L’Espalier – Restaurant Review
774 Boylston Street
I wanted to find an elegant French restaurant with a tasting menu in Boston for a recent birthday dinner for two. I settled on L’Espalier, despite reviews that their previous location was more intimate, more glamorous, and more traditional. Anyway, most reviews had raved about the food.
The first thing that struck us was the location. Although located adjacent to the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, the dark rabbit warren that we blindly followed, getting disoriented more than once, suggested more of a private club feel than chain hotel. Once inside, we were directed to the salon, where we sat across from each other in arm chairs, sipping a cocktail, looking to one side over the views of the Back Bay area and to the other at the marvellous assortment of cheeses on offer. Upon being shown to our table in the Corner Room, I asked for a different one as I customarily do when I get seated adjacent to a table full of obnoxious banker-wankers. Afterall, I did specify in the reservation that this was to be a romantic dinner for a special occasion so didn’t expect a bench seat at a table for 6 in a brightly lit room full of business people trying to verbally out-do each other. This was absolutely no trouble for the maitre d’ and we were quickly transported to the perfect table in the Crystal Room. As we were about to find out, nothing was too much trouble for any of the staff. Service the entire evening was impeccable. From thorough descriptions of each course and comprehensive wine knowledge to a customized souvenir “Happy Birthday” menu listing most of what we were served, all of the wines and all 8 cheeses.
Dinner was full of surprises.
#1 – The 10 course tasting menu did not consist of 10 courses. Including 3 intermezzo, we counted 16! At first we thought the food with wine pairings were coming too quickly and were on the verge of feeling a bit rushed. We soon realised that this pace was necessary to get through the entire menu before the following morning. We were there for 4 hours and the courses kept coming right to the end.
#2 – James does like oysters. Ok, just the one oyster… as long as it is served with cucumber foam and caviar and accompanied by Laurent-Perrier Brut.
#3 – I do like Fois Gras… but only if it tastes like dessert. This was seared and served on an almond cake with salted caramel and green almond milk foam with a glass of 2000 Disznókő Hungarian Tokaji ~ interesting choice for only our 4th course.
#4 – Molecular cooking rocks. The science of different cooking methods (including both physical and chemical processes) and the effect they have on flavour and texture has led to food professionals taking food to new extremes of artistic and technical beauty. An intermezzo of lime foam, that we crushed a “blueberry packet” filled with mango and pomegranate powder into, was an explosive sensory delight and a perfect example of how differently and delightfully food can behave when prepared using new technologies.
#5 – A $13 sparkling red has become my new favourite dessert wine. 2009 Banfi, “Rosa Regale”, Brachetto D’Acqui is desribed as aromatic with a hint of rose petals and raspberries.
#6 – It is possible to spend the GNP of a small African nation at one sitting. As it was possibly the most expensive meal either of us have ever had anywhere, the price of the tasting menu with wine pairings plus champagne to start plus a very well deserved tip was not for the faint-hearted.
Some other things were not a surprise:
#1 – The cheese selection tasted as delicious as it looked. Their cheese board has been recognized as one of the best in Boston and possibly the United States, specializing in cheeses from around the globe as well as several artisan cheese makers in new England. http://www.lespalier.com/menu/cheese.shtml
#2 Neither of us were fans of the sweetbreads. Even when you serve thymus gland of veal with cauliflower puree, horseradish cream and piccalilli, it’s still offal (Excuse the pun.)
#3 We closed the restaurant and didn’t notice that everyone else had left. You gotta hate it when that happensJ
Would we go back again? Definitely but next time we would not eat ourselves to sleep. We left some food that really deserved to be eaten including some of the George’s Bank cod, roasted leeks and shallot puree as well as the Oat-crusted loin of lamb, red cabbage, confit garlic and Hannahbell cheese. These dishes were delicious but there was just too much. On the positive side I didn’t mind wasting my clam. It tasted like something that had been rescued from an inner-city sewer.
Possibilities for next time include:
Wine Monday evenings which consist of a selection of wines, inspired by the changing seasons, wine regions or varietals, paired with a four-course tasting menu composed by Chef McClelland for $65
Cheese Tuesday combines wine and cheese in a casual night featuring a three course dinner with paired wines, followed by a themed cheese tasting and musical entertainment for $72
Overall, this was an extraordinary dining experience in an exceptionally classy restaurant. Hands down 5 out of 5.