Review: Riding the waves at new Jody Adams restaurant Porto

February 21st, 2017

Last year, a few months after co-owner and chef Jody Adams and the team from Trade opened their lively, suave Mediterranean-on-Back Bay restaurant Porto, I waddled in to review the place. Adams was perched at the bar.

It was October — four months and one chef de cuisine ago. Eataly, lurking in the Pru next door, wasn’t open yet. Rialto, long Adams’s flagship, had closed upon her departure in June.

Like a lot of things at Porto, the cocktail cart is a little better now.

This month, the cart pulled up to my table with two different aged rums and delivered a daiquiri that maintained the drink’s trademark tartness but added several layers of complexity.

Dragging the bartender into the middle of the room to do tricks like the chef at a Mongolian barbecue is still a godawful affectation. But the drink was good, and there was no chance of burning down the building.

 More than six months into Porto’s run, Adams — along with co-owners Eric Papachristos and Sean Griffing and recently added chef de cuisine Andrew Hebert — has steadied the ship somewhat. The deceptively spacious dining room, next to Saks Fifth Avenue in one of the city’s highest-rent districts, is a stunner. Subway tile lines the long open kitchen; macro photos of seafood hang on poured concrete walls; the dark, glassed-in front room can be bustling and even uncomfortably loud, while the main dining room offers a warmer, cozier vibe; a long L-shaped counter rings the kitchen, and a separate bar overlooks the street. And an elegant patio offers A+ people-watching opportunities in the summer.
Owing perhaps in part to Adams’s long track record, the crowd seems to skew slightly older, and some stop to greet Adams — still watching from the bar during one recent dinner service.

The restaurant is named for the Italian and Portuguese word for “port,” and the menu focuses on fish in its many forms; it excels with Mediterranean-inspired meze plates, raw and cooked, cold and hot.

A crudo of fresh scallops displays precise knifework, and a dice of briny, crunchy nicoise olives offsets the sweet shellfish. Clams and guanciale — cured pork jowl — swim in a rich, fennel-seasoned broth that will have you searching for a spoon once the bread has run out. Crunchy, cornmeal-dredged oysters and a bright preserved-lemon aioli complement each other perfectly.

Grilled octopus at Porto.


Grilled octopus at Porto.

Grilled octopus is omnipresent these days — good thing they have so many tentacles, I guess — but Porto’s version is anything but perfunctory. Mining the southern coast of the Mediterranean for flavor, the perfectly tender, lightly charred cephalopod is surrounded by chickpeas (whole and hummused) and hunks of eggplant and enlivened by harissa.

Pasta dishes, made in house, are also standouts. Squid ink noodles, sometimes a pointless gimmick, here redeem the whole black-pasta genre, tossed with delicate squid, chorizo, and peppers (an earlier incarnation, no longer on the menu, added a bright citrusy tang that made it even better). Delicate campanelle pasta, studded with roasted cherry tomatoes and covered with bottarga — cured, grated fish roe — would make for a good main course if it doubled in size.

That wouldn’t be a bad idea, because Porto, even now, is afflicted with the same disease that plagues so many otherwise excellent restaurants: The wonderful small plates are more exciting and better executed than the main courses.

Whether this is a terminal case remains to be seen. The entrees on Porto’s refreshed menu are indeed more interesting under Hebert, who worked with Adams at Trade and Rialto before gaining experience in kitchens all over the country.

Pan-seared monkfish, matched with Brussels sprouts, raisins, and pine nuts, is moist and flavorful, served with a swatch of squash romesco (apparently anything can be a romesco now).

Whole fried fish.


Whole fried fish.

Whole fried fish is crisp and tender and meaty — a snap to take apart and eminently shareable. Though the accompanying pool of aioli flavored with Aleppo pepper runs a few shades too salty, it’s easy enough to dip into it sparingly.

And fish stew, with a beautifully cooked cut of hake at its center and mussels, squid, and white beans swimming in a fragrant broth, is more cohesive and satisfying now.

