Who’s Cookin’: Somerville’s Best Chefs 2016

Foundry on ElmShayne Nunes, Foundry on Elm and Saloon. Photos by Adrianne Mathiowetz.

In a city with a restaurant scene this vibrant, how could we possibly highlight just one outstanding chef? We’ve got the lowdown on each of the reader-voted “Best Chef” nominees from this year’s Scout’s Honored Awards, with a few of our personal favorites thrown in for good measure.

scout's honoredShayne Nunes
Foundry on Elm & Saloon
(617) 628-9999

Chef Shayne Nunes grew up here in Somerville, and he loves this city.

That’s immediately obvious when you ask him about his work at the helm of Foundry on Elm. Somehow, instead of talking about his own successes, he’s shouting out his other favorite local restaurants: Highland Kitchen, Bergamot, Five Horses Tavern, the Kirkland Tap & Trotter, Trina’s Starlite Lounge.

So allow us to brag on his behalf. In 2011, Nunes joined Foundry’s staff as a simple garde manger. He worked his way up to the line, falling in love with the adrenaline rush that came along with working in the kitchen. Today, the 24-year-old wunderkind is running the show at a pair of Davis Square standouts: Foundry, one of only a handful of brasserie-style restaurants in the city, and its sibling speakeasy, Saloon. He’s developed a menu that marries the multiple interests of a diverse community. Poutine (and the best burger in Davis Square) are there to satiate hungry Tufts students, tagliatelle alla bolognese and pan-seared salmon entice visitors from elsewhere in New England and the pumpkin pizzetta can satisfy just about anyone.

Nunes will tell you that he was simply in the right place at the right time. We’ll tell you the truth: This city loves him, too.

juliet union square

Josh Lewin and Katrina Jazayeri, Juliet

scout's honoredJosh Lewin and Katrina Jazayeri
Juliet
(617) 718-0958

Good things come to those who work their asses off.

Juliet’s Josh Lewin and Katrina Jazayeri just opened the doors to their all-day cafe a little over six months ago. But already, the accolades have been pouring in—from Bon Appétit, which, in naming it one of the 50 best new restaurants in the country, called the little Union Square gem “the lunch spot you dream of stumbling into,” and from Eater, which honored Jazayeri with one of its 2016 “Young Guns” awards.

That could be because this pair simply doesn’t have an off switch. They worked every single one of the restaurant’s first 100 days—just about every hour, in fact. And they seem more than happy to do so. The Union Square residents want Juliet to be a neighborhood hive with its doors wide open to the Somerville community, which means they want to be there, saying hello and preparing omelets and breakfast tacos worth stumbling out of bed for.

The Boston Globe may have called Juliet a “jewel box filled with surprises,” and they’re absolutely right that this spot is dazzling. But a visit here isn’t like staring down at the harshly lit counter at Zales—it’s more like gazing upon precious heirlooms that have been in the family for generations. At Juliet, you’ll feel right at home.

scout's honoredCassie Piuma
Sarma
(617) 764-4464

Don’t have a reservation at Sarma? Prepare to hover around the bar and pounce on a seat as soon as it opens. Even on a Tuesday night, this just-off-the-beaten-path Winter Hill spot—nearly impossible to access by public transportation, and not entirely easy to get to by car, either—is nonetheless a hub of activity from the moment its doors open.

That’s largely thanks to chef Cassie Piuma, whose spice-driven Middle Eastern small plates are more than worth renting a Zipcar or standing in line for. Every bite you take at Sarma is packed with flavor, and each menu item, from BBQ shortribs to za’atar fried feta to seven layer hummus, is consistently satisfying.

Piuma has long said that Sarma is her dream restaurant. How convenient, then, that each time we bite into one of those biscuits with jalapeño-whipped feta, smoked ham and honey, we realize that it’s our dream restaurant, too.

scout's honoredTru Lang
Journeyman
(617) 718-2333

Things are really heating up for Tru Lang.

Unexpected flavors and little delights have always abounded on the Journeyman tasting menu, which changes daily and celebrates the freshest possible fare. Since Lang joined the Journeyman team in 2014, first as a pastry chef and eventually as the restaurant’s chef de cuisine, he’s highlighted locally grown and harvested ingredients. This summer’s “Eat More Plants” series was a particular delight.

Like the fresh greens filling the flower boxes that line its front windows, Journeyman has regularly grown and changed over its last half-decade. And 2016 was no different, with drastic renovations that saw the removal of the restaurant’s gas-powered appliances, the installation of a wood-burning stove and the introduction of a brand new sibling concept—Heat—which now occupies the Journeyman space Monday through Wednesday.

This more casual sibling has Lang embracing the embers in a whole new way, with fiery a la carte offerings— root vegetables served with an ash vinaigrette, whole roasted chicken, steak and bake—that find the chef jumping out of the frying pan and into the fireplace, with incredible results.

true bistro

Stuart Reiter, True Bistro

screen-shot-2016-09-22-at-2-47-53-pmStuart Reiter
True Bistro
(617) 627-9000

Stuart Reiter came to the kitchen in a somewhat roundabout way. The vegan chef was studying mathematics in Oregon but quickly realized that cooking in his spare time helped keep him groundedand offered a welcome respite from dining-hall dishes.

A vegetarian since 1991 (and a vegan since shortly thereafter), Reiter has been at Teele Square’s True Bistro since it opened in 2010. It’s long been a given to him that you can offer a fine dining experience without meat at the center of the plate. He studied under Chef Annie Somerville at the award-winning San Francisco vegetarian restaurant Greens and cooked his way through vegan eateries around the world. Having lived in a half-dozen different countries, he brings a global understanding to the True Bistro menu with outstanding plant-based dishes like seitan skewers with seared carrot-noodle cake, cucumber salad and a peanut satay sauce.

Reiter and co-owners Linda and Michael Harrison knew that their vegan menu would make True Bistro a destination restaurantand it has been. But they have fans in their Teele Square neighborhood, too, who come back to dine on delectable dishes like devils on horseback made with tofu and cashew cheese.

It’s been such a hit that the restaurant announced this summer it was expanding into an adjacent space, adding additional seating to accommodate even more vegans and vegetariansand meat eaters who have heard that Reiter’s dishes are unmissablein the near future.

tasting counter

Peter Ungár, Tasting Counter

screen-shot-2016-09-22-at-2-47-53-pm

Peter Ungár
Tasting Counter
(617) 299-6362

The Boston Globe’s 2015 restaurant of the year, helmed by experimental culinary adventurer Peter Ungár, was something of a gamble when it opened last July. There was the setting (a warehouse building that was also home to a brewery), the tickets (guests were expected to pay in full in advance) and the menu (predetermined by the time you sat down at the 20-seat counter).

Now just over a year old, Tasting Counter has cemented itself as one of Greater Boston’s best fine dining destinations—a testament to Ungár’s vision and dedication. Every Wednesday through Saturday, a two-hour culinary event is taking place around the counter at 14 Tyler St.—a complicated, choreographed dance where the food is the focus. The multi-sensory experience, where dishes are prepped and plated directly in front of diners, could have been written off as a spectacle. But it’s a spectacle with substance. The constantly evolving nine-course menu has brought guests one-of-a-kind bites, from an urchin and and kelp custard that comes served in an eggshell to moonfish and spoonbill caviar on cauliflower puree.

It feels like a perfectly surreal, once-in-a-lifetime experience, and yet it isn’t—you’ll find guests returning to Ungár’s table, month after month.

This story originally appeared in our September/October print edition, which is available for free at more than 150 drop spots throughout Somerville (and just beyond its borders) or by subscription.

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