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Restaurants & Bars 2


MC Slim JB | May 23, 2003 12:55 AM

Okay, let's start by saying, it's opening night. "It's opening night." Anyone who goes this early to a new place oughtn't to be surprised by missteps, hiccups, and general disarray.

Not a bad redo of the downstairs bar, with many old Biba small plates revived, e.g., the famed lobster pizza. Like many new high-end places, there's an elaborate menu of strained cocktails at $10-14 a throw. Thank God for the smoking ban: no more 1995-holdover idiots puffing away on cigars anymore.

Mysteriously, the two cocktails we sample are too sweet to be grown-up drinks: are they hoping to cultivate a well-to-do young crowd raised on Gatorade, Smirnoff Ice, and TGI Friday's blender drinks? The Aviation is much drier and better done at the B-Side, the "Timeless Classic" is a fruity, awful, bourbon-based concoction. $29 lighter in the pocket, we head upstairs.

Judging from the dining room, the other shoe has dropped on bad 70s fashion: add restaurant interior designers to the many couturiers obsessesed with this 20th-century nadir of a design period. The redo is expensive-looking and hideous: blood-red and orange here, turquoise and tan there. Truly wretched, expensive carpeting completely covers the beautiful old hardwood floors. Tables a bit more closely spaced than in Biba.

We find a decent, $50 bargain on a wine list with many bottles in the (yikes!) $100-300 range. A wonderful bread basket: good flatbreads, a pumpernickel-apricot number, terrific butter. The soupe de poisson is gorgeous, maybe the best I've had in Boston, helped by traditional garnishes (except for a powdery rather than a shreddy Gruyere: odd). Can't remember what that pale little moussey dollop floating in the middle was, but it was fabu.

A mid-course (listed as a side dish) of spinach risotto was big enough for four, but as well done as one might expect of restaurant risotti: not quite the chewy texture of long-cooked, long-stirred risotto, but packed with flavor.

One entree: a lovely rack of lamb, one of three entrees cooked in a "vertical oven" (not a Biba-ish tandoor, I'm told). Gorgeous, rare, very fine, with fresh favas and a puree of I believe white beans and green garlic. The other, also from the vertical oven: a disaster. A Niman pork chop with skin on, which arrived cold. A return to the kitchen did nothing to improve it. This dish needs a lot of work. The crackling came out nicely, but the rest of the piece was absurdly, grossly, overly fatty (and I love pork fat). Nice chestnut puree on the side, at least. Side of pea tendrils was lovely.

Our dessert choices turned out to be among the most common pastry-chef cliches these days: a custardy lemon tart with a crunchy brulee topping and nice strawberries, and a molten-center chocolate cake with excellent ice cream. (Really well done of their type, but does anyone need to eat another chocolate-ooze cake? We've gotta pay more attention to those dessert menus.) Excellent espresso.

Many, many service lapses besides the cold entree (which could have been a kitchen lapse) but at least management was clever enough to recognize they'd fallen a little short: they wordlessly comp'd our wine. Pre-tip tab sans wine: $135. This place is promising, but you might want to give it a couple of months. Plus both the menu and wine lists are almost comically illegible: a goofy 70s-prom-invitation-curlicue font on one, teeny tiny type on the other.

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