But a massive boneless rib eye that should be a showstopper at $60 is instead marred by bad butchering. Imagine preparing a rich, bright sherry reduction, grilling and trimming a slab of beautiful romanesco, dotting the dish with black garlic and shaving a mortgage payment’s worth of truffles over the whole thing, only to spend the next half-hour chewing and hacking at connective tissue that shouldn’t be anywhere near a properly butchered rib eye.

And what to do with a pallid, gray confit duck leg — served with duck and pork sausage and a tasty fried cube of mashed sweet potato — that has been salted beyond all reason? After three visits of entree ennui, we’ve chosen to share three main courses among four people and pile on the small plates. If I was stuck with the duck all to myself, I’d be chugging water straight from the sturdy glass decanter on the table.

By the fourth visit, I’m totally convinced that the way to best enjoy Porto is to stick mostly to the small plates. Servers, warm and accommodating, and quick with clear recommendations, won’t dissuade you from that approach.

The bar is inventive and competent. The Greek negroni subs out every ingredient in a classic negroni but somehow succeeds in appropriating the idea with unusual flavors; to create a drink called Le Parfumeur, the bar infuses mezcal with black pepper and mixes it with good vermouth and a high-test version of the artichoke amaro Cynar, then cuts the heat with lemon and lavender.

Desserts run from satisfying to strange. Chocolate Om Ali, an Egyptian bread pudding made with coconut and coriander, is hot and sweet and melty; a cylinder of intense chocolate mousse in a pool of vibrant cherry syrup is easily enough for two. But get all the way out of here with a recent affogato, which asks an otherwise sane person to pour hot espresso over a fruity scoop of delicious, deep red sorbet, thereby ruining both.

Few area chefs have done as much to earn a loyal following as Adams. But whether the loyalists who flock here will find what they’re looking for is an open question. For all the grace and skill on display — on plates, in glasses, and all over the dining room — Porto can seem confoundingly adrift.





Ring Road, Back Bay, Boston, 617-536-1234, www.porto-boston.comAll major credit cards accepted. Wheelchair accessible.

Prices Small and raw dishes $8-$17. Main courses $28-$60. Desserts $7-$12.

Hours Mon-Thu 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m., Fri-Sat 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m., Sun 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m.

Noise level The reverse mullet: party in the front, business in the back

What to order Raw scallop, barrel-aged Greek feta, fried oysters, clams, octopus, pan-seared monkfish, chocolate Om Ali.

Nestor Ramos can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @NestorARamos.


February 14th, 2017

Feb 14, 2017 Cameron Sperance,


While some attempt to aim Cupid’s arrow by sensually pairing entrees with live music, others are zeroed in on inviting materials. Restaurant owners look to surround their dishes with a romantic aura this time of year, and hiring the right team of designers is key to executing the perfect aesthetic shot.

Romantic restaurantFlickr / Portobay Hotels And Resorts

A restaurant build-out can cost a venue half its projected annual income, according to the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, so designers have to tug at purse strings before they can strike at diners’ heartstrings.

“Building for romance is definitely more expensive,” said Jo Megwa, owner of Italian eatery Piattini on Boston’s popular Newbury Street. The venue will open for its first Valentine’s Day since undergoing a romantic facelift.

“My designer fought me every step of the way,” Megwa said, “but we covered the front and back of our booths so we could pull them out for one day out of the year and provide our guests with intimate [seating arrangements].”

With more than half of her Valentine’s Day customers returning each year, she said the cost is ultimately worth it. Her seating strategy is pivotal in heating things up, as diners expect to feel like they are shrouded in privacy while in an expansive dining room.

“The way we sit is important when we think of romance,” said Cheryl Katz, the co-owner of C&J Katz Studio, which designed the dining rooms of Boston’s No. 9 Park and Menton. “We look to give the option of sitting on the same side with banquettes and always would recommend going with upholstered as opposed to wooden seating.”

While what is romantic might be up to each individual, certain things seem to be universal.

“Some people are wooed by grandiose spaces and others look for cozier spots, but the No. 1 thing that defines romance is lighting,” said Brian Miller, design director at Washington, DC, architecture firm Streetsense. “You can’t get romantic without good lighting.”

