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Boston trip report (Sept 2012, Neptune Oyster/L'Espalier/Craigie on Main/Legal Sea Foods)


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Boston trip report (Sept 2012, Neptune Oyster/L'Espalier/Craigie on Main/Legal Sea Foods)

SimpleGL | Sep 13, 2012 04:25 PM


I've lurked on these forums for awhile to get trip advice on where to eat so hopefully this is a way to return the favour.

little about me: I'm a young professional who has had a love affair with food that has only intensified as my ability to travel and dine at good restaurants has increased. I'm in my late 20s and my dining companion has typically either been my best friend or girlfriend. I'm a sucker for rich foods ala truffle/foie gras but can appreciate a good burger. In the past 3 years I've travelled to Chicago, then New York and now Boston with the hope to do somewhere on the west coast next year. My most notable meals while travelling include Alinea in Chicago, Per Se/Del Posto/Sushi Yasuda in New York, and now here's what I have to say about my meals in Boston.

Neptune Oyster
Landed middle of last week and stayed at the Fairmont Battery Wharf in the north end (A+ service and decent location, would stay in Back Bay next time but it was an easy walk to downtown/Back Bay and an easy bike ride to Cambridge). Wandered around looking for a bite and decided that since Neptune Oyster was so close that we'd have to stop in. got signed up on the wait list and was told it would be about an hour and a half wait for 2. decided that my best buddy and I could wander around and grab some drinks in the area before getting in. we popped over to Vito's which is across the street for some beers. an hour later I decided to check the wait and was told by Tiffany that we could get seated in a minute or two and we ended up at the end of the bar with a great view of the restaurant. because of Chow's incessant raving about the hot buttered lobster roll that was what was ordered along with a dozen of MA's best oysters. Oysters were served up in minutes with a generous portion of cocktail sauce and mignonette. Delicious. Some of my favourites were the Glidden Point, Beausoleil's and Kumamotos. After a bit longer of a wait our lobster rolls came out and they were fantastic. toasted brioche roll opened up to a sea of lobster tail meat. there must have been 2 or 3 lobster tail's worth of meat in there slathered in butter. phenomenal. fries that came along were every bit up to standard, seemingly double fried with that extra crisp. well worth the $25 especially when compared to some of the other lobster rolls I had on the trip. after the meal we stumbled around boston's government centre to bars around the union oyster bar area which were decent but largely forgettable.

Back Deck
next day we wandered around downtown/beacon hill/back bay, ate lunch at the Back Deck. we got carded for a lunchtime beer but the waitress would not except my buddy's Alberta driver's license as ID. this did not please him and set the tone for the meal. the waitress offered the weak apology that school was back and lots of students were buzzing around but keep in mind that while I am in my late 20s and babyfaced, my buddy is in his late 20s and not babyfaced. ordered a sliced steak sandwiched prepared in a vietnamese fashion with a side of coleslaw. coleslaw was prepared vinegar style and was acceptable if underslated, sandwich was good but could have used more meat.

dinner was at L'Espalier which is next to the Mandarin Oriental. I was surprised that I could make reservations 2 days in advance, and even more surprised and delighted that the chef's table was available which is just a table on the side of the kitchen that offers a full view of the grill/fish stations. when we rolled up to the restaurant I wasn't sure what to expect, a hostess inside the door rang for the elevator and gave us a pleasant welcome. we rode a short elevator ride to the restaurant where Louis the fromager (cheese honcho) greeted us and escorted us through the kitchen to our table. my first impression of this walk was a blur as there was so much to see as we walked to our table. a blend of people, fire, food, and cookware. our dining table is essentially an elevated counter with some high chairs (seats up to 4) and has a pane of glass to separate you from the grill station (I believe to avoid contamination or you getting splashed). the view is incredible as you can see all the action of what's going on with the exception of the pastry, prep and appetizer/amuse stations (which are directly to your left). the pantry/fridge was to our right and throughout the night as chefs would go in they would greet us with a smile and ask how things were going. the grill station guy greeted us with a wink and said "hope you have room because you guys are in for a big meal". my buddy and I exchanged a look and a smile before my buddy remarked "jesus what have you gotten us into" and "this is so fricken cool". you are literally in the thick of things in the kitchen and it is much warmer than you may expect, though we did have our own air conditioner dedicated to blowing cold air on us.

onto the meal! my apologies to the kitchen and readers for my description of the dishes as i'm relying on hastily made notes and memory which gets more hazy as the wine and time goes on

focaccia, cheese roll, mutli-grain roll, other

my memory of the bread isn't great except that they were all quite good, the focaccia stands out however. it took me back to trips as a kid to italy where my grandmother would give me pieces of focaccia that burst with flavour and had a high enough butter content that made your fingers slightly greasy. I have not been able to find focaccia anywhere else quite like it and I did tonight. kudos to the pastry chef or wherever the bread is sourced from.

