2006 Gourmet Magazine's ranking (#43) of No. 9 Park is off the mark. One of the best restaurants I've encountered (and I've tried more than a dozen on Gourmet's list), Boston's No. 9 Park should rank in the top 10 of America's Best Restaurants.
Upon arriving at No. 9 Park, we were promptly greeted and shown to our table at the rear of the restaurant. The room was very warm and my husband asked our server if the heat could be turned down. Just a moment later the hostess appeared at our table, expressed her apologies for the temperature and said she had turned down the heat. She also offered a table in the front dining room where it was at least ten degrees cooler. We accepted. The excellent and swift service exhibited in our first five minutes at No. 9 Park was sustained throughout the evening.
On the weeknight we dined, the restaurant was full with a mostly business crowd. Across the street from the State-House, it appears to be the choice for business dinners and couples to meet after work for a bite to eat. The three course tasting menu served only in the bar, allows for a more affordable version of that which is served in the dining room - and provides a forum for drop in diners without reservations.
Many of the wines on the wine menu are made specifically for No. 9 Park, including the 2006 Santa Barbara Pinot Blanc that my husband selected while he perused the dinner menu. Our waitress was correct that this was more of a classic buttery Chardonnay than a Pinot Blanc - exactly what he was seeking. The 2006 Heinrich "Red Cat for the Butcher Shop" wine, also made for No. 9 Park, was recommended to me by our waitress. I was skeptical about ordering such a young red, but it turned out to be delicious, soft, round and absent of hard tannins. Proper "Riedel" style wine glasses were used for these wines, and throughout the evening for each of our wine selections.
Wanting to experience the full range of the chef's talents, we both selected the seven course Chef's Tasting menu ($90) with wine pairings ($150). Substitution requests were easily accommodated, the first being the Kampachi Sashimi in place of the Assiette of Pork. The Kampachi was as fresh as I've tasted it; served with pickled ginger, the fish was drizzled with pumpkinseed oil and topped with tiny fried shallots, a nice contrast to the buttery sashimi. Such delicate tastes would have been overwhelmed by most wines; the Roederer champagne paired with the dish was perfect and refreshing.
Our next course, Lobster Salad, was served atop basil puree and topped with a fried white anchovy, baby fennel, tomato confit and black olives. The lemon olive oil drizzled over the salad cut through the buttery richness of the lobster and tempered the fried taste of the anchovy. This dish had a Mediterranean flavor and was paired with a Rose wine from the south of France (2006 Domaine du Bagnol Cassis Rose).
Dover Sole with bearnaise sauce, capers and spinach was a more interesting presentation than the Dover Sole I recently had at Locke-Ober, though it was a bit bland until paired with a lemony Sicilian white wine (2005 COS Rami).
The Risotto with Cardoon, (similar to an artichoke) Black Truffles, and Comte (a nutty flavored cheese) was one of my favorite dishes of the evening, though not as good as the Risotto with White Truffles that I enjoyed at The French Laundry (ranked #3 on Gourmet's list).
For the optional middle course, we had a choice of Foie Gras or Prune Stuffed Gnocchi. I selected the gnocchi which was served with toasted almonds and brown butter. It was paired with a 10-year old Broadbent Madeira that I did not at all care for, though the sweet wine was appropriate with the tart prune.
Sweet brioche topped with pear butter held my husband's foie gras, which the '04 Riesling complimented perfectly. The other side of the platter held a foie gras pate topped with red current, which unfortunately completely overpowered the delicate pate flavor. Roasted squab (baby pigeon) was tender and moist; it was amazing when paired with the accompanying finely chopped pistachio and shallot jam.
We decided to share the optional cheese course. Kate, our server, was impressively well versed about not only the menu, but the wines and cheeses as well. For an optimum experience, request her as your server if you decide to dine at No. 9 Park. With her assistance, we selected the Blue de Bocage from the Loire Valley, the Dallenwiler Geisschas from Switzerland (my favorite - creamy like a Camembert), U Pecurinu from Corsica and Shropshire Blue from England, an amazing cheddar/blue cheese combination. All cheeses at No. 9 Park come from Formaggio Kitchen in Boston's South End, though we purchased the Shropshire Blue the next day (it was that good) at The Cheese Iron in Scarborough, Maine. Kate provided us with complimentary glasses of Muscat which paired exceptionally well with each of the cheeses.
Our final course was the Chocolate and Cinnamon Cremeux with roasted pear, white chocolate and walnut slivers, served with a surprisingly refreshing Sparkling Red wine (2006 Cascina Garitina Brachetto D'Acqui Niades).
Far superior to many of the restaurants on Gourmet's America's Top 50 Restaurants list, No. 9 Park is certainly better than Charlie Trotter's, Locke-Ober, Cyrus, Daniel, Fore Street and even Spago. If you live within driving distance, you must go to No. 9 Park; if you live further away, it is an absolute "must do" destination dinner for serious foodies.