Boston's Bistro du Midi Fireplace Courtesy of Ashling Inc.

“Romance is a fireplace. There’s nothing like sitting in the dining room at Bistro du Midi by the antique fireplace and looking out on the lights of Boston Common,” said Tom Clark, president of restaurant construction company Ashling Inc. (responsible for the build-out of Bistro du Midi). “The only negative is that it might be slower business at those cozier spots during warmer months, so you need to find a balance.”

But Miller, who completed 41 restaurant projects while at Streetsense, said ideas of romance are also influenced by region.

“The perfect Valentine’s Day in Boston is going to be different than one in Miami or L.A. I look to give something primal or elemental — a courtyard in a warmer climate or a fireplace in a colder climate and then provide a counterbalance like expansive windows to make the space inviting year-round.”

There is another potential danger in narrowing your focus too much.

“The con of building for romance is that you become a cliché and that’s all your restaurant is about,” said Kenneth Feyl, architect for numerous Boston-area restaurants while at JD LaGrasse & Associates, “but for some restaurants, that may be the goal and what works.”

It works for Piattini, Megwa said.

“I don’t see any negative with going the romantic route,” she said. “We have candles — real ones because I’m against those battery ones — at our tables and back lighting to give an intimate ambiance, but we aren’t turning people off. We’re hosting financial firms at dinner, too.”



Not so fast: Roxy’s arrives at MarketStreet Lynnfield

February 13th, 2017

Not so fast: Roxy’s arrives at MarketStreet Lynnfield STEPHANIE SCHOROW  A sampling of Roxy’s Grilled Cheese offerings, including the cheese dog (upper right) and Green Muenster grilled cheese. (lower left). By Stephanie Schorow GLOBE CORRESPONDENT  FEBRUARY 10, 2017 WHO’S IN CHARGE The Hub’s guru of grilled cheese has chosen another, tougher testing ground. Last month, James DiSabatino, owner and operator of Roxy’s Grilled Cheese, took the comfort food formula that fueled his popular food truck business and launched it into a third brick-and-mortar location, this one in Lynnfield.   Roxy’s still runs food trucks, but its home kitchen is now located at its Allston outlet. (There’s another in South Boston, and Cambridge just became No. 4.) The Allston kitchen sets the menu for the various outlets, and DiSabatino continues to play with new sandwich variations.   THE LOCALE By opening a sit-down restaurant in the expansive MarketStreet Lynnfield shopping center, DiSabatino is not only testing the suburban market, but he’s going toe-to-toe with the big guys.   Bottom of Form Roxy’s is operating alongside behemoth chains such as Panera, Starbucks, and Boloco common to the American mall. However, DiSabatino really was jonesing for that Lynnfield location. He had grown up on the North Shore, and the MarketStreet site had once encompassed a club (the Colonial) that hosted his junior high school prom.   “It seems like the right place,” said DiSabatino, who launched the Roxy’s Grilled Cheese food truck in 2011 as a recent Emerson College graduate. “It puts us against much bigger competition. We’re taking our first steps of being more than a little food truck company.” The Lynnfield site features an expanded menu of new sandwiches, salads, hot dogs, and desserts. The décor still has a street-wise kick – there’s wall-size version of the tattoo that graced the shoulder of the cute but devilish girl in the original Roxy’s logo: a stylized skull with a fork and knife standing in for the crossbones. That tattoo, DiSabatino said, was originally aimed at putting a counterculture spin on a more traditional fast-food logo.   There are seats for 30 and there will be more when warm weather allows for patio dining. ZAC WOLF The stylized skull motify with fork and knife on the wall is based on the tattoo on the shoulder of the young girl in the original Roxy’s Grilled Cheese logo. ON THE MENU The Lynnfield spot has, of course, Roxy’s basic Classic Melt ($4.50) or Rookie Melt ($5) with Vermont cheddar and tomato, which you can match with roasted tomato soup ($3.50) for baby boomer nostalgia.   Vary your grilled cheese fix with the thoroughly gooey Three Cheese Melt ($5) or Green Muenster ($5), in which cheese, bacon, and guacamole make for a satisfying blend of tastes. Veggies can get down with the nicely made Caprese ($7.50) with mozzarella, roasted tomato, and kale pesto; there are vegan options as well.   Lots of sides to choose from: The hand-cut truffle tater tots ($4) were crisp and divine. You can go all out with Loaded Fries ($5.30/$6.30) or the West Coast fries, ($8), which came smothered with smoked gouda sauce, pickles, and caramelized onions. (These were a bit too loaded for us in terms of grease overkill.)   Hot dogs include plain, ($4.20) and cheese dog, ($4.80), loaded with smoked gouda cheese and barbeque sauce and crispy onions ($5.20). We sampled the cheese dog; the juicy, flavorful meat was almost drowned by the bland cheese.   Burger choices include the newly introduced Lucy ($7), a veggie patty with Muenster that makes for a nice meat substitute. For double-dipping into the deep fryer, there’s the Double Fried chicken sandwich ($7.30), in which the chicken somehow managed to be juicy despite the really crisped exterior.   Diet food, this ain’t. You can, however, get a turkey Caesar ($8.15) and house salad ($6.80). Both families and suburban hipsters will dig Roxy’s reasonable prices, and everyone can use some comfort food in these trying times. Roxy’s Grilled Cheese, 1205 Market St., Lynnfield. 781-304-4880, ROXY’S GRILLED CHEESE There’s no shortage of dishes and sides at Roxy’s Grilled Cheese in Lynnfield. Stephanie Schorow can be reached at

