Feature

A Closer Look: Seafood Specialist Ostra

By Scott Kearnan  |  December 19, 2013
Credit: Michael Young

Just 28 years old, chef Mitchell Randall now helms the kitchen at one of the most highly anticipated new openings of 2013. He's executive chef at Ostra, opened in December and the latest from chef-owner Jamie Mammano's Columbus Hospitality Group: the team behind perennially lauded restaurants like Beacon Hill steakhouse Mooo... and Provencal-inspired Mistral, where Randall spent the last nine years.

But this new seafood-centric destination (Ostra is Spanish for "oyster") also marks a full-circle for the next-gen chef. He grew up in Scarborough, Maine, and cut his culinary teeth as sous at Tides Inn at Goose Rock Beach. Naturally, the menu was developed to take advantage of New England's heritage; you'll find native fish, like cod with olive oil-cured tomatoes and chorizo, and skate wing Milanese with brown butter Grenobloise. Or you can get your claws into a three-pound broiled Maine lobster, accompanied by roasted cauliflower and herb butter sauce. Randall says he finds some of his finest inspiration close to home. "A lot of my inspiration comes from going down to the Boston piers and spending time with the fishmonger myself," he says. "It excites and inspires me. A lot of chefs don't have the opportunity to go down there, talk to them and watch the fish come off the boat. I feel privileged." 

While using underutilized local catch is important to Randall, he's also eager to spotlight varieties that he feels receive less attention in Boston's dining world. Showcasing European catch will be central to Ostra's Mediterranean-leaning identity, says the chef. That's already evident on Ostra's inaugural menu; it dedicates significant real estate to shellfish and composed plates of raw and slightly cooked fish that cull from both local (Nantucket Bay scallops with winter blood orange and grated ginger, $21) and far-flung waters — like Israeli osetra caviar with brioche and buckwheat blinis ($160). 

Flip through the slideshow below to feast your eyes on a few highlights from Ostra's menu. 

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  • If pressed to choose, Randall would have to name the sea bream ($37) as his personal favorite dish on the menu. Wrapped in Trevisano leaf and grilled with EVOO, lemon and snipped herbs, it also embodies the type of sophisticated yet simple and un-fussy preparation style he expects to be an Ostra trademark. "We want to it to be all about the fish," says Randall.

  • One standout first course is the lovely and luscious Painted Hill beef carpaccio ($21), topped with crisp oysters, aji aioli, shaved radish and pickled shallot. Randall says he's focused on building relationships with even more oyster farms in 2014; right now you'll find selections from Cotuit Bay and Thatch Island Oysters, both based on Cape Cod, and Charlestown, Rhode Island's East Beach Blondes. 

  • A soon-to-be-signature selection is the salt crusted branzino ($90) for two. But Mitchell says the European sea bass also represents Ostra's intent to feature more Mediterranean fish than are available on other Hub seafood menus. Going forward, expect to see turbot, John Dory, and European lobster appearing on the menu. "Going forward I really want to take things to the next level. We're going to get into European fish that people don't always appreciate," says Randall.

  • Don't skip the dessert menu, which includes gems like baked apple crumble, chocolate hazelnut cremeux with popcorn ice cream, and Tahitian rice brulée. Like the rest of the menu, it's already evolving: this week Ostra added a snow egg pavlova, a crispy meringue atop raspberries in basil sauce. 

  • The extensive wine list boasts around 200 bottles (many impressively displayed by the open kitchen) heavy on whites and offering some truly luxe selections: like the 2007 E. Guigal Ermitage Ex-Voto, a $575 bottle. If you want to partake in the priciest red, you'll be splurging $1,800 on a 2009 Harlan Estate.