But for November’s 10-year anniversary of Craigie’s move to Main Street, the chef gifted himself with a lovely new look and feel: The refined dining room has moved to a daily-changing prix-fixe-only format, and the casual bar area has received a refresh and a distinct identity: COMB. There you’ll still find the legendary burger—made from three cuts of grass-fed beef—now joined by a second, monthly-rotating patty. Cambridge, craigieonmain.com.
A decade after O Ya’s debut, the wooden sushi bar has aged gracefully. Diners can’t help but linger for a sake flight before committing to a junmai; or be captivated by chefs torching hamachi here, dropping glittery teaspoons of squid-ink bubbles there. In a sea of plastic pretenders, Tim and Nancy Cushman’s $200-a-head restaurant with the Comic Sans menu is—indulge us—like the timeless mahogany of Asian small-plates dining. Leather District, o-ya.restaurant.
Ordering cornbread at a Turkish-inspired meyhane might sound as misguided as ordering baba ghanoush at a barbecue joint. But chef Cassie Piuma’s take—a deeply golden, thick-crusted round embellished with feta, honey, and black-eyed-peas-and-pepper relish—is utterly magical. Indeed, her whole menu is full of clever riffs on traditional mezze and bar snacks, including unpredictable nightly specials delivered seat-side. That’s the joy of Sarma: You can’t order wrong—it’s just a question of how spectacular the surprise will be. Somerville, sarmarestaurant.com.
Cutting-edge creativity and locally sourced produce are the key ingredients of chef Alex Crabb’s nightly tasting menus; everything else is in play (see: midsummer squash ribbons wrapped around plump cherries one night and blended into savory ragu the next). While a relaxed evening of five or eight courses is the ultimate Asta experience, we appreciate the recent series of à la carte “distractions,” from sporadic Saturday fried-chicken sandwiches to weeknight “wine school.” Back Bay, astaboston.com.