The Breakdown: Ruka’s Anticucho Skewers

February 6th, 2017

Fire it up.

ruka anticucho skewers


From left:

 Aji dulce sauce accompanies fermented black-bean-marinated chicken thighs.
 Served with bonito mayo and sea beans, tamarind-glazed octopus is braised, then grilled.
 Luscious rib-eye cap is dolloped with dashi butter and slivered raw watermelon radish.
 Trumpet mushrooms are confited with chilies, then drizzled with an herbaceous sauce and hot mustard.

How do you follow up a stunner like Yvonne’s, Downtown Crossing’s gilded supper club? Give diners something entirely fresh. That’s what partners Chris Jamison, Mark Malatesta, and Tom Berry wanted to do with their latest, Ruka, which opened in December. Focusing on two new-to-Boston cuisines, Peruvian-Japanese (nikkei) and Peruvian-Chinese (chifa), the team is turning out a menu heavy on seafood, citrus, and fire. That translates to stylized sushi, bright ceviches, and these creative skewers, known in Peru as anticucho. Traditionally a simple snack of grilled beef heart, “These are Ruka anticucho,” Berry says. “Latin flavors, mixed with Asian, give us the opportunity to do things that are more vibrant.”

Play Galaga, Doctor Who Pinball, and More at A4cade

January 26th, 2017

Opening so soon in Cambridge

At Ruka, where cocktails come in alligator pitchers and murals channel Peter Max’s Asian vacation

January 18th, 2017
Kanpachi ume tiradito at Ruka.


Kanpachi ume tiradito at Ruka.

Where to Ruka, a new restaurant in the Godfrey Hotel from the people behind Yvonne’s.

What for A taste of Nikkei (Peruvian-Japanese) cuisine from a team with impressive resumes. Executive chef Preston Miller was previously at the Breslin in New York, and the sushi bar is steered by Oishii legend Ting Yen.

The scene Crowded, late, midweek. Thumpy dance music makes deep talk difficult. Young, well-dressed people Instagram with enthusiasm. Women speaking Japanese eat sushi at tables made from tree-trunk cross-sections. Dragons curve around stone columns; walls are covered in black tile carved with geometric patterns; murals channel Peter Max’s Asian vacation. Multicolored strings warp and weft their way across the ceiling, looking like a proto-poncho on the loom. People depart; more people show up. Many wild-looking cocktails — in smoking glass vessels that resemble modern mate gourds; in alligator-shaped pitchers — are consumed.

