21 Restaurants in One Evening: The First Annual Top Dish Boston

By Katie Andrews

Freshly, hand-shucked Island Creek Oysters

The ever-challenging question “What’s for dinner?” can seem even more difficult on a Friday night after a tiring week. Luckily, on a recent, rainy, mid-October evening, my dining-out decision was already made for me. I was going to have dinner at 21 of the best restaurants in and around Boston.

No, I wasn’t participating in a marathon restaurant crawl. I was attending the first annual Top Dish Boston, an event hosted by Exhale Magazine in South Boston’s EpiCenter to benefit The Greater Boston Food Bank. Top Dish Boston touts itself as “a sustainable culinary event celebrating local food and healthy eating.” Picture an indoor version of the Boston Local Food Festival with a funkier ambiance than Taste of the Nation Boston, and the great food you typically find at both events, with some local distilleries and breweries thrown in.

Top Dish was an indecisive eater’s dream. Upon arrival, I was met with a boat of chilled Island Creek Oysters paired with a hot sauce not made for the faint of heart. To my left, Pan-Seared Local Goat Cheese Stuffed Gnocchi with the last summer Heirloom Tomatoes was being made to order by the chef from Tuscan Kitchen in Salem, NH. To my right, Damiano’s, from Boston’s North End, served Lamb Lollipops dipped in Pistachio Crust with Glazed Fruit. For each plate that may not have met your liking, the next was never more than a step away. However, finding a bad bite was the challenge.

Gnocchi Made-to-Order from Tuscan Kitchen

Damiano’s Lamb Lollipop

After the first 3-plate course, it was time to hit the bar. Allison Knott, a fellow Friedman student, advised me to head straight to the Bully Brothers. Bully Brothers? I was in no mood for hair pulling and noogies. Luckily she was referring to the brothers behind the Bully Boys Distillery, producers of small-batch spirits right here in Boston. The brothers were inspired by a discovery on their family farm of a long-forgotten vault used to store alcohol during prohibition. They have developed their spirits beyond the undrinkable ones from the early ‘20s, and were offering straight shots of their White Rum, Vodka, and White Whiskey. To ensure I made it to my next round of food, I stuck with the ‘Clear and Sunny,’ a refreshing combination of the White Rum and ginger beer named as a play on the classic Dark and Stormy.

The brothers of Bully Boys Distillery, serving their artisanal cocktails

The most seasonal spots of the evening were Haley House, with their smoky Collard Greens with Green Apple, and Wilson Farm, with their addictive Wild Mushroom and Kale Bread Pudding. Move over Thanksgiving standards – there are two new sheriffs in town.

The best bite of the evening? Without question it went to the Poached Shrimp and Tomato-Israeli Cous Cous with Basil Aioli from Blue on Highland in Needham, MA.

The evening’s winner from Blue on Highland didn’t miss a beat. I may have had 2!

However, what allowed me to walk away with not only a full stomach, but a happy heart, was the knowledge that I had not only completed an impressive food tour, but that it was all for a good cause: more food.

Bon appétit indeed.

Katie Andrews is a 2nd year dual Nutrition Communications/DPD student at the Friedman School.  She is the current Editor-in-Chief of The Sprout and is passionate about getting accurate, science-based nutrition information into consumer’s hands. As ‘The Aspiring RD,’ she blogs about current nutrition news, ways to stay healthy and fit in Boston, and the interesting and delicious foods that cross her path. Find her at http://www.theaspiringrd.com.

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