- Address: 47 Massachusetts Ave, Boston, MA 02115
- Phone: (617) 585-9575
- Rating: 15/20
- Price (after tax + tip, excl. drinks): $110
- Courses: (8 main/10 total) 1 amuse / 6 savory / 2 dessert / 1 mignardise
- Price/Main Course: $14
- Rating: 15/20
- Value: 3/5
- Dining Time: 137 minutes
- Time/Course (total): 14 minutes
- Chef: Alexander Crabb (ex. L’Espalier, noma)
- Style: Ingredients-Driven
- Memory: Carrot+Coconut
I had a recent 8-course tasting at Asta (crowned Best New Restaurant of 2013 in Boston by Boston Magazine), and I’ve spent some time mulling over what kind of rating Asta should get.
- One of the dishes I strongly suspected was using inferior quality produce: truffles which had a texture of cardboard, and a volatile chemical smell. On top of that, the dish did not seem well-conceived to me at all – featuring apples and roasted celeriac, but with no umami or salting.
- Some dishes seemed minimalist for no reason than was the trend – the ingredients (salt cod; warm oyster) did not speak with any degree of clarity. When Alain Passard does minimalism, that is because his ingredients are a joy to behold and taste. Here it seemed done simply because it is the vogue.
- No main savory dish stood out, except for little technical details, like the crispy skin on dry-aged duck. Somehow there was an unbalanced sense of composition about the main savory dishes. This could be due to a harmful adherence to minimalism for its own sake, for example a beef heart dish that could have been much better with a jus/third-ingredient-sauce. Also very likely, a zest for experimentation, leaving each dish behind before it has been perfected.
But the plus points:
- A truly memorable carrot juice and coconut foam dessert. Sublime in ingredient pairing and conception.
- A very good cream-puff dessert based around black sesame.
- Hints of inspired pairing for the mains (beef heart and beets)
I was hovering between a 14/20 and a 15/20 for Asta, but I think it should receive the benefit of the doubt by virtue of being a young restaurant. There are glimpses of Chef Crabb’s ingredient pairing talent, but his attention is divided between a constantly rotating 3, 5, and 8 course menu, all of which share no overlap. If Asta streamlines the menu options into two menus at most, and focuses on perfecting those dishes, then I can see it becoming better. One thing Asta must do though, is not to serve questionable ingredients: at this price point inferior ingredients are unacceptable.
Chef Alex Crabb
Amuse: Lardo with herbs (3.25/5)
1. warm oyster: turnip, salted radish (3.25/5)
2. salt cod (3.75/5)
3. beef heart: beets (4/5)
A strong concentrated taste of heart muscle, with sour citrusy beet sauce and beet cubes. Almost a great pairing with the sour beet sauce, but let down by enforced minimalism. Beef heart was dry. Served with chips.
4. celery root: black truffle (2/5)
Served with apple, and apple+black truffle puree. A befuddling dish. The celeriac had very little salting, and little umami – eating it was like eating a huge wedge of starchy stuff, or the tasteless starchy danggui in a long-broiled Chinese herbal soup. To add insult to injury, the black truffles were cardboard-y. A let down.
5. duck breast: fermented rutabaga (4.5/5)
Air-dried for 7 days with a fan to reduce moisture, and then cooked on a plancha to achieve a great crispy skin texture. Like Chinese roasted pork. Great meat, though the merits were the duck’s alone.
6. sunchoke: black trumpets (4/5)
7. carrot & coconut (5/5)
An inspired pairing. Coconut milk and cream is made into foam, and sits on top of a bowl of carrot soup with a bit of ginger. Sprinkled on top is toasted coconut. Refreshing, and decadent at the same time.
8. cream puff: black sesame, smoked maple (4.75/5)
A black sesame cream puff on the outside, with black sesame cream, and smoked maple syrup drizzled on top. A dish celebrating black sesame that was really well-executed.
Mignardises: rabbits and buttered popcorn
5-course menu pictures
1. cauliflower: bottarga, anchovy
2. monk fish: roasted brussel sprouts, bacon broth
3. braised celery: black garlic gnocchi, chicken skin
4. lamb: hearty winter leaves, chestnut
5. black cocoa pavlova: passion fruit, olive oil