What you’re eating The menu features sushi rolls; tiradito, Peru’s answer to sashimi; hot dishes from the wok; “monumental” plates to share (whole crispy Japanese butterfish, grilled long-bone short rib); and more. Nantucket bay scallop ceviche comes in yogurt leche de tigre with candied bulgur, scattered with pomegranate seeds; a kanpachi ume tiradito comes with a tiny scoop of apple-shiso sorbet crowned in gold leaf. It’s all very delicate. Order the octopus lomo saltado for something more solid and you’ll be surprised — the “shoestring fries” it’s served with arrive as a lacy garnish. Honey, they shrunk the spuds!

 Care for a drink? Turn to the chapbook of “cocteles,” which encompasses Incan mythology, watercolored line drawings, and drinks made with Peruvian chiles, pisco, and purple corn. (The Chicha Diabla is a boozy version of the traditional drink chicha morada.) If you happen to read the very fine print at the end, it is probably in the comfort of your own home, rather than the dimly lit restaurant, that you discover the exhortation “Please do not steal before reading this.” The cocktail menus are for sale for $20, and the proceeds go to local charities. I’m sorry! I’m bringing it back! The wine list takes the altitude at which grapes are grown as its organizing principle — an interesting one. There’s sake, too.

Overheard A smiling server presents the menus to a two-top: “We have options, ladies,” he declares. Several “ladies” later, the dames are in distress. “If he calls us that one more time,” one hisses. “He calls us that every time,” her friend replies. “Here’s your sippy cup,” a man says archly to his companion, delivering a large beverage. “It looks great in here, despite the Tory Burch logos,” a man observes, looking at the geometrically carved black tile. A chef torches something at the sushi bar, and nearby diners sniff the air. “Something’s on fire,” one says nonchalantly, then goes back to sipping his potion.

505 Washington St., Downtown Crossing, Boston, 617-266-0102,

Devra First can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @devrafirst.

Roxy’s Central/A4cade Takes Over Cambridge This Month: Fried Chicken, Foosball, More

January 17th, 2017

The dream collaboration between Roxy’s Grilled Cheese and Area Four is almost ready to materialize in the increasingly exciting MIT area of Cambridge’s Central Square. (Just this week, a new Saloniki location and Pagu opened up in the same area.) When Roxy’s Central/A4cade opens up — likely later this month — prepare for burgers, grilled cheese, cocktails, and tons of games.

The two venues share an address (292 Massachusetts Ave.), with Roxy’s Central located in the front and the A4cade accessible through a “speakeasy-style door,” per a rep. While the spaces will maintain their individual social media channels and branding, guests (and food) can flow freely between them. Once gamers get busy in the arcade, they can still order from the full Roxy’s menu from A4cade bartenders and waitstaff — no need to head back out front.

At Roxy’s Central, Roxy’s Grilled Cheese fans will find plenty of classics from the existing locations, such as the Green Muenster and Mighty Rib grilled cheese sandwiches, several burgers, truffle fries, and poutine. But then there’s more.

“Our guests have been asking for a veggie burger for over two years, so I’m excited for The Lucy,” says Roxy’s owner James DiSabatino. “It’s a veggie burger version of a juicy lucy. It’s a mushroom and lentil patty stuffed with muenster cheese, topped with thinly shaved lettuce, tomato, onion, and Justin’s sauce. We are also adding a new double-fried chicken sandwich — inspired by our pop-ups with Kenji Lopez-Alt in 2015. It’s buttermilk-brined, double fried chicken with thinly shaved lettuce, Grillo’s pickles, housemade ranch and spicy honey.” Check out the full Roxy’s Central menu below, from tater tot poutine to dulce de leche milkshakes. For those with dietary restrictions, there are a variety of vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options available.

