Just opened: Tico
Chef Michael Schlow has reached that point in his career where he can pretty much do whatever he wants. Luckily for Back Bay denizens, what he wants is pretty damn cool.
Standing behind the counter at his newest restaurant venture, he tells us about how he’s rigged up a system so he can control the music from right there. He talks about building a huge, state-of-the-art kitchen to produce the food that he eats while he’s at home by himself. He turns to point at the shelf of knick-knacks above his head—quirky gifts from people close to him, like a Mario Batali figurine from the celebrity chef himself and oversized heart-shaped sunglasses from his girlfriend’s daughter. All the while, the gleaming exposition kitchen behind him whirs with the activity of half a dozen white-coated kitchen workers prepping for the night’s event, a benefit for the Greg Hill Foundation.
While his other local outposts—Via Matta, Radius, 606 Congress, Alta Strada—are all successful ventures, Schlow hadn’t planned on opening another restaurant in Boston. But when he heard that the old Cottonwood Club space had opened up, he couldn’t resist.
The front of the house is a world away from the white-and-stainless look that defines the cooking area. The space is large and lounge-like, with a sliding stained glass panel separating the bar from the dining area. Despite the gorgeous, hacienda-style lanterns above the bar, it’s dimly lit even on a sunny afternoon.
Shelving behind the bar glows yellow-green, highlighting the extensive selection of tequilas.
“We’ll have tequila and beer. Beer and tequila, “ Schlow deadpans, though the final bar menu will include about eight classic cocktails, eight new creations, plus at least two sangrias and two margaritas.
Enthusiasts of the agave-based spirit should look into joining the forthcoming Tequila Club. In addition to classes and seminars, Schlow says anyone who tries all 88 of Tico’s tequilas in eight months will get an engraved glass, dinner for four, tequila swag and, of course, bragging rights (also, probably a hangover).
While the whole restaurant concept is based in Sclow’s travels in Spain and Latin America, there is a purposeful lack of authenticity to the menu. The food is American in that old-school, Melting Pot sense of American-ness. There are crunchy edamame tacos, Brussels sprouts with bacon, chorizo risotto and three options for those who want steak. The influence is felt more in the laid-back atmosphere, the abundance of small plates and the use of ingredients like corn, chilies and Serrano ham.
The menu itself is a dense read. Instead of using highfalutin terms that might turn people off, Schlow presents dishes as lists of ingredients. Instead of fideo, there’s Gulf shrimp with toasted vermicelli, local shellfish, lobster stock and saffron aioli. It’s meant to be accessible, even if it requires a lot of digging around. Sure bets include the off-kilter list of tacos (available at all hours), the crispy fried Manchego with spicy pomegranate honey sauce and, of course, the burger. Schlow has created a new blend of meat just for the all-American bacon cheese iteration at Tico, and it’s so good that he even adjusted the meat mixture in the acclaimed Rialto burger to bring it up to snuff.
“I don’t want to be the burger king,” he jokes, but goes on to school us in the art of cooking a burger; the trick is to start it on the grill and then finish it in a low oven.
On principle, Schlow is not a fan of the notion that upscale restaurants should be buttoned-up affairs, and the relaxed atmosphere at Tico reflects that.
“If you are spending more money, you should be having more fun,” he explains.
Flexibility is the overarching principle. There will be a lounge area, a bar and a dining area. Patrons are welcome to come in for a quick lunch, order something to go, or spend a long afternoon sampling tapas and sipping sangria. Schlow promises us that even if we come in at 3pm on a weekday, we’ll be welcome to order whatever we want—a promise we’re planning on taking him up on as soon as possible.
222 Berkeley St, Back Bay, Boston (617-351-0400, ticoboston.com)