1. Mojito macaron
Good introduction to the meal, literally a macaron (french pastry) that tasted just like a mojito with hints of sweet syrup and mint

2. Cucumber granite
think cucumber sorbet/slurpee. tasted just like cucumber, not my favourite dish

3. Chicken Skin w/other
I don't remember much about the other but the star of the dish was the crispy fried chicken skin which was dusted with a bright orange smoke/salt seasoning. tasted like a junk food you'd get in heaven. crisp texture, richness, and an explosion of flavour.

4. Duck confit taco
the last of the amuse bouches/appetizers, a dish that was made for me because it encompassed the flavours I love. a hint of asian flavours and a strong hit of lime made this a memorable one for me.

5. Egg mousse w/white sturgeon caviar
rich dish. egg yolk mousse in a unique serving dish (border had caviar sized holes lining the plate/bowl) with some caviar to make you go yum. the smooth texture of the mousse coupled with the rich egg yolk taste and some caviar to top it all off was a great dish to introduce us into the more substantial plates.

6. Oyster w/gnocchi, bone marrow, grilled leek
oyster was good, gnocchi good but not the best i've had (n9ne at the palms in vegas holds that crown), grilled leek was great but the bone marrow oddly not as notable. a good but not great dish.

7. Seared scallop and butter poached lobster w/sweet potato mousse, walnut rutabaga mousse
strong dish with well executed scallop and lobster.

8. foie gras w/tomato on tomatillo puree and zucchini cakes
seared foie gras, how can you go wrong? another strong dish with the richness of the foie gras that is slightly cut with the acid of the tomato on tomatillo puree, zucchini cakes were decent.

9. chantilly(?) ice cream on cassis/raspberry jelly, on gin ice and a green tea cookie crumble
I get a sense that this dish was to cleanse the palate a bit and take you off of the richness that was the foie gras. sweet dish that was enjoyable. interesting presentation in a small bowl/glass.

9a. sumac truffle shot
this dish seemed to be more technique/experiment over taste, the sumac truffle was in a broth like liquid meant to be consumed together, this dish was decent but not memorable

10. black bass w/broth and vegetables
a nice filet of the black bass w/skin on a bed of vegetables in broth. the fish was cooked perfectly, this dish screamed clarity and elegance

11. pheasant/duck w/peach puree and a black garnish puree garnish
one of the grill station chef's was working on a dish for the next day which was a roasted pheasant. after some discussion with the chef he asked us whether we'd like to try the pheasant rather than the duck. we decided i'd go with the pheasant and my buddy would try the duck. unanimous decision? pheasant was good but needed some work. the duck was amazing. the peach puree was a sad reminder that summer was closing and produce this good would soon be a distant memory. my buddy noticed that the chef passed along our feedback about the dish

12. lamb filet/sausage w/ root vegetables
the sausage was one of the best thing I tasted in Boston, lamb filet was solid and who doesn't love root vegetables?

13. cheese plate (!!!)
louis came by with an assortment of 7 cheeses (mostly from vermont), some wide slivers of bread, jams, and almonds. this was the best cheese plate i've had in my life (haven't had that many) but it was an excellent selection that moved from the mild and creamy, to the aged cheddars, to the funky bleus.

14. apple dessert
at this point I was floating on a conspicious amount of wine, the desserts were solid but nothing amazing. brunoised apples are all I can conjure from my fading memory

15. chocolate/meringue dessert
as above minus the brunoise apples

I did not take detailed notes but we did get the wine pairing. pairings were good and the pours more than generous as noted above. I was well fed and drunk by the end of the meal.

service was good but there was something about our boyish server that I did not like. he gave perfectly acceptable service but came off as smug for some reason. from talking with our server, he was dedicated to serving our table and our table alone (neat). each chef that passed us by, we did like. extraordinarily friendly, with some more chatty than others (chit chatted with the fish station at the close of the night where he remarked on his rough night (see fave quote below)).

uncomparable to any meal I've ever had. we noted that it was for the most part a quiet kitchen. but the amount of action and how wide our eyes were reminded me of being a little kid and being engrossed with the little things in life

Not sure if this is brilliant marketing or a nice touch, the meal on the bill was $300/pp with wine pairing of $100/pp, and they gave us a discount of $100/pp for a grand total of $300/pp which is in line with what's charged on the website for the tasting menu.

Favourite chef quote
"I need two halibuts right fucking now" -sous chef

Favourite chef action
Fish station doling out yet another dollop of butter to braise lobster/fish/whatever in. I could not believe the amount of butter they go through.

In browsing these boards I've noted several posters bemoaning the fact that while Boston has good food experiences, its not on the level of the New York's or Chicago's of the world. While the execution and technique demonstrated in the dishes of this meal were not on the level of Per Se (really how many restaurants are?), this was not just a meal but an experience that I would put on par with any I've ever had. quite simply, from start to finish it was an amazing experience (despite our smug server). my friend noted that the consistency of the dishes was at a very high level, there weren't the lows that often accompany highs in some of the tasting menus you have out there, everything was at the very least good. I say bravo, especially to a restaurant that many on here seem to have discarded as last decade's flavour of the month.

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