Since my sister was in town this weekend for Mothers Day, we decided to take my mom out for a nice dinner on Saturday evening. Looking for a unique new place that my mother hadn't been before, we decided on Bin 26 Enoteca, located on Charles Street, in Boston's Beacon Hill neighborhood.
An enoteca, by Italian definition is a wine bar for all intents and purposes, and Bin 26 has done all it can to keep the idea behind a traditional Italian wine bar alive and well in its design. They offer many small dishes perfect for sharing, along with an extremely extensive wine menu. One thing that I really enjoy about how they serve their wines is that they vary the size of the glasses, so you can choose between a traditional bottle, a 100 ml glass, a 250 ml glass or a 500 ml glass. Choosing to have a couple 100 ml glasses allowed me to taste a couple of different wines. Our waitress was very knowledgeable on each of the wines that we inquired about, able to give a clear and concise description of each. While you may anticipate this type of detail in an enoteca, I feel that it is an important detail and one worth mentioning.
We started our meals with a few small plates for sharing, marinated olives, Grana Padano served with an aged balsamic vinegar, fried risotto balls stuffed with fontina cheese, beef carpaccio, and mussels. Grana Padano is a hard cheese, prepared similarly to Parmigiano Reggiano, cooked and ripened slowly, and made from the milk of grass fed cows. It has a similar texture to the Parmigian that we all know today, with a slightly stronger taste. The Balsamic vinegar that it is served with is aged to a degree where it is a thick syrup that has a delightful cut to the cheese. Together, the two are heaven.
The risotto balls stuffed with fontina cheese are another dish that's a basic home run. The risotto grains provide a nice texture contrast to the warm melted fontina cheese, and the fried outside gives a nice crunch to them. They are served toasty warm, two to a dish, and are completely addictive. They were the hit of the evening. Second to those, at least in my opinion as second place is a bit of a toss up, was the beef carpaccio. When done right, carpaccio is one of my all time favorites, and this was done right. Raw beef, that's been only lightly seared, served paper thin drizzled with olive oil and topped with arugula- this dish provides a certain lightness of a salad, while also adding an experimental vibe in that the beef is certainly raw. Sometimes feeling a little daring in your ordering can make things just that much more interesting. Bin 26 provided the perfect combination of beef, greens and oil, while adding, and I'm not sure from where, the hint of mustard that completed this dish perfectly.
As I said, second place for the evening was a tie, the other competitor being their mussels. Served in a spicy tomato sauce, these were cooked perfectly, served without any "rejects", or ones with the shell still closed. The sauce provided an excellent back drop to the dish, nicely clinging to the meat and tasty enough to sop up with the table bread. Completely delicious.
Unfortunately, I was not as impressed with our main dishes. We chose to split two entrees, one a cocoa tagliatelle with mushrooms enhanced with orange rind, and one of their specials for the evening, scallops with a fettuccine. To start with the good- the scallops were perfectly cooked. They were lightly seared, cooked to be tender, and not at all rubbery. They were delicious. However, the fettuccine was nothing remarkable, nor was the sauce served with it. On the same note, the cocoa tagliatelle was only alright. When you were lucky enough to find a bit of the orange rind with the pasta, it was quite good, but sadly those instances were few and far between. The mushrooms that accompanied it were well seasoned, but had taken on that "slimy" affect that can make them rather unappetizing.
This was my second time dining at Bin 26, and I'm sad to report that I had similar experiences both times. The small plates are wonderful- well seasoned, imaginative, delicious- but the entrees almost seem to be an ill conceived after thought. They appear to be on the menu out of necessity, but not because the chef is excited to make them. We all know that love is a key ingredient in any dish, and it just doesn't appear to make it the entree dishes. Don't let it dissuade you though, Bin 26 nails its small courses, and has enough of them to make a plentiful meal, and its wine selection should not be missed.
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