Babak Bina and Azita Bina-Seibel’s Persian hot spot Lala Rokh has been a romantic Beacon Hill destination for years, and with good reason—where else in the city can you get haute Iranian cuisine served in a modestly elegant setting? I go for the pickled baby eggplants alone. Still, no one (myself included) could have guessed that a pair of chef-owners who have spent the last decade with palates firmly planted in the Middle East would be able to convincingly pull off an Italian enoteca. But pull it off they did, complete with 30-page wine bible (helpfully indexed), an electronically controlled pouring system (microliter accuracy), and a knowledgeable wait staff to boot. The wine list is crafted to feature exotic grapes and combinations that most people probably haven’t tried, so after you spend the first half-hour of the meal reading through the detailed descriptions in the bible, you should give up and let the waiter help you decide.
For example: the buttery and toasty 2006 Moris Vermentino from Toscana ($7/100ml, $40/bottle) that came matched with the whole Mediterranean sea bass perfectly brought out the richer flavors of the generally mild fish that a dryer, more acidic wine would have missed. Branzino (as the fish is called in Italy), with its single-serving size, good flavor, and minimal bone structure, has become a popular menu staple at high-end rustic restaurants, but simple rustic preparations often reveal the inadequacies of the cook: if all you’re doing is stuffing it with thyme and lemon and grilling it, your grilling technique better be spot-on. Fortunately, at Bin 26, it is. The skin is rendered into a crispy, salty, smoky, melt-in-your-mouth sheath that easily pulls away with a puff of steam to reveal the subtly perfumed flesh underneath. A smattering of sautèed haricots verts form the obligatory garnish for the plate, and a swirl of red-pepper coulis completes the Mediterranean theme, but neither one is necessary — this fish speaks for itself. Here’s a hint if you’re sharing the dish: poke the tiny cheeks out with the tip of your fork to steal the best bite.