Asta – Boston Magazine Hall of Famer

Asta is not just a restaurant, it’s an experience. You buy your tickets in advance. There is no menu, and I don’t mean there is a QR code. There is no menu at all. To reserve your seat, you purchase the tasting menu, the only choice, for $110 per person. You also pay a tip in advance. When you arrive, you can add drinks, like the wine paring for $65 per person. There are a couple of supplemental courses you can add. The night I visited there was a seared fois gras course and a cheese course. We got them both.

There are only about ten tables. There are also a couple of counters, the best seats in the house. The kitchen is open and you can see cooking and plating just a few feet away. Chef Alexander Crabb takes excellent care of you, not only does he make amazing food, but he is engaging and caring. His staff too, is attentive and friendly, making the experience of dining at Asta something exceptional.

The “menu” changes daily and even sometimes between the 6:00 and 8:30 seatings. As a result, the food is incredibly fresh and seasonal. It’s also a surprise. You never quite know what you are going to get. Compared to the sample menu on their website, only two of the dishes were actually presented. Some of the major components were there, but very different from how they were described. We’ll describe our experience, but undoubtedly yours will be unique.

The evening started with a Johnny Cake. It was served with dashi and topped with smoked trout row, a very nice start to the meal. Next came tea seeped lily shoots, garnished with a variety of edible flowers. It’s rare that I eat something I’ve never tried before, but I had never had lily shoots. This was the only dish I wouldn’t eat again, but it was enjoyable trying something so different, and the chef’s creativity and imagination came shining through.

Next came asparagus. As my wife generally doesn’t like mushrooms, and they thoughtfully served her shaved porcinis on the side. In the end, she ate them all. The tender asparagus was nicely contrasted by crispy wild rice on a plate dotted with lemon sauce.

The first meat course was soft shelled crab, a seasonal treat fried and served with coleslaw and dijonnaise. The second was a beautiful quail stuffed with stinging nettle and black garlic. The quail was semi-boneless and cooked perfectly, tender and succulent. It was accompanied by rhubarb, (more seasonality) fava, and an asparagus sauce.

In between the two meat courses, came a heavenly ramp risotto. It is a bright green color, lightly garnished, with a wonderful aroma. This was one of the courses featured on the sample menu, and I can only hope that means it makes a regular appearance because it is that good. The rice is incredibly creamy without losing its texture, and the flavor is strong but bright.

Two supplemental dishes were next. Both were excellent. First, a generous portion of seared fois gras over a small blondie and a wedge of fresh grapefruit, finished with a baked Campari meringue. The sweetness of the blondie, tartness of the grapefruit, and richness of the fois played so beautifully together. Next came the cheese course. We were served Whitney from Jasper Hill Creamery in Greensboro, VT. The cheese is alpine in style and lends well to melting, which is what Asta did with it. I jokingly called it buckwheat nachos, but a more sophisticated name would be buckwheat raclette. They paired it with a French cider from Domaine Lesuffleur. Do not skip the cheese course.

Dessert was what they called a “Twinkie cake” topped with oats and cherries and a cardamom foam. It was paired with a fun Korean rice beer called Makku that I really enjoyed. Finally we shared a small bowl of treats, a brownie, a cookie, and some caramel corn. Delicious, but not overindulgent after the previous eight courses.

This was the fourth stop on out Boston Magazine Hall of Fame tour. As I was eating a big plate of flowers, I thought it had no chance at knocking off Deuxave for the top spot. But after dishes like the quail and the ramp risotto it was closing in. And once I ate the fois gras and the cheese, it was clear that Asta is the best of the group so far. But it wasn’t just the great food and perfect pairings, the service was so warm and attentive that I really felt like I was eating in the kitchen at a friend’s house.

For some reason, in the nine years that Asta has been operating I never bothered to try it. They don’t advertise much. Their website is pretty basic. The location is on Mass Ave. not really near anything. Ok I’m making excuses for myself. Not eating at Asta for nine years was a bad mistake, one which I won’t repeat.

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