IF YOU want to know where fine dining goes next, some clues can be found in the broody dining space that is Automata. Youngish chef Clayton Wells is classically trained (he last worked at Momofuku Seiobo) but does not take a stuffy, backwardlooking approach to cuisine. Rather step inside Wells’s sleek and masculine restaurant to mine a somewhat austere menu that at once manages to challenge while retaining enough elements of the familiar to offer comfort. From a ceaselessly changing list try quirky dishes like smoked eel with potato with sauerkraut, cheese sauce and dill, a dish that despite its high-end finishes may remind you of the fish with spuds and white sauce of Sunday night dinners past. The signature dory in a mossy blanket of seaweedy laver may or may not be on the menu during your visit but if it’s absent there will be other glories: black angus tri-tip, perhaps, or bug tail with steamed eggplant. Stiff? Absolutely not, especially when your black T-shirt wearing sommelier Tim Watkins pours avant-garde wines with a sparkle in his eye as though he’s taking things seriously, but not too seriously. So you’ll find much to love about Automata, including the long, thin communal dining table that looks onto the kitchen and the $88 fixed-price menu ($55 lunch) that’s a worthy investment, even if only to see what the future of dining is all about.