Arts restaurant review

A Blue Ribbon Takeover: Part 2

Award-winning chef Dan Bazzinotti fronts Blue Ribbon Group’s second Kenmore Square outpost.

Seafood, $$
498 Commonwealth Ave.
Boston, MA 02215
Monday–Friday 4 p.m.–11 p.m.
Saturday–Sunday 11 a.m.–12 a.m.

“Time flies when you’re opening restaurants,” says Daniel Bazzinotti, 15-year veteran of the Boston food scene. He started as a line cook at the Liberty Hotel’s Scampo in 2008 and moved onto Somerville’s award-winning Bergamot in 2010. In 2016, he took the position of Chef de Cuisine at BISq, proselytizing whole animal butchery and charcuterie while cooking Peruvian, Cajun, and Italian food. People took note of his expertise and passion — Bazzinotti was soon offered the position of Chef de Cuisine at the Prudential Center’s Eataly, Boston’s outpost of the international Italian grocery, market, and restaurant group.

At Eataly, Bazzinotti enjoyed the autonomy that every chef dreams about, moving from restaurant to restaurant and putting his own spin on Italian classics. But in 2022, after six years with the group, he decided it was time for a new chapter: “I just didn’t want to cook Italian food anymore.”

A friend soon made Bazzinotti aware of an opening at the esteemed Blue Ribbon Group’s newly planned Boston spaces. Initially, his response was ambivalent; at that point, Bazzinotti was contemplating a move away from the restaurant world. “I was looking for butchering jobs,” he says, wanting to return to his passion for salumi and whole-animal carving. But after hearing the New York-based group’s plan for their expansion to Boston — three restaurants, each with its own distinct vision — he was intrigued. “One of the best things [about] Eataly was that I could bounce around — I wasn’t stuck in one restaurant,” says Bazzinotti. “Now you’re telling me I can do that in a sushi restaurant, a Latin restaurant, and a French restaurant, all under the same umbrella?”

Blue Ribbon reciprocated his interest and moved quickly. “My first interview was with the whole corporate team,” says Bazzinotti, “[which might] be intimidating for someone who doesn’t interview well!” Soon after, Dan was offered the Executive Chef position at all three of the group’s Boston spaces: a new location of Blue Ribbon Sushi, a coastal grill, and a brasserie like the original New York space, all located in Kenmore Square’s Hotel Commonwealth. It was an offer he couldn’t refuse.

Last June, the group announced the opening of Boston's Blue Ribbon Sushi. The restaurant is quietly upscale but refreshingly accessible, appropriate for both a casual weekday lunch and a celebratory dinner. It’s one of eleven locations around the country, most of which offer similar sushi bar appetizers and mains supplemented with some specials unique to the location. The new brasserie, set to open in the coming months, is rumored to mimic the original New York space for which the group is well-known. But at Pescador, the middle child and only original concept, Bazzinotti is forging his own path.

Pescador’s cuisine is hard to pin down. Bazzinotti describes the restaurant as a coastal grill: “As long as it’s seafood, it fits.” The menu’s first incarnation was a 70-item Excel sheet inspired by Blue Ribbon co-founder Bruce Bromberg’s recent travels to Mexico and Spain. Over several months, Bazzinotti and Co-Executive Chef Keith Pooler (former owner and chef at Bergamot) tinkered and experimented, adding new creations and removing ones which they thought fell flat. “Keith and I ordered everything for the list and just started making dishes,” Bazzinotti says. “We had no dishwasher, no prep cook, we were making a giant mess.”

Over a few months, the spreadsheet gradually became Pescador’s opening menu. It included items like Bazzinotti’s Peruvian ceviche, something that he had been making for years, as well as new products of experimentation like grilled oysters. By the time it opened in November 2022, the restaurant offered everything from pizza and bar snacks to ceviche and crudo to fully cooked, bone-in fish.

Within the menu’s loose limits, creativity abounds. Well-filled lobster tacos and corn “ribs” with cotija. Oysters prepared asado with chili butter. Branzino, grilled over hot coals in a wood oven and served with blue corn tortillas and a panoply of salsas. Bazzinotti’s classic ceviche from the 18-seat ceviche bar with red snapper, shrimp, and choclo, big kernels of Peruvian corn. And from the bar, choose between a Brazilian caipirinha, Pescador’s agave and oil cocktail with infused tequila reposado, or maybe even a glass of Rey Camparo Jabalí, a top-shelf mezcal whose smokiness cuts through the bright, fresh seafood flavors perfectly.

Today, Bazzinotti’s kitchen still seems to operate like a culinary playground. He claims the kitchen’s easygoing culture trickles down from the bosses themselves: “Bruce and [his brother and business partner] Eric are so important. They don’t come in to nit-pick, they come in to say, ‘Alright guys, what’s exciting?’” Offering five ceviche specials at once? Sure! Paying homage to the space’s oyster bar roots with six different oyster preparations? Of course! Spur-of-the-moment Italian dishes? Why not! Bazzinotti seems to be happier cooking Italian food on his own terms. “You have our back-waiters and our servers and our dishwashers excited to work there and be a part of this restaurant, which, in turn, makes for a really great restaurant.”

A core element of Blue Ribbon’s mission is to emphasize the integration of their restaurants into the communities where they reside. Accompanying the space’s extensive food and drink menu are numerous special events, including takeovers from vaunted Boston chefs like Jamie Bissonette and Valentine Howell. The restaurant now offers a weekend brunch with Latin-inspired breakfast items like a bespoke chilaquiles and tres leches pancakes with ancho butter.

Like its neighbor Blue Ribbon Sushi, Pescador strikes many balances. Some guests wear dress shirts, while others prefer shorts. Island music and themed decor belie an ambitious slate of food and drink. Red Sox fans enjoy a beer and a pizza next to businessmen sipping tequila, and somehow, it feels right. It’s the same feeling diners experience at the sushi bar next door and the same feeling diners will experience when the brasserie opens this fall: one of belonging. The Blue Ribbon group isn’t just about food — it’s about creating places where everyone feels at home.