Stars on Huntington
A South Shore restaurateur cracks the big leagues
Dining Out by Robert Nadeau
Stars on Huntington |
393 Huntington Avenue (Symphony), Boston
Open Sun-Thurs, 7-10 p.m.; Fri and Sat, 7-11 p.m.; bar open till 1 a.m.
All major credit cards
Smoking in bar area
Used to be, the city's restaurants would colonize the suburbs.
Legal Sea Foods went to Natick and Danvers. Bertucci's went from
Somerville to . . . everywhere. But in recent years real-estate values have
shifted, and the suburbs have become training grounds for restaurateurs eager
to crack the Boston market. Thus Stars on Huntington is the first Hub venture
for Eatwell, Inc., they of Stars on Hingham Harbor, Tosca, Fireking Bakery and
Bistro, the Pasha Bar, and so on. All these earlier ventures are on the
distinctly less competitive South Shore, home to the minor leagues of New
In opening a postmodern bistro across from Northeastern, Eatwell has taken a
relatively low road to Boston. I don't know how badly the rent will bite, but
this site has many advantages: it's a working-student area with a lot of foot
traffic, there's valet parking, and the neighborhood will give Stars a decent
shot at the Symphony/Huntington Theatre crowd. (It'll have an even better shot
when it accepts reservations for tables of fewer than six on weekend nights.)
The food is much like that served in all the company's other restaurants.
Sometimes it seems like the kind of restaurant young couples might enjoy
because the food is easy, somewhere between kid food and bar food. Some dishes,
like an impressive chunk of roasted swordfish, attempt the heights. My initial
impression is that the serious food gets the serious attention.
One of the keys to kid food and bar food is deep-fat frying, and Stars has to
push up the temperature in those frying machines. Tentative frying was evident
on an appetizer of calamari ($6), and on the onion-ring garnish for an
appetizer of "burger bundles" ($7). When the fry guy chokes, the fried objects
are limp and greasy. Once that's straightened out, the burger bundles are
exactly what the menu says: four two-inch cheeseburgers. This offers the
individual diner no real advantage over one large cheeseburger, but gives two
bites each to a tableful of people whose burger lust is perhaps more limited.
The calamari is a better concept, since the frying problem is solvable without
sacrificing the lemony garlic-mayonnaise dip.
The New England clam chowder ($4.50) is starchy, but real clam flavor lurks
underneath, and some clam meat commingles with the potatoes. On our night, the
soup du jour ($4.50) was chicken vegetable, and it would have been good if
served hot. A salad of field greens ($5.50) was enlivened by some excellent
Now, that swordfish ($18). We've seen so many swordfish steaks go by that we
tend to forget that this is a very large creature, and can be cut into pieces
two inches thick. If you do that, and roast it rather slowly, you can come up
with a surprisingly light-textured, full-flavored fish. The swordfish was
served with al dente noodles and crunchy caramelized onions. The skirt steak
($16) was a terrific piece of beef, crusted with spices, and served with
genuine "tater tots" and fresh spinach.
On the pasta list, seared scallops over pumpkin tortoloni ($17) were nicely
done, though slightly oversalted, and complemented by fresh green beans and
carrots. The pumpkin tortoloni were flavored like pumpkin pie, which can be a
little much if the scallops are really excellent sea scallops. Pulled chicken
over linguine ($15) just didn't take shape: the chicken, pasta, and cheese were
Stars has a rather good wine list for such an eclectic menu. Glasses are $4.50
to $15, bottles $18 to $60, and half-bottles (eight are available) $12 to $26.
The list is organized by grape, from lighter styles to fuller, and such is the
world of wine these days that there are five merlots and only three zinfandels.
What would Robert Mondavi think? One notable feature is really excellent tea
service ($1.25). Although the teas are limited to English Breakfast and Earl
Grey, they are leaf teas, served in glass plunger pots, with genuine Fiesta
Desserts, alas, are somewhat perfunctory. Fireking dark chocolate cake ($4)
could use fewer adjectives and more chocolate. Crème brûlée
($6) was very good, but the fresh-cookie ice-cream sandwich ($6) is dating-bar
food -- aimless, sweet, creamy stuff to line the stomach for drinks with
risqué names. Caramel apple crisp ($5) was oversweetened and
underflavored at the height of the local apple season.
Despite a list of flaws, our meal really included nothing the kitchen couldn't
improve with a few adjustments, and performance on the expensive entrées
was impressive. The space is very '50s in a '90s sort of way, rather like that
$10 wine store in Coolidge Corner. The architecture really energizes without
concept-specific decor, and should serve as a model for restaurant designers
who want to work in this style. One trick to note is that you have the shapes,
colors, and space-age, Jetsons-like plasticity of the '50s without actually
using any objects or references that tie the room down to a nostalgia theme.
(Well, maybe the Fiesta teacups, if you look underneath.) From the moiré
menu covers to the weird blend of Earth and Mars tones to the early
drive-through burger-stand signage, it's subtle but obvious. (Irony department:
the bar is wired with individual electric plugs and phone jacks -- but the
company Web site hasn't been updated to include this newest location.)
On the other hand, it's loud, and with floor-to-ceiling glass on one side and a
row of giant screens on the opposite wall (behind the bar), it's loud in a
high-frequency way that makes it hard to hear or even taste well.
Service on an uncrowded Saturday night was very good, and continued to be good
as the room filled up. The atmosphere seems bipolar: there were older groups
heading for the symphony or the theater, and young couples -- very casually
dressed by Boston standards -- for whom the suburban vibe was the right one.
Robert Nadeau can be reached at RobtNadeau@aol.com.