My girlfriend and i would first like to thank all of the boston hounds who gave us great advice for our weekend trip.
1) LA Burdick: Hot chocolates were quite rich and chocolatey but we both prefer the spicy "wicked" hot chocolate at jacques torres in brooklyn.
2) L'espalier: we decided to splurge and go to L'espalier for dinner (instead of the very intriguing Oleana, which we will try next itme). We opted for the vegetarian tasting menu.
The amuse bouche was quite tasty - bread, a piece of french feta cheese, a tiny square of what tasted like onion aspic and a roasted tomato - though the tomato could have been roasted a bit more.
Then there was a leek, black truffle and potato soup over pickled napa cabbage and mushrooms. We both thought it was excellent, although the truffle flavor was understated (i.e. we couldn't taste it).
Then there was a dish of black olive gnocchi with roasted veggies - parsnip, onion and tomatoes - and field greens, all with a roasted pepper and garlic broth. Although the greens were superfluous (and, in my girlfriend's opinion, a little tough) they didn't detract much from the overall high quality of the dish.
The third course was an asparagues and cepes risotto bathed in a citrus glaze - this was extremely good. The flavors worked very well together. A minor quibble: the third dish used the same the same roasted veggies as the second course. The cheese course was excellent and thoughtfully prepared except for an extremely pungent colorado blue cheese which neither of us liked. The accompanying strawberry jam-like spread (strawberries with balsamic vinegar) was amazing, like the best strawberry jam you've ever tasted.
The dessert course was a letdown. The gingerbread was rock-hard and not very flavorful; the "strawberry shortcake" (i hesitate because it consisted of a single, hard square of shortbread with a dollop of whipped cream and a single slice of unripe strawberry), was underwhelming. Finally, the chocolate mousse was good but standard.
By the way, the petit fours at the end were so good that they almost redeemed the lousy dessert course: a miniscule square of lemon (polenta?) cake with frosting and a single blueberry; a delicious chocolate hazelnut truffle, a cold but nevertheless yummy lemon madeleine (aka cafe boulud) and a tiny, butter cookie which shattered in the mouth. Fantastic!
Overall, L'espalier was excellent, but not flawless. The service and the setting, on the the other hand, were perfect. It was more elegant and less stuffy than comparable restaurants in nyc. Interestingly, the crowd was younger as well. Both my girlfriend and I would recommend it to anyone (vegetarian or not).
3) Cafe Jaffa: Falafels were certainly decent but something was missing. I can't put my finger on it. The grape leaves were quite good, although we prefer them to be served at room temperature (not hot).
We're sure to come back soon to check out Oleana, Helmand and the other recs. Thanks again!