World-Class Dining in the Heart of Boston
Photographed by Jazz Martin
Ostra sits on the corner of Charles Street South and Stuart Street, steps from the Boston Public Garden. In my younger years, I lived amongst the crowds of college kids in this area for four years when this slice of Back Bay near Boston’s theatre district had a decidedly different feel. I look at the stunning floor-to-ceiling glass doors, the subtle sign, and the intricate mosaic tile-lined entryway and am I am ready to be transported into a new era.
My expectations for Ostra are high; it’s under the umbrella of the prestigious Columbus Hospitality Group, which is responsible for some of my favorite restaurants, including Mistral, Sorellina and Teatro. I’ve heard from different sources that Ostra is another figurative feather for Executive Chef Jamie Mammano to put in his cap, but I want to make that decision for myself. That being said, I will say if I’m judging off of first impressions, this place is a hit.
The décor is high end and sophisticated; the ceilings are adorned with large dangling chandeliers evocative of the sea, the walls are decorated with captivating underwater prints, and the tables are clean and classic. There is a piano and lounge on one end by the bar that sets the mood as the pianist plays soft, yet upbeat music. We pass a striking showcase of fresh fish on ice and the open kitchen as we make our way to our table next to a wall of windows where we can watch the world go by.
Our waiter, Mike, brings us a warm loaf of bread with potato flakes baked into the crust, paired with fresh butter topped with herbs which sits on top of Spanish olive oil and a few sprinkles of sea salt. The combination is heavenly. Shortly thereafter, our freshly shucked oyster platter arrives. We receive a variety of oysters from Cape Cod and Duxbury Bay, which disappear quickly when paired with the house-made accompaniments including mignonette, horseradish, and cocktail sauce. Also from the raw bar, we get the Faroe Island Salmon, Hamachi, and Sea Bass Tartare. The Salmon Tartare is smoked to order, which arrives tableside on a platter and emits a thin sexy veil of smoke as the cover is lifted. It tastes creamy and light with a hint of lemon and, of course, some smokiness that doesn’t overpower the dish. The Hamachi has a beautiful presentation with petite pieces of fresh yellowtail arranged in a circular pattern then dotted with aji aioli, cilantro, and jalapeño oil. The fish pairs nicely with the freshness of the cilantro and citrus, and ends with a nice kick from the jalapenño oil. Our waiter looks at me as I dive into the seabass and nods. It’s flavorful, slightly salty, and comes with wispy fennel pollen crostini to give it a satisfying crunch. Mike says, “That’s going to be your favorite.” How did he know?
In order to get the full experience, we opt for the four-course menu. Next, we set our sights on a charcuterie plate named Spain’s Jamón Ibérico, the grilled octopus, and the ricotta gnocchetti. The savory cured ham of the charcuterie pairing goes well with the mild but creamy manchego cheese and sweet black mission fig and quince. The grilled octopus is cooked perfectly and left to steal the show with only a little bit of help from the lemon, olive oil, and crispy capers. The gnocchetti is stuffed with rich ricotta, topped with Maine lobster, soft Beech mushrooms, and shaved black winter truffle. It’s decadent and hearty and we savor every bite.
As we wait for the next course to arrive we take in the atmosphere at Ostra. Everyone around us is well dressed, chatting away or cheering to a milestone, and enjoying the food. The people at the bar are deep in conversation with each other, while a few couples are sitting intimately in the lounge admiring the music. The staff bounces from table to table, looking just as invested in each—everyone is living in the moment. It becomes infectious and we each sit a little taller in appreciation for the one-of-a-kind dining experience. I glance at a group of passing college kids outside, energy drinks in hand, enchanted by their text messages and not the people around them, and I realize that part of my life feels a million miles away.
The third course catches my eye: Paella “Valenciana Style,” Red Wine Braised Short Ribs, and Salt Crusted Branzino. The paella comes out in a large stainless steel platter filled with lobster, shrimp, mussels, clams, octopus, squid, chorizo, and drumette confit on a bed of Spanish Bomba rice. This is a great dish to share among friends. The short ribs have a nice sear on the outside and cuts like butter. It sits on a creamy pile of whipped celery root, accompanied by wild mushrooms and root vegetables. It has a nice depth of flavor that finishes well with the crispy vegetables. The Branzino is a sight to see as it is wheeled to us tableside encased within a cocoon-like shell. Mike explains that it’s a mixture of salt and egg whites, which results in this layer that flavors the fish as it cooks. I watch in awe as they cut it away and debone and plate the fish. We are told that this dish regularly sells out since they get a limited number of them shipped from Greece every 48 hours. As we take one bite, I can see why it’s a bestseller. The fish is light and creamy, and it is perfectly seasoned with just olive oil, lemon and some herbs—it becomes an instant favorite. I am beginning to see a pattern here: simple, fresh ingredients that allow the natural flavors to come to the forefront.
For dessert we order the Chocolate Hazelnut Cremeux, Almond Citrus Cake, Snow Egg, and Coconut Flan. Once again, the presentation is something to be admired. We even take out our phones to steal a handful of Instagram-worthy photos. The cremeux is my favorite with rich flavors of salted caramel, chocolate, and hazelnut paired with crème fraiche ice cream and candied popcorn for added crunch. The citrus cake is a nice contrast with lighter flavors of blood orange, almond, fresh citrus, and brown butter. The flan has little chunks of soft coconut cake scattered with yuzu curd and two triumphant pieces of toasted meringue that adds a nice texture to the dish. Lastly, the snow egg is unlike any dessert I’ve ever seen, with an entertaining creation of spun meringue on top. The lemon curd mousse works nicely with the brightness of the raspberries and basil puree; altogether it makes a unique and tasty dessert.
As the staff clears our table, I feel extremely satisfied. With outstanding food, five-star service, and a truly captivating atmosphere, this hidden gem now signifies for me the perks of growing up.