Hidden behind Roxy’s mountains of grilled cheese, the Area Four team’s A4cade will serve up cocktails, beers, and wines alongside a lineup of games that includes shuffleboard, foosball, arcade games, and pinball machines. Stay tuned for more details as the opening approaches, and in the meantime, take a gander at the Roxy’s menu:

There’s No Crying in Skee-Ball: Sneak a Peek at A4cade’s Boozy Offerings

January 17th, 2017

The bar and arcade is almost ready to open in Cambridge’s Central Square, alongside Roxy’s Central

Later this month, Central Square will become home to a venue — a collaboration of two venues, really — where you can eat grilled cheese, burgers, and fried chicken sandwiches; play arcade games, pinball, and foosball; and drink cocktails themed after all your favorite pop culture references, old and new. Roxy’s Central/A4cade is on the verge of opening at 292 Massachusetts Ave. in Cambridge, as previously reported, with Roxy’s Central serving up grilled cheese and lots more in the front and A4cade located through a “speakeasy-style door” in the back, offering up cocktails, beer, wine, and loads of games. The Roxy’s Grilled Cheese and Area Four teams are behind the two halves of the project.

Refer back to the Roxy’s Central menu here to get excited about tater tot poutine, dulce de leche milkshakes, and loaded hot dogs — or stay here to learn more about the cocktail program that awaits at A4cade.

A cocktail at A4cade, served in a TARDIS
A cocktail at the forthcoming A4cade, plus a burger and grilled cheese
Zac Wolf for A4cade

“A4cade’s beverage program features an expertly compiled cocktail list disguised as childhood memories (with various octane levels to satisfy both traditional light weights and the professionals),” says consultant Augusto Lino, a Hungry Mother alum and opening bar co-manager at Area Four’s new South End location. “Think Frozen Painkillers served in plastic kids’ cups, poured from Alice in Wonderland-decorated machines that demand, ‘drink me.’ Bar manager Tainah Soares extends Area Four’s commitment to quality into A4cade’s selection of small breweries (alongside industry favorites such as the champagne of beers) and killer Magnums of wine (served P.I. style…we’ll let you guess what that means) from some of the best producers in France, Spain and California.”

The frozen drink Lino mentions, The Kill Screen, is available in “one player” or “two player” format ($9/$18), made with rums, coconut, and citrus. Likewise, a couple of other tiki-inspired beverages are also available for one or two drinkers ($12/$24 each): Kong Jungle (“barrels be damned!”) is made with Blackwell, Rhum JM, allspice, banana, and citrus, while the Land Shark (“I’m just a dolphin, ma’am”) features Privateer Tiki (from Ipswich), Angostura 7 Year, cognac, sherry, and passionfruit.

 Also on the cocktail list: a seasonal gin and tonic, a bottled Aperol spritz, and a brandy cocktail featuring North County Apple Brandy from GrandTen in South Boston. And that’s not all. There’s the Rainbow Road cocktail ($10), described as “clouds and unicorns,” which mixes Sipsmith with watermelon and grapefruit. Worst.Drink.Ever ($10) — say that in Comic Book Guy’s voice — is made of vodka, St. Germain, cranberry, a lemon/lime shrub, and soda. A “spicy AF” cocktail, There’s No Crying in Skee-Ball ($11), combines “Jimmy Dugan-approved” Chamucos with Lejay and lime. The list continues with plenty of fun references, not to mention creative glassware.

“I’m a child at heart who love cartoons, games, and prancing around in Mickey Mouse gear and shaggy coats, so I obviously don’t take myself too seriously,” says Soares. “Looking for inspiration to create this menu wasn’t hard at all. It’s a lot of playful takes on classics with things such as a Cape Codder with a lemon/lime shrub and a hot toddy that is served in an ‘80s Thermos lunch box with a snack and a mom note. Our cocktail program is very much serious when it comes to creativity and taste, but our presentation will be as silly and fun as it gets!”

Roxy’s Lynnfield Is Now Open With New Sandwiches, Hot Dogs, and More

January 17th, 2017

The North Shore outpost of the grilled cheese mecca is previewing what’s to come at Roxy’s Central Square.

Roxy’s Lynnfield Is Now Open With New Sandwiches, Hot Dogs, and More

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