Let me preface by saying that I love the Boston Harbor Hotel: the service from the doormen and the concierge is always impeccable. I also love Meritage, which I think is one of the city's most laidback yet elegant, romantic restaurants, serving consistently very good, sometimes excellent food. In the past, I have enjoyed Intrigue as well: same gold-standard service, perfectly competent cocktails, comfy atmosphere and great music and dancing. The food has always been a definite step or two down from Meritage, but I think of it more as a bar with nibbles or as a lunch spot, so I've never expected it to blow me away.
We went last night, more for the music and dancing but with the intention of getting some drinks and a light meal. They move the music outside in the summer, which sounds like such a great idea in theory. Last night, other than generally receiving the above-and-beyond service that really sets the hotel apart, the experience was disappointing and not what we've come to expect.
First of all, what used to be a tiny dance floor with an intimate trio or quartet indoors morphs into a big band afloat on the water and a large, scene-y dance floor with viewing area as for a spectator sport. A very large patio area is set up with tables along the length of the building, with its own hostess stand. After a little dancing, we approached the outdoor hostess and inquired about our chances for a table. We were told somewhat abruptly that there was an hour and a half wait. Fortunately my DC had the presence of mind to ask whether that went for inside the restaurant as well, and we were told no, we could try our luck at the regular hostess stand inside. We did and were seated right away. In retrospect, this indication of a divide between indoor and outdoor, old and new set the pattern for the evening. Our server was young (as they all seemed to be), and though slightly frazzled, extremely sweet and efficient once we got her attention. She told us that they hire an extra hundred staff for the summer, which pretty much sums up the fact that during the summer, this isn't your usual Intrigue.
I had a very refreshing Lemontini with just the right balance of sweetness (I find that makers of lemon-based drinks tend to err on the side of too sour). But the food was really, really undistinguished. Nothing much caught our eye on the menu so we settled on a cheese plate, a duo of pates and the cornmeal-crusted calamari. The cheeses were fine, especially the dense, creamy goat cheese, but the accompanying strawberry-onion jam just seemed like watery strawberry. The chicken liver and foie gras pates were both lumpy, without any subtlety of flavor and, again, sort of runny. The saving grace there was the accompanying apricot compote, which basically drowned the pates' taste and texture out enough to make them edible. The cornmeal-crust on the calamari was excellent for cutting through the friedness but the "Asian dipping sauce" just tasted like soy sauce and if the slaw alongside had any dressing it was undetectable. Might have been drowned out by the bitter, almost off-tasting aspect of the elderly cabbage. The bread basket was very good, especially the moist cornbread and the mini cheese muffins. There's a line somewhere between casual, not-creative-but-competent on the one hand, and slapped-together-with-as-little-care-or-effort-as-possible on the other. It's pretty clear to me which side of the line Intrigue's food was on last night. We left wishing we'd gone upstairs to Meritage. Then we hit Christina's for dessert and filled up on white chocolate ice cream.
I hate to criticize Intrigue, since I think the BHH is a class act, but their summer series just seems like a way to cash in on spectacle at the cost of what makes the hotel great - namely gracious intimacy, thoughtfulness and attention to detail.