In early January, The Independent announced that they were changing their menu. People were pissed. Longtime Indo lovers lamented the loss of favorite dishes and groaned about the apparent lack of vegetarian and vegan friendly options.
But since the initial indignation, the internets have been quieted and the cranky comments have ceased. Where are these naysayers now? They’re silent, too busy cramming their faces with Chef Mark Cina’s duck confit, braised pork cheeks and stuffed Peppadew peppers. As general manager Jess Willis puts it: “Everyone’s gotten over the old ideas that they never thought they would recover from losing.”
The Independent is a Union Square neighborhood spot where loyal diners and drinkers frequent the dark interior to sup on cocktails and sample the impressive rotating 32 draft beer selection. The food, though hearty and comforting, was largely incidental, and after the last head chef left, The Independent was chefless for four months.
Enter Mark Cina.
Cina also mercilessly slashed the number of menu items, from 40 to twenty-eight. “We don’t need eight sandwiches here. I think we can have a few that we do well,” he explains. The only item that spared the culling was the veggie burger, which Cina tops with his homemade ketchup. It’s a technique-driven menu says Cina, who makes everything he can from scratch. He calls his style European-influenced American seasonal.
The dishes are ingenious blends that draw from far-reaching tastes and global influences—like the zatar and corriander crusted seared tuna with grapefruit and alfonso olives ($19) or the crispy pork belly with quince puree and candied hazelnuts ($15).
“I have no formal training unless you count getting your ass kicked every day for months and months in a row formal training.”
Cina started as a chicken cutter in Boston Chicken in Needham when he was 16 and he has worked his way through a heap of Boston restaurants.
His brother Robert Cina, the former chef de cuisine at Chez Henri in Cambridge, also inspired him, helping to refine his young, underdeveloped taste buds. “He was a huge influence on me. I didn’t want to eat duck confit when I was sixteen. I went to his place and I was like ‘I’m not eating duck dude.’” Now, at 34, and with a more refined palate, Cina makes a killer duck confit at The Independent.
As for the unhappy veggie crowd, Cina’s peace offering is a nightly vegetarian special, often a curry, and says they are willing to make any dish vegetarian.
Diners should be wary of getting too comfortable with the new menu though, since he plans on transforming it again for spring. But hey, at least this time we’ve been warned.
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