City’s culinary stars take New England ingredients to flavorful new heights
With the Atlantic on one side and miles of fertile farmland on the other, Boston has long enjoyed access to some of the country’s best food sources. As more and more diners show a passion for eating locally, some of the city’s top chefs are responding with dishes that reflect the flavors of the region in both classic and innovative ways.
It can help to have a fresh perspective. Maxime Fanton, the French-born, Italian-raised executive chef of Alcove, cooked in restaurants from Spain to Shanghai before arriving in Boston three years ago.
“When we opened the restaurant, we wanted to make as much of an effort as we could to have New England products,” Fanton says. “I’ve been learning about the terroir, the environment, the seasons, and what the land and sea have to offer.”
Among his favorite ingredients is wagyu beef from Vermont, which he uses in a pappardelle dish that substitutes locally grown cranberries for tomato. Another locally produced treat is a bit more surprising: branzino. When the restaurant debuted last fall, Fanton was importing 80-120 branzino per week from Greece, until he heard about a cutting-edge indoor fish farm in central Connecticut.
“Yesterday, we received our first case of locally raised New England branzino,” he says with a hint of pride. “It’s amazing—it has all the qualities you like.”
While branzino might not swim naturally in the waters off New England, plenty of other fish do, and you’ll find them in abundance at Eastern Standard. There, chef Brendon Chadwick creates focused, elegant seafood dishes with everything from skate to monkfish. And while salmon is a perennial bestseller, guests have a special fondness for the halibut.
“Halibut is quite a unique fish; there’s a great texture, the flesh is quite flakey, and it sells at a higher price point,” Chadwick explains. “We always sell out of it when we put it on as our special.”
When it comes to composing meat dishes, Chadwick takes a unique approach.
“I try to get in tune with the seasonality of the region and look at the vegetable as opposed to the meat,” he says. “I figure out what I’m going to get and go backwards to decide what protein to put with it, and that always seems to work out a bit better.”
And while winter can make local offerings scarce, the advent of warm weather means a veritable bounty.
“Coming up now you’ve got local asparagus, yellow wax beans and snow peas,” he says.
At Branch Line in Watertown, a simple preparation brings out the best in some of its most popular seafood dishes.
“We just put a cod on the menu that comes right off the shore,” says Liz Alfonso, service manager. “It’s pan-seared with some artichoke, green olive and creamed potatoes, and it’s hearty, simple and delicious.”
As for the restaurant’s wildly popular rotisserie chicken, it’s 100 percent vegetarian fed and free range.
“There’s a 48-hour process to prep them to be cooked,” Alfonso explains. “They’re seasoned with Mediterranean spices like coriander, paprika, a little dried sumac and a couple other things, then slow cooked and served with drippings and potatoes.”