No one can accuse Boston's Jody Adams of empire building. She's been a one-restaurant gal for the past 17 years, staying focused on her role as chef/owner of the much-heralded regional Italian standout Rialto in nearby Cambridge. Adams never really tried to cultivate a personal brand, but wound up having a huge one anyway. She finally put it to use last October by opening Trade, a casual Mediterranean restaurant in downtown Boston. Adams, a 1980 Brown University grad, partnered with a pair of energetic young guys to run her new place, even though she's pretty energetic herself. Two summers ago she led bike tours in Europe, riding big mileage with the pack through Northern Italy each day, then preparing the group's meal at each stop along the route. Let's hope the youngsters can keep up.
Her business partners at Trade, Sean Griffing and Eric Papachristos, carry much of the managerial load. This livewire pair — Griffing is a former general manger at Rialto, Papachristos is a Boston restaurateur — already own Hen House, a super-casual chicken-and-waffle operation in Boston. They opened that concept in the depths of the recession and it's still going strong today, so they've proven their ability to survive in the restaurant business.
This duo's primary skill may turn out to be their powers of persuasion. Adams has had plenty of offers to open new restaurants over the years, but she always chose to stick with Rialto. This opportunity seemed different. “It was the guys' idea. They convinced me,” Adams says.
Once this group came together, it was time to find a location. They came up with a winner in downtown Boston: Atlantic Wharf, a restored 19th century building that's on the National Historic Registry and is precertified LEED Gold.
It's part of a mixed-use development that includes a 31-story office tower and a seven-story residential structure, all of it situated between the new Rose Kennedy Greenway, a 1.5 mile-long promenade, and historic Boston Harbor.
In terms of visibility, foot traffic and favorable demographics, this spot is hard to top. Trade is in good company here; steakhouse chain Smith & Wollensky, which makes a point of finding iconic locations, opened a 280-seat unit in this same complex late last summer.
Trade is housed in a corner location whose airy, light-filled space accommodates 207 seats. Adams and company have been careful to position the restaurant as a casual local spot whose menu and ambiance are different than those of Rialto.
Adams's title at Trade is chef and co-owner, but the day-to-day cooking falls under the direction of executive chef Andrew Hebert. A Johnson & Wales grad, this seven-year veteran of Rialto's kitchen presides over an eclectic menu that's meant to reflect the world travels of Adams, Griffing and Papachristos. The food influences start in Italy and wrap around the eastern Mediterranean to North Africa, all of it prepared using locally sourced ingredients. The menu is broken into five sections.
At $15, Nantucket bay scallop ceviche with kaffir lime salt, nuts and spices is the most expensive dish in the small plate lineup. Most items are $10 or under, including standouts like grilled squid and fried tentacles with Borlotti beans and vinegar peppers ($10) and pomegranate-glazed eggplant with capers, olives and pine nuts ($8). Hebert, who also cooked at Charleston, SC's Fig to prep for his Trade job, contributed top-seller fried oysters and buckwheat waffles with maple syrup and sour cream ($12).
The short soup and salad list offers Wellfleet clam chowder with crispy pancetta ($11) and gingered beets with soft greens, ricotta salata and whole grain mustard ($11).
Five items are included on the flatbread list. They include mussels, tomato and leeks with saffron and garlic ($14); and mushrooms and figs with Gorgonzola, sage pesto and walnuts ($15).
Entrees, dubbed “plates” on the Trade menu, feature items such as baked rigatoni with spicy lamb ragu and provolone ($22); seared half chicken with burnt orange, dates, pistachios and quinoa ($24); and whole roasted fish with lemon grass chutney and crispy cumin potatoes ($24). There's even a burger, paired with pancetta, Vermont cheddar and grilled onions. It costs $16.
Side dishes include sautéed local greens with chili flakes and garlic ($6) and Brussels sprouts with Aleppo pepper and nuts ($7).
Trade's menu offers a level of sophisticated cooking seldom available at these price points. Factor in that it's being served out of a terrific building in a bustling part of Boston with Adams and her partners calling the shots and this restaurant's risk of failure has been minimized almost to the vanishing point.
Legions of Rialto fans have been waiting 17 years for Adams to spread her wings and give them another way to access her food. Both they and Adams have concluded it was worth the wait.