April 23, 2014
After four years cooking in New York, chef Anthony Susi returned to Boston last fall. And the former owner of the legendary Sage says he’s learned a thing or two. “Well, when you compare Boston Italian food and restaurants in New York, Chicago, and even San Francisco,” he says, “Boston seems stuck in the Middle Ages.”
Now freelancing at Tavern Road in Fort Point and doing some consulting, Susi is looking toward opening a restaurant of his own, back in his native Boston. And with it, he’d like to effect a renaissance. Known for his adventurous way with Italian food — where the traditions he grew up with in the North End were a just a stepping-off point for cuisine that mixed influences from many sources — Susi wants to go old school. “Old is cool,” he says, of today’s restaurants such as A16 in San Francisco and Nico Osteria in Chicago.
Too many places in Boston stick with winning formulas and recognizable dishes and ingredients. When opening a coastal Italian restaurant in the Mondrian in New York, “I dug up books I hadn’t looked at in years,” he says. Now he experiments with dishes such as spaghetti with bottarga, green olives, and green garlic. “It sold,” Susi says. “We added sardines and it still sold.”
Susi thinks Bostonians are ready for dishes like this that reconnect with regional Italian and challenge the diner a little. “Boston really has that potential.”
For now, he’s checking areas and looking for locations, maybe even in the North End where his first tiny Sage opened in 1999. Downtown Crossing has potential and he’s even open to the suburbs. A mid-sized restaurant, Susi says, would be the right scale for what he has in mind.
Recently, he cooked at a guest chef night at Tavern Road where one of the courses was a spectacular rabbit dish. “I’ve been playing with rabbit for years (his father used to have them hanging in the window at his butcher shop on Salem Street in the North End),” says Susi. “Dante (his friend Dante diMagistris of Restaurant Dante, Il Casale in Belmont and soon-to-open Il Casale in Lexington) wanted to do a fried chicken dish at his new restaurant” so the two were working on a method. “I poach the leg in court bouillon,” he says, before braising. And then he soaks the loins in buttermilk, toss them in seasoned crumbs, and quickly fry them. The result is a contrast of crunchy and soft, and layered flavors that taste way more interesting than rabbit you’ve eaten elsewhere — except maybe in Italy.