This year, Boston restaurants had burger fever, with just about every place in town offering a version of the sandwich. Japanese ramen noodles began to take hold, appearing at pop-up restaurants and on late-night menus. The cocktail craze continued, but new wine bars also appeared on the scene. The Oak Room reinvented itself, while Locke-Ober closed. Kendall Square blossomed, and the already burgeoning South Boston waterfront prepared to explode. The constant amid changes and passing trends? Some really good food. With Thanksgiving upon us, it’s time to reflect on the larger things for which we are grateful. The smaller pleasures are worth remembering, too. Here are 15 dishes I was thankful for this year.
248 Elm St., Somerville. 617-764-3334. www.falafelshop.com
Long a fan of D.C.’s Amsterdam Falafelshop, I couldn’t have been happier when a branch of the pita purveyor opened in Somerville’s Davis Square. The falafel itself is delicious, cumin-scented, crisp on the outside, and properly cooked on the inside. But it’s the toppings bar that makes this the best falafel sandwich in town, with more than a dozen pickles, sauces, and salads to choose from.
253 Washington St., Somerville. 617-764-2180. www.casabrestaurant.com
This Latin and Caribbean tapas joint is one of the best date-night restaurants around. The place is stylish and sparkling, modern and romantic. And the food is great. One standout is the carne mechada, a Puerto Rican version of pot roast. The deeply flavored beef stew is served with gnocchi made from yuca, cloaked in brown butter and garnished with sage leaves. It’s a delicious fusion of bistro and Borinquen.
Roast autumn squash
71 Union St., Newton Centre. 617-928-6000. www.farmsteadtable.com
What a joy to find vegetables so beautifully and simply showcased on a restaurant table. Buttery, velvety roast acorn squash (pictured at right) spills over with kale, Brussels sprouts, and carrots. It is far more satisfying than it has any right to be, each ingredient cooked to its ideal point, a true portrait of the bounty of the season.
500A Commonwealth Ave., Boston. 617-532-9150. www.thehawthornebar.com
Both polished and relaxed, the Hawthorne is one of the best bars in town. It serves great snacks to match. For instance, Reuben toasts, which offer the flavors of the sandwich in a much tinier package: smoky meat, melted cheese, sharp kraut, and a bit of tangy dressing. Perfect with whatever potion the skilled bartenders are shaking up for you.
21 Temple Place, Boston. 617-338-5333. www.jmcurleyboston.com
Located solidly between the fast-food burger and the upscale $20 burger is JM Curley’s just-right burger. A beefy 9-ounce patty on a toasted sesame bun with thin-sliced pickles, caramelized onions, cheddar, and Russian dressing, it isn’t anything fancy. It’s simply really satisfying, what you want when you want a burger.
560 Tremont St., Boston. 617-695-1250. www.kitchenbostonmass.com
History is on the menu at Kitchen, which lists the dates that dishes such as mock turtle soup and
tournedos Rossini were created. Lobster Thermidor may be from 1894, but it certainly doesn’t taste old. It’s a rich casserole of lobster meat, flour-based gnocchi, and spinach, all bound together with cream and cheese, brightened with mustard and topped with breadcrumbs. Decadent and delicious.
Fried Maine lobster caramel
89 Broad St., Boston. 617-348-1234. www.nixsmate.com
When I reviewed this restaurant in the Financial District Hilton hotel, I named this the strangest and most strangely compelling lobster dish of the year. It was only June. With a month to go in 2012, I stand by my assessment. Chef David Nevins batters and fries lobster, then serves the golden nuggets of tail and claw meat in a caramel sauce augmented with cheddar cheese, green onions, and chilies. The flavors swirl into a cosmic, wonderful weirdness that seems inspired equally by Vietnam, New England, and the kingdom of Bong-landia.
Tagliatelle with lobster and short rib
Oak Long Bar
138 St. James Ave., Boston. 617-585-7222. www.oaklongbarkitchen.com
I approached this dish with skepticism, as I’ve been fooled by similar surf-turf-and-pasta constructions before. They sound so promising, and then they don’t deliver. This version sings, handmade tagliatelle with sweet, tender pieces of lobster, craggy chunks of beautifully cooked short rib, zucchini, and pecorino.Continued...