Babak and Azita Bina-Seibel just opened a restaurant during a recession. Worried? Nah. They’re used to working austerely.
Located in the North Tower of The Ritz Carlton Residences in Downtown Crossing neighborhood, the new Bina Osteria serves refined contemporary Italian cuisine.
The latest culinary venture from Babak and Azita Bina, the brother-sister team behind Lala Rokh and Bin 26 Enoteca, Babak says they’ve figured out how to make things work during a downturn.
“Having been doing this for 30 years, you kind of basically learn to adapt and learn to plan,” says Babak. “You don’t wait until the economy goes south to stay limber and effective in the cost of operation. We made this decision to be limber in the late ’80s, when things were really rough economically in town. At that point we decided to get into the restaurant business, rather than high-end fine dining.”
They started with Lala Rokh on Beacon Hill, then about four years ago they began planning for this Osteria/Alimenti concept. They found their location two years ago, just as they were opening Bin 26, which turned into a success.
“We are confident it will be very glitzy and glamorous, but it will still be very much a neighborhood restaurant you can go to everyday, not a specialty occasion due to the cost factor.”
He didn’t spare much in the design of the space. Excited about working from scratch, rather than adapting an existing space like with his other restaurants. The architect, office dA, designed a modern version of a Tuscan grand hall, in a space twice as large as his other restaurants.
With a dramatic 24-foot high ceiling anchored by sand-blasted columns connecting inverted umbrella-shaped fiberglass vault elements, and sunny floor-to-ceiling glass walls.
“It’s very exciting to have a clean palette to work with,” he gushed.
A curtained private 12-seat dining room off to the side of the 120-seat restaurant and features heated seats “so your tush will be nice and warm” says Babak. In warmer weather, they’ll have a 60-plus seat outdoor patio.
A 44-seat handmade Terrazzo bar, made up of recycled glass, granite, marble and mother of pearl for a little sparkle, features at the end a communal table for eating at the bar. A nearby lounge has comfy couches with tiny tables made up of recycled railroad ties.
The restaurant is to the left of the bar, the Bina Alimentary market to the right is behind an optical-illusion of a glass wall.
For those with no time for Bina Osteria, you can pickup their house-made pastas, sauces, soups, and pastries – including homemade marshmallows with lavender. The shop can deliver cases of wine and gourmet food to guests.
The Alimentary has a wide selection of wines, tea, deli items, oils, sauces, olives and high-end balsamic vinegar, among other gourmet treats, imported from Italy and France. They also own a few humanely raised Iowa hogs, which will be butchered “nose to tail” and sent to them when ready; the exclusive La Quercia farm only caters to 20 chefs, including Mario Batali. At the counter are helpful food reference books.
“The gourmet food shop, Alimentary, is based on the local grocer concept, before supermarkets came around,” he said. Having another way to garner income from foodies doesn’t hurt in this economy, either.
The store’s full alcohol license will allow boutique wines as offered in the restaurant. Unlike the Bin 26 restaurant, however, “We probably won’t have Thunderbird and Boone Farm.”
The bigger space also gives them even more room to play. “We have been dabbling with making our own wines in Italy and France,” he says.
The wine menu states that it is made up of “Old-World wines produced by those who intend to maintain the true expression of the land that they grow their grapes from.” Most bottles averaged a reasonable $30-$40. The beers on tap include micro brews such as from Buzzards Bay, and bottled beers from around the world.
“There’s a definite formula to putting together the wine list,” said general manager Don Bailey. “We wanted to give an example of high quality, responsible farming, sustainable fishing. We chose locals to support our economy as well as local ecology. We even used recycled paper.”
Food offerings for the grocery will include as many items picked from local farms as possible, they promise.
“These are not going to be things you can find in Whole Foods. They do an excellent product, but these are handpicked, and hand-grown,” says Bina. “We want to support local farmers. We’re constantly tasting things. We have to go up to a sheep farm in New Bedford to try some goat cheese.”
Many grocery items will be handmade, including sorbets, gelati, jams, wines, pate, salami, cured meats, and ravioli.
“We’ll be dabbling a lot more than we have. We’re expanding our wings and getting some elbow room, to create what we really love,” says Bina. “I shouldn’t be paid for what we’re doing.”
lunch at Bina Osteria
For lunch, the restaurant was bright with sun that streamed in from the large windows looking onto Washington Street. While you can just order one item, splurging for the full four courses is a wonderful afternoon splurge.
Say yes to the bread, from Clear Flour Bakery in Brookline. It’s served warm, a chewy center surrounded by a crisp crust, with a tiny dish of light and highly rendered pork fat, and several pinches of Maine sea salt.
A salad of lambs lettuce comes with mashed roasted sunchokes and a sprinkling of hazelnuts and crushed pink peppercorns for a savory and satisfying light meal.
For the salad, the especially helpful waiter, Tyrone Scaobi, matched it with a rich and bright 2007 Soave Classico Garganega and Trebbiano blend.
For the primi, ribbons of melt-in-your-mouth parpadelle held rich buffalo di Vermont meatballs, made of buffalo and pork belly with basil and bits of carrot, swimming in San Marzano tomato sauce and grated cheese. Tyrone matched it with a 2005 Teroldego Rotaliano, a rich and ancient variety whose structure was able to support the gaminess of the meatballs.
For a secondi, or main entrée, the organic herb roasted chicken breast came highly recommended by Jamel, another super-helpful waiter. So tender you could cut it with a fork, the skin was crispy and tasty. It came with an acorn squash puree that was smooth and flavorful, especially so with a well of dark chicken jus; and buttery brussel sprouts. Tyrone recommended a glass of Riesling from the Pfalz region, Durkheimer Nonnengarten Kabinet by Darting.
The desserts, by Paola Fioravanti and team, are less confections than ingredients presented on a plate, to be mixed together or enjoyed separately.
The selections included an Anjou pear and Marcona almond tart of tiny orbs of tart fruit with pear sorbet and chai tea consommé, with a black salt sprinkle and topped by a tuille of chai tea.
A deconstructed tiramisu was more like an espresso sundae, with chocolate gelato over coffee streusel with jellied espresso, topped by a slice of glassy sugar.
The Moscato d’asti mousse with orange sorbet, 1000-flower honey cream and sumac meringue is vegan and light.
All go perfectly with the smooth house special roast coffee with a dash of milk chocolate.
Many of the ingredients for these recipes are also available in Bina Alimentary, from the honey to the gelato to the meatballs and parpadelle.
The restaurant is open seven days from afternoon until midnight, and weekend brunch.