I'm not one to usually post reviews, but after searching for a place to eat on my one night in town (see prev. post) several people recommended Asta. But I couldn't find out much. There's no PR machine at work here. Nary even a thread on CH. So here I am.
I have to start by saying that I have some control issues, and barely let my husband order what he wants without chirping in. I need to know what's happening, what to expect and then...I'm going to critique it. And here, I couldn't do that. My choices- how much do I want to eat (3, 5, or 8 courses) and do I want wine with that. I didn't even get to keep the menu. When I asked about flatware, I was told " Chef will give it to you when you're ready for it" Clearly, I was not ready. From the moment we walked in and were given a lovely little glass of bubbles (with The Clash!!!! playing in the background), to the final course, I was not in the driver's seat and that was good. Fantastic. Sublime.
I loved how the kitchen was more than just an open-concept. The kitchen participated in my meal actively. Not something you see. The sommelier was engaging, knowledgeable, charming, and had some amazing pairings.
Now the food. I won't describe each dish. In a way, it's not the point. I will say that I found everything to be thought-provoking, well- thought out, beautifully executed and some times very polarizing. (I will say that the house 'signature dish' is just this. I loved it. Husband took a pass) I found the foie gras to be 'outside the box' and man, did it work. The sweetbreads? Beautiful. Again prepared, with a different angle. My striped bass- it's like I won a lottery ticket. And the cereal for dessert? It made me laugh and slurp every drop.
As we were about to begin our meal, the couple next to us was finishing up, and the lady offered some general (and very specific) criticism to the owner. As someone who does this often (although usually just to myself or my dining partner), by the end of the meal I realized that that kind of "control", is something best left at the door here. Just eat and drink what they give you, use the forks when they're there, and enjoy.
It was amazing.
thanks for your review. since I have similar control issues (unless I know the kitchen, in which case I am fine with letting go) this is very useful to me!
Thx so much for taking the time,k. Very few high end places get CH talk so this is very very helpful.
btw- Control issues>> who, me?
Just because I carry my own pepper grinder and sweetener(at least)? :-}
My husband took me there for my birthday this past Tuesday, and wow, we both agreed that it was nearly too cool for Boston and felt transported to somewhere much more cosmopolitan. The transformation from the old Despina's space was really well-executed, service was so friendly and fun and as the OP mentions the food was really thought-provoking and delicious. I would go back in a heartbeat.
They also seem to have the right dispositions for an open kitchen, and it is great how the chefs interact by running food. It always makes me laugh when chefs with bad tempers decide to put an open kitchen in their restaurant.
Well, that was one heck of an experience. I hope we're able to go seasonally as I bet the menus are equally delightful as we roll through the year.
We arrived and were seated at the bar near the kitchen so we could watch all the action. Glasses of sparkling wine were brought out, as well as a crostino with quince paste and lardo.
Attached is a photo of the menu. We opted to get one 5 course and one eight course with pairings. The nice thing about getting both is you're able to have some courses with two dishes, some with one, and all of the pairings. I have to say I was more blown away by the 5 course, but that's quibbling.
Cauliflower - bottarga (not shaved), anchovy, capers, roasted - very briny, very bright!
Warm oyster - more turnipy in taste than I was prepared for - unusual.
Seaweed pasta with roe & mussels and foam - evidently the only surviving original dish from the opening. This dish challenged and delighted me as a diner. I loved it.
Monkfish in bacon broth with roasted brussel sprouts. I tried to steal the pot bubbling on the stove to take the broth home with me. Best taste of the last 6 months, easily. There was mention of a take on ramen in that broth. Please, please, please.
Fresh Cheese X3 - nori, kale chips - it was definitely a nice rendition, but shouldn't have been served next to the bacon broth - it couldn't stand up.
Braised celery with black garlic gnocchi, chicken skin, braised chicken - comfort food elevated - the gnocchi were really complex.
Celery root with black truffle & apples - way too sweet for me. The only thing I really enjoyed was making tiny sandwiches out of the apple & truffle slices.
Duck breast with farro and radishes in a cheddar beer sauce - perfectly crisp skin, rare duck, earthy sauce.
Venison - fermented rutabaga, pickled beet - the venison, while masterfully cooked, was a bit tough, and the accompaniments didn't sing.
Beef heart with bitter greens and sunflower seeds - so incredibly tender, if slightly chewy, this was a salad I could eat daily.
Carrot & coconut - cold carrot soup with a meringue and toasted coconut - a bright palate cleanser.
Black cocoa pavlova with passion fruit, citrus, olive oil - let me go on record and say I normally hate pavlovas. This I loved.
Cream puff - black sesame and smoked maple - the cream puff broke and the most delicious cream poured onto the smoked maple. It was good.
The pairings were interesting and sometimes obscure - the sommelier is an incredibly talented woman from Menton & L'Espalier. I felt the pairings really elevated the food.
Probably one of the best 5 meals of the past 2 years. That includes all my eats in Europe and across the US.
I cannot remember the details of my last meal, but the food is remarkably good and is a place that i go to about once per month. My only complaint when talking to the chef was that the Venison - while done perfectly - could have come from Rendezvous or even Jean-Georges while every other dish that i tried was something that I could only have at ASTA.
One criticism: this is not a restaurant such as Troquet or Babbo where you will find a real gem on the wine list. That said, the wine is well chosen.
I much prefer ASTA to L'Espalier and think that it is a candidate for best restaurant in Boston. I like the food even better than Ribelle which is also very good. These may be my two favorite European restaurants in Boston.
I tried Asta recently and thought it was just OK. Perhaps my expectations were too high due to some of the hype. Food was good for the most part, but few dishes really stood out and some of the flavors were a bit muddled. We shared the 8 and 5 course tasting menu, and among them were a few dishes that shared flavor components between the menus. The beef heart and monkfish were excellent, balanced dishes. Some dishes had highs and lows, such as the delicious veal paired with undercooked fava beans. The warm oyster dish was gritty and just generally off-putting. I expected flawless, thoughtful execution for a tasting menu of the caliber Asta aspires to, but it really struck me as inconsistent at the end of the meal.
We didn’t do the full wine parings (one of us drank beer and one a few glasses of wine). If you like to chat up a sommelier, Asta is for you. Even the two glass pours we ordered elicited a lot of friendly but lengthy explanation, without much heed to the clues that a personal conversation was underway. Food service was OK, save for one annoying issue. I ordered one seared foie gras dish (a $24 supplement) to share. Two full size portions came out. I inquired about this, but was told they had split the portion. I was pretty sure this wasn’t the case, but didn’t really want to to speak to the servers much more as they had spent a lot of time chatting at the table. Sure enough we were billed for 2 supplements.
Which brings us to the way they present the check. There is no itemized bill, but rather lines for total food, beverage and tax. Maybe this just sat wrong to me as I knew there was a debatable $20+ charge sunk in there. The total was $316.43 with tip (including 2 glasses of wine and 2 beers), which I considered a poor value for the experience.
We sat at a table, but the food bar looked like a much more interesting location. Maybe I remember the old Despina’s decor too well and brick walls, but the room didn’t wow me or feel very cozy. I was pleased to see that they had retained the wall painting of Zeus from the old Despina’s though.