Most restaurant reviews focus on just one part of the dining experience: the food. But just as important as the food is everything else: branding, interior design, service, music, and overall vibe. An exceptional dining out experience is one where all the senses are engaged, not just the taste buds. Find out which restaurants have the “taste” to meet our standards (and which ones don’t).
Hungry for Design’s authors are Susan Battista and Fritz Klaetke—partners in both work and life. By day they run Visual Dialogue, a branding and design firm where Susan leads strategy and Fritz leads creative. By night, they can be found sharing meals (and opinions) at restaurants all over Boston and beyond.
A bright light on Broadway
La Brasa sets the stage for a long-running hit in Somerville
Nowhere in the Boston area is getting as much buzz as Somerville these days. Along with the new energy here comes a burgeoning dining scene with standouts that include Highland Kitchen, Bergamot, Brownwyn, Journeyman, and Sarma (see our review) to name a few. But before any of these foodie destinations came on the scene, Somerville was home to many low-key, neighborhood restaurants serving food from the countries of its diverse residents. Now, a new player is melding the two camps. Equal parts foodie destination and casual ethnic neighborhood eatery, Somerville’s culinary worlds collide at La Brasa.
About a 10 minute walk from Sullivan Square, La Brasa is located on a busy stretch of Broadway near the new Mudflat Studio. The exterior featuring large picture windows framed by stone (originally a Chevrolet dealership) stands out like a beacon amongst a motley assortment of cell phone stores, nail salons, auto shops, and packies. The entryway is lined with brightly painted, wooden rectangles. It contrasts nicely with the building’s traditional “main street” architecture and hints at what awaits inside.
Chefs Daniel Bojorquez (formerly of Sel de la Terre and L’Espalier) and Frank McClelland (renowned head chef/owner of L’Espalier) opened La Brasa in the spring of 2014. McClelland is a distinguished and experienced restaurateur, and it shows here. La Brasa’s globally inspired menu reflects East Somerville’s ethnic diversity and highlights an interesting blend of South American and Mexican flavors. They’ve also created an experience that suits the neighborhood’s burgeoning culture.
The name La Brasa means “grilled” in Spanish and is reflected in every aspect of the restaurant. For starters, food is prepared on an open flame cooktop and oven, both fueled by piles of wood tucked throughout the dining room. Thanks to an open kitchen, guests can watch the highly skilled Chef Bojorquez and his crew handle leaping flames with a level of expertise that puts Bobby Flay to shame.
La Brasa’s wood-fired theme also extends beautifully to the interior. The wooden construction begins at the entry way and continues through the interior with thoughtful, intentional design by RODE Architects (crafted by Blue Barn and B.Haley Designs). The space feels both modern and rustic, with reclaimed wood and distressed brick handled in a fresh way. The extensive use of wood is complemented by fixtures and hand-forged furniture to create an integrated space.
Designers were careful to avoid excess, but nevertheless demonstrated impressive attention to detail. Several features make the space special. For example, the entry is concealed with an interesting wood structure that resembles a shed. Even the tables were considered—each one is equipped with its own, custom-made leveler.
At the far end of the restaurant, an adjoining market sells produce, coffee, meats, and cheeses from local purveyors, including McClelland’s own Apple Street Farm. A communal table and small displays of artisan foods fill the simple but pleasant shop that doubles as the chefs’ pantry at night.
The menu is a mix of Spanish-influenced small plates and entrees. We really enjoyed the redfish ceviche, which was creatively presented atop a fried fish carcass, as well as the scallops with butternut, sunchoke, and chestnut romesco. The prime rib is definitely worth mentioning. It’s served by the ounce on a rolling butcher block cart, where waitstaff weigh, slice, and serve it tableside. We liked this little infusion of performance—it differentiates La Brasa and adds a little bit of “meat” to their story. It’s one of those experiences you tell your friends about. While there were a few misses, overall we felt the food was consistent with the environment, not too precious for the neighborhood. Be sure to save room for the flan—let’s just say it’s so good we had to order it twice.
Last but not least, we really like La Brasa’s brand identity created by Cloudtheory. The name, as we mentioned earlier, fits perfectly. The vaguely South American typeface strikes the right balance between considered and casual. And when you talk about branding, this is the real deal. Literally. Every menu is branded with a hot iron. Some are lightly singed, while other are burned through, all displayed on wood boards. Perfect.
Needless to say, La Brasa satisfies our hunger for design. It’s an overall great experience where all aspects are considered, integrated, and crafted with the utmost care. To paraphrase George Benson’s famous hit: They say the neon lights are bright on Broadway
They say there’s always magic in the air
But when you’re walkin’ down that street
And you ain’t had enough to eat
La Brasa does it right when you are there