Welcome to the future: Artists at the Artisan’s Asylum craft masterpieces with a 3-D printer, brewers at Aeronaut experiment with novel ways to use wild yeasts, and—so we’ve heard—a robot cooks lunch at cleantech startup incubator Greentown Labs. In the midst of all this, in the nerdiest corner of Somerville, it’s no surprise to find a restaurant that looks very much like a lab. The walls are clean, white, and lined with glass, but those aren’t test tubes—they’re jars of fermenting vegetables, bottles of sake, crystal clear wine glasses. And these are the best kind of experiments: the ones you can eat.
If you manage to get here (through the unassuming door of the brewery and past the chocolatiers, fermenting tanks, and indoor wheatgrass farms, of the Aeronaut Food Hub), you’re probably fine with shunning convention. Good. This is an unconventional experience. Instead of a bill at the end, you pay for a ticket online beforehand. Instead of a menu to read, you sit and wait for the food to come out. Instead of gazing at your date from across a table, you’re facing the kitchen (the cleanest and quietest we’ve ever seen, replete with a vase of fresh flowers in the middle of the action—seriously). For the next two hours, you’ll watch a team led by chef-owner Peter Ungár and chef de cuisine Marcos Sanchez painstakingly craft marvels of gastronomic science that they’ll personally deliver and explain each time.
You should listen to what they have to say, because the explanations are as mind-blowing as the tastes. Each dish has an epic history: The black bean paste crusting your torched mackerel began fermenting a month ago; your scallops are marinated in leftover rice mash from Waltham’s Dovetail Sake; the whey squeezed out from production of the cheesecake’s house-made mascarpone lacto-ferment the cranberries in the sauce that accompanies it. With all the work that goes into one dish, you’ll marvel at the spread of more than nine—and at the way it all progresses smoothly from bites of silky crudos to foie gras custards and sweetbreads to morsels of Berkshire pork and hanger steak. Along the way, wine pairings grow correspondingly dark and deep until you’re pleasantly stuffed, blushing with optimism about the future of food.
All evening on Tuesdays and after-hours Wednesday through Saturday (starting at 10 p.m.), the Counter opens up as a much more casual affair: a wine bar with pours starting at $8 and snacks starting at $5. That’s honestly a steal to sample the best of Boston’s only fully natural wine program.
Overwhelmed by the server’s lengthy explanation of dishes and wines? Don’t stress; at the end they’ll give you a tiny menu with everything you’ve munched and sipped on listed in detail.
You can take some of this culinary ingenuity home. Browse the shelves near the entrance for goodies to purchase, like blueberry-vermouth preserves (unsurprisingly, the blueberries are grown in the Counter’s own compost).
Natural wine is a buzzword, but what does it mean? It’s not an independently verified certification (yet), but it usually refers to wines that—in addition to using grapes grown organically or biodynamically—utilize minimal additives and technological intervention during production and in cellar aging. The result? A truer expression of terroir.
Tastes of Tasting Counter
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