Sometimes even old favorites benefit from new energy. Boston's restaurant scene is a revolving door of talent, with chefs constantly coming and going from different kitchens. Here are a few particularly notable shifts that have caught our eye within the last six to eight months. If it's been a while since you've visited any of these restaurants, take note: there's a new face in the kitchen, which means it's time for a fresh taste test.
Keenan Langlois at The Sinclair
This month the restaurant/rock hall announced the arrival of Langlois as executive chef, replacing the outgoing Matt Cunningham. Langlois has previously passed through spots like Union Bar and Grille and Lumiere, and though he plans to retain the Sinclair's existing menu structure — mostly small plates, a few larger mains — he's already rolling out new dishes like Yankee pot roast with braised short rib, squash fritters with black truffle mayo, and a Fisherman's Stew with lobster broth.
In August, Love replaced Alex Jenkins at these Davis Square spots. Love, formerly of Kingston Station, says he's trying to put some "fun, modern twists" on the restaurants' approachable American brasserie menus, and to better "match up" the bar and dining programs. To that end, he incorporated spirit- or cocktail-inspired elements into most dishes: think Negroni reduction on a spiced duck leg, bourbon butter on a strip steak and cranberry mezcal jam on a duck and Brie panini.
Bread and Salt Hospitality at Wink & Nod
This speakeasy-inspired South End lounge has taken a unique approach to its dining program by treating its kitchen as a "culinary incubator" that offers temporary residence to popular pop-up concepts. First came Whisk, run by our 2012 30 Under 30 honorees Jeremy Kean and Philip Kruta. Then in September the reins passed to our 2013 30 Under 30 honoree Josh Lewin, formerly of Beacon Hill Hotel & Bistro. His Bread & Salt Hospitality emphasizes Indian- and Southeast Asian-inflected offerings, and includes a street-food-focused "Night Market" menu on Monday nights. Who did he tap as his sous-chef? jm Curley alum Kate Holowchik, who wound up named as one of our most recent 30 Under 30 honorees for 2014. That's quite a streak, Wink. (Though the menu changes often, you can check out some of our early must-tries here.)
Mark O'Leary at Shojo
Just in time for its two-year anniversary, this Chinatown eatery announced a new chef in Mark O'Leary, who replaced Jeremy Lee. O'Leary has kept two small plates that have been on the menu since the restaurant opened: duck fat fries and a suckling pig bao. But everything else is brand new and reflects the distinct sensibility of this Future of Junk Food co-founder, who combines the sophistication of his work at O Ya, the ultra-high-end Japanese where he founded the playful pop-up Guchi's Midnight Ramen, with his playful work at jm Curley, a Downtown gastropub with a flair for the funky. Behold the results, like a "Shojonator" burger and Sapporo-soaked beef dogs, in our feature here. (We should note that on Sunday, December 14, O'Leary reunites with his Future co-founder Sam Monsour, who recently relocated to Los Angeles, for another pop-up at Shojo. Sadly, it's sold out.)
Ben Weisberger at No. 9 Park
On September 1, Weiseberger replaced Richmond Edes as chef de cuisine at Barbara Lynch's flagship. The chef isn't straying from the restaurant's well-established identity (nor is he foresaking that trademark prune-stuffed gnocchi), but you will find him updating the tasting menu weekly with recent seasonal standouts like pumpkin tortellini with ham hock, wild striped bass with red rice and caper, and Cervena venison with sunchoke and walnut.
Chris Bauer at Merrill & Co.
In November, Bauer (seen here as one half of a Culinary Power Couple) replaced outgoing Jason Cheek as executive chef at this seafood-focused South End newcomer. Bauer, who continues to helm sibling restaurant jm Curley, says that he will start importing some of the "funkiness" that has long categorized that Downtown hit — which feels like a pretty natural fit, given Merrill's cheeky, modern diner-style design.
Nevin Taylor at Tres Gatos
The 27-year-old has an impressive résumé: he's worked under Frank McClelland at L'Espalier, Jamie Bissonette and Ken Oringer at Toro and Coppa, and helped open the well-regarded Asta in Back Bay. This summer he took his talent over to Tres Gatos in Jamaica Plain, bringing a light, seasonal and unfussy sensibility to the unique tapas bar/book and record store.
Leo Asaro at Tico
When star chef Michael Schlow opened a second Tico in Washington, DC, he sent down the Boston restaurant's executive chef, George Rodrigues, to helm the project. Replacing Rodrigues at the helm location is Asaro, who had previously spent many years at Schlow's Via Matta. Asaro has been kicking up the Latin flavors at Tico, while expanding to encompass more exotic spices, like the smoky Turkish pepper urfa biber, and emphasizing more wood-fired, open flame cookery. Among his new dishes: lamb tartare with autumn berry and wild boar chili with saffron aïoli.