Asta – Boston, Massachusetts

First Taste: Asta, at Last

The kitchen is a stage. At Asta, the highly anticipated new tasting-menu-only restaurant in the Back Bay, this is hardly a metaphor. The open kitchen stands at the back, with lighting and table heights suggesting that the cooks’ performance is integral to the show. It’s no accident, say Alex Crabb, chef/owner, and his partner, Shish Parsigian, who’s the “front of house force.” The focus at Asta is on the whole food experience and those who bring it to you. “We want it to feel more like a dinner party than a typical restaurant,” says Parsigian.

The space resembles a Back Bay apartment with its raw but finished feel, the exposed brick artfully covered at its upper edges by partially demoed drywall. Instead of settings, each table comes equipped with two drawers stocked with an eclectic mix of utensils for use during the meal.

Though the atmosphere’s sophistication is reflected in the menu, the food remains playful. For the three-course menu ($45), patrons will get a home-cooking feel, says Crabb, while the five- and eight-course menus ($70 and $95, respectively) are more intricate.

Don’t ask for the signature dish—there isn’t one. “We’re going to have a signature approach to your meal and to the atmosphere,” says Crabb, an L’Espalier alum. “One thing I’ve always liked to do is treat big pieces of vegetable like meat.” For his celery dish, Crabb prepares a quarter-head of the vegetable, braised in chicken stock then seared and served with the sticky reduced stock, celery juice, black garlic gnocchi, crispy chicken skin and pieces of chicken confit. There’s also the carrot “risotto,” which contains no actual rice. The carrot, however, is cut to resemble the grain, then is bound with carrot puree and juice, mixed with licorice powder and mustard oil, and served with rye breadcrumbs.

Crabb favors simplicity with his proteins, choosing to highlight their inherent quality and downplaying accompaniments. But he’s offering new flavors as well, including the meal that’s become a Christmas morning tradition in his and Parsigian’s home. Basturma and eggs combines herby, Armenian air-cured beef with stock and cream. Crabb wilts bitter greens, folds in the meat-infused cream and serves them with the beef and a poached egg. “It’s very simple,” says Crabb, “but a flavor that I don’t think a lot of people have really encountered.”

Asta 47 Mass. Ave., Boston (617-585-9575)

This article originally appeared in the January 16, 2013, issue of The Improper Bostonian.