Major Food Group Branches Out to Boston

The team behind Carbone and a New York Grand Award winner open Contessa at a newly renovated hotel. Plus, the owners of Los Angeles Restaurant Award winner République unveil the Parisian-inspired bistro portion of Bicyclette, and a French Laundry alum debuts in Greenville, S.C.

Major Food Group Branches Out to Boston
“This is a brand-new take on Italian cuisine that we have not done before,” chef Mario Carbone says of his latest venture, Contessa in Boston. (Douglas Friedman)
Jul 1, 2021

Chef Mario Carbone and Major Food Group opened their first Boston restaurant, Contessa, on June 22. It’s located on the rooftop of the historic Newbury Boston hotel in the Back Bay neighborhood, which reopened in May following a restoration process. "The project itself is what inspired us to open here in Boston,” Carbone told Wine Spectator via email. “The opportunity to reinvigorate this heritage property is all the inspiration we needed.” The Italian restaurant joins sibling ventures such as the Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence–winning Carbone outposts in New York, Las Vegas and Miami Beach.

The group’s corporate wine director, John Slover, built the wine program with focuses on northern and central Italy. Barolos, Barbarescos and other Nebbiolo bottlings abound on the 500-label list. “We hope to expose our patrons to a well-curated wine list that hones deeply into unique varieties and styles of winemaking that are applied in northern Italy,” said Contessa sommelier Suzana Gjurra. “Tightly paired with the culinary concept, we offer plenty of options outside of Italy.” These include picks from Champagne, Bordeaux, Burgundy, the Rhône and the Loire Valley, as well as Oregon Pinot Noir and California Cabernet.

Executive chef Matt Eckfeld’s menu is packed with Italian classics, including antipasti like varied prosciutti, octopus agrodolce with peppers and Chianina beef carpaccio. Pasta dishes include garganelli with Bolognese sauce and tortellini en brodo, and there are heartier entrées like a dry-aged Fiorentina steak. Contessa is also the first Major Food Group venture to serve pizza. “I’ve led an exciting career that has taken me around the world, tested my mettle as a chef and leader,” Eckfeld said in a statement. “I am ready, and very excited, to put down roots in Boston and immerse myself in the dining community here.”

The restaurant features a retractable glass roof and elements of neo-classical, art deco and mid-century modern design from designer Ken Fulk. Carbone hopes the space will “achieve the laid-back formality of a world-class grand trattoria.” There’s also a private-dining space—entry is via private elevator—with views of Boston Public Garden and the city skyline, where guests are surrounded by the restaurant’s 3,000-bottle wine collection.

Contessa is one of several recent new projects from Major Food Group. The team is also in the process of rebranding the beverage and food programs at the Boca Raton Beach Club in Florida, and will be introducing a new steak house there this summer called the Flamingo Grill.—Collin Dreizen

République Owners Lean into Classic Parisian Bistro Dining with Bicyclette

 Wine director Sam Rethmeier; the dining room at Bicyclette
Wine director Sam Rethmeier created the wine list for Bicyclette’s bistro, and is working on an extended one for the forthcoming upstairs restaurant. (Anne Fishbein)

Los Angeles–based chefs and restaurateurs Walter and Margarita Manzke opened Bicyclette bistro June 16, less than 5 miles from their Best of Award of Excellence–winning République. Bicyclette is a French eatery, like République, but with a decidedly Parisian focus. The team plans to add a tasting-menu restaurant upstairs by this fall.

“There is definitely something different about a Parisian bistro versus a bistro you might find in Burgundy or Bordeaux,” said wine director Sam Rethmeier. He cites highly traditional cuisine as one of the hallmarks of such bistros, which is reflected on the menu at Bicyclette. “We’re really trying to go back to the classics and execute them as perfectly as possible.”

There are staples such as bouillabaisse, escargots and beef Bourguignon. Only a few menu items stray from the classics, like a yellowfin tuna tartare and a modern twist on coq au vin: Rather than braising the chicken in the sauce, which can dry out the dish, the sauce and roasted chicken are prepared separately and then brought together for optimal tenderness and juiciness.

The opening wine list offers about 60 selections of ready-to-drink wines exclusively from France. While there are a few pricier options from regions like Bordeaux, many of the labels are priced under $100. Rethmeier is also working on an expanded list for the forthcoming upstairs restaurant, which will be available in the bistro as well. He says the restaurant’s menu will likely consist of at least five courses and include more modern interpretations of dishes than the downstairs bistro, which allows more opportunities to play around with the wine selection. Featuring about 500 wines, the list will maintain a French emphasis but also highlight Austria, Germany and California. Pairings will be available for each tasting-menu course.

The aesthetic matches the feel of the wine and food, with bistro-style seating and a patterned tile floor. “It really does look like you’re in Paris, and not in that tchotchke way where you’re trying too hard,” Rethmeier said. “It just has this Parisian sensibility.”—Julie Harans

Table 301 Debuts South Carolina Eatery with French Laundry Alum

 Chef Drew Erickson in the kitchen at Camp
With experience at a Grand Award–winning restaurant, chef Drew Erickson now leads the kitchen at Camp. (Courtesy of Table 301/Vannah Co.)

Greenville, S.C., recently welcomed a new restaurant from Table 301, the local hospitality group behind Restaurant Award winners Soby's and the Lazy Goat. Camp is a collaboration between the group and chef Drew Erickson, a Greenville native who recently left his position at the French Laundry to open the new restaurant.

Erickson’s menu infuses American cuisine with global influences. A variety of small plates like Wagyu corn dogs, crispy mussels with potato and artichoke and a mushroom tartine with Sherry cream sauce are offered alongside larger dishes like roasted lamb chop with golden beets and a Muhammara sauce.

Erickson worked closely with Table 301’s beverage director, Joe Crossan, to build the 87-selection wine list, which Crossan strived to make approachable and food-friendly by focusing on familiar regions and grapes, but through lesser-known bottlings. “I tried to search for unexpectedly delicious wines that pair well with the food and also could be accessible for people on different budgets,” Crossan told Wine Spectator.

The list, which includes 20 labels available by the glass, also features a strong selection of Champagne and sparkling wines. “I love Champagne, and think it is coming into a golden age of quality and value,” said Crossan. “[We are] trying to get it away from a celebration or toast wine and have it be treated like every other wine, to be respected and consumed with food.”

Looking ahead, Crossan has plans to build the wine list up to a level similar to Soby’s 1,350-selection list, by evolving it seasonally, increasing vintage depth and acquiring more allocated wines from producers like Jacques Selosse, Agrapart & Fils and Domaine de la Romanée-Conti.—Taylor McBride

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