Bina Osteria is ripe for stereotyping and prejudgment. Between its trendy white interior and close proximity to the Sports Club LA, one is bound to think this place is going to be high on price and low on quality. Add that to its claim to be an Italian restaurant, and Carlo and I, though curious, were planning on avoiding it, at least for a while. But much to our surprise, my mother-in-law said she wanted to try it for her Mother’s Day dinner, and that’s how we ended up there on Saturday night. Even more to our surprise, we were really impressed by the food.
The meal started with a frizzante red wine and a brief scuffle over whether we should get the 14-course tasting menu or order a la carte. My father-in-law was adamantly against the tasting menu, which meant my mother-in-law insisted that we order it. Being Mother’s Day, my mother-in-law prevailed and we embarked on what turned out to be a long, delicious meal.
More on the wine before I start on the food. The wine I just mentioned was a 2006 Castello di Luzzano Oltrepo Pavese Bonarda from Lombardia, which was the perfect apperitivo. It was mildly fruity, mildly frizzante, but unlike Brachetto (the other sparkling red that has been popping up in restaurants all over the place), it was dry, and not too expensive at $42/bottle even in a restaurant.
For the meal we drank a 2006 Statti Gaglioppo, a calabrese wine in honor of my calabrese mother-in-law, which was also inexpensive at $46/bottle. Initially it tasted and smelled a lot like banana candy, but it mellowed out and became a drinkable floral wine. It’s nice to see wines from far-flung parts of Italy making it onto menus and it’s also nice to see that even the less expensive wines at Bina have been selected carefully.
Now onto the tasting menu. Most, though not all, of the dishes were smaller versions of existing menu items. We started with rustic country bread accompanied by lard and sea salt followed by two amuses bouches: an oyster with cherry gelee served in the shell (see below) and a spoonful of ricotta, salt and oil and a little shot of fizzy grappa cream. A nice start to the meal. The oyster tasted like real cherries and oysters, a combination I have never experienced. I thought the ricotta was a perfect combination of creamy and salty, though I was told by my Italian compatriots that they’ve had better. The grappa fizz was reminiscent of cream soda with a kick.
Our appetizer was called Seriola Marinata, which consisted of CleanFish yellowtail, pinenut confit, avocado, and peppercress. The nice piece of fish on top of fresh avocado on top of a sheen of spicy/oily, almost arrabiata-like, sauce was delicious and different.
The Seriola was followed by THREE, yes THREE, pasta courses, and unbelievably, the table liked all of them, hardly complaining at all. The first was perfectly prepared fresh gnocchi with calamari, clams, chorizo, and Meyer lemon confit. The gnocchi were light and chewy, and the seafood balanced well with the spicy chorizo. We voted on our favorites at the end of the meal and this one got the most mentions, a shocking revelation coming from my never-pleased-by-restaurant-pasta Italian family-in-law. The gnocchi was followed by two “Spaghetti alla Carbonara” with house-made pancetta, slow cooked hen egg, and pecorino foam and two braised rabbit tortellinis. And for the final pasta course, we had Risotto with crispy sweetbreads, morel mushrooms, and aspargus. The house-made fresh pastas were excellent in both pasta dishes, as were the accoutrements, and the risotto was perfectly cooked al dente with lovely fresh morels and asparagus. Though I think three good-sized pasta courses in a tasting menu might be a mistake, we loved every bite of them.
Onto the fish/seafood courses. The first one was Atlantic Halibut coated with smoked potato ragu, beet pearls, and watercress (see below). Carlo said this was his favorite. I was losing steam at this point. The potato cream was delicious and balanced nicely with the sweet beets. Our other sea-faring course was Lobster with Lardo, garden salad gazpacho, picked ramps, and Clear Flour croutons. This was my least-favorite dish of the evening. The lobster was a little rubbery/stringy and I just wasn’t hungry anymore, meaning that I was only interested in eating really superlative food. Carlo ate mine for me, so it wasn’t bad, just least favorite in a great meal.
Two more savory courses: Foie Gras with English pea puree and morel mushrooms and Vermont Lamb with baby artichoke, taggiasca olives and Piquillo peppers. I thought both of these dishes were excellent, which is impressive, because I was so full and tired at this point and I didn’t want to eat anything else. The foie gras was silky and the peas were bright green and flavorful. The lamb was perfectly cooked, moist and tender, and the accompaniments were very nice. I just couldn’t eat them.
But that didn’t mean I was not up for our THREE, yes THREE, desserts. The first was Moscato d’Asti Mousse with orange sorbet, honey cream, and sumac meringue served in a champagne flute. Wow, I am going to replace root beer and vanilla ice cream with Moscato and orange sherbert from now on (see below). This was really good and refreshing. Next we had “Composition of Rhubarb” with a lemony butter cookie, rhubarb sorbet, lemon meringue, and candied elderflower. Another beautiful, refreshing delicious dessert. And finally we had the obligatory tiramisu, which was basically mascarpone cream and chocolate gelato on top of some coffee cookies. I ignored the cookies, which were a little too crunchy to eat easily and stuck to the creamy stuff, which were both rich and delicious. My in-laws tittered about how it wasn’t really tiramisu while they licked their plates clean.
And then we rolled ourselves home, full and looking forward to going back to Bina, but perhaps for the four-course prix-fixe menu next time.
The only real drawback to the meal was its four-hour duration. Yes, we did order 14 courses of food and should expect to sit there for a good chunk of time. But there were long lulls between all of the courses, which was nice in the beginning when we were getting warmed up, but as we got fuller, drunker and more tired, we grew a little impatient and disinterested in the food. We attribute this to the restaurant being fairly new and unaccustomed to customers who take them up on the tasting menu. This will undoubtedly improve as more and more Bostonians take notice of this great new addition to the city’s fine-dining repertoire.