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L'Espalier – Boston, MA

October 19th, 2009 · 1 Comment

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Groucho Marx once said something like, “I wouldn’t care to belong to any club that would have me as a member”. So when it’s Thursday, and you find one of the best restaurants in boston has both 9pm and 9:30pm reservations for 5 available for the next evening, you have to ask yourself, “Why?”. My guess: this is one of Boston’s most expensive restaurants. Because really, the food here is ridiculously good.

Now, I’m not going to get into a discussion about that most subjective of ideals in the consumer world, value – as one diner might consider a glass of decent sauternes to be good value at $10 and another might consider the wine to be a waste of money and all-you-can-eat pancakes at the IHOP a good value for the same amount. I will leave this debate to the food philosophers of the world and just stick to eating and trying to tell people about it.

I haven’t been to Boston for years, and while my friends who live there are Bon Vivants in their own right, I wanted to do some research of my own and I found Boston Magazine’s list of best restaurants of 2009, where L’Espalier ranked #2, and it was the only restaurant that I found as I ran the list that actually had seating (suspiciously) available. So, after an awesome round of bowling at King’s, off we went.

Good news: L’Espalier serves great food, and it doesn’t skimp on the portions. We had the $109 Seasonal Degustation menu, a four-course menu followed by cheese, sorbet, and dessert courses. One of my dining partners from Friday night actually complained that this was too much food, a sentiment that I usually reserve for the Olive Garden, or how I feel after eating an entire bag of Ruffles with a jar of onion dip. I will leave his assessment alone for now, but at least you can imagine that if one member of the dining party complains they have been served too much food – given the quality of food at L’Espalier, that this is very like a very good thing.

Check out the menu shot above for the list of our menu. The beef was outrageously good – probably some of the best that I’ve ever had – truly amazing, perfectly cooked, juicy and red – with a melt-in-your-mouth texture and amazing flavour. The foie gras was perfect – served cold (my favourite) and full of flavour – my dining guests who aren’t super-big fans normally fell in love with it – any food that can make converts is always good. The Hawaiian blue marlin with monkfish liver – also an astounding pairing – who knew about monkfish liver? A new flavour altogether for me. These are just some of the highlights, but really – there wasn’t a bad dish in the bunch.

The interior at L’Espalier is very elegant – I think that ‘muted’ is the best word that I can use to describe the ambiance – with low light, soft (but not overly-luxurious) fabrics on most surfaces, and the ubiquitous touches of glass and stainless steel to give it a sense of modernity. The service was excellent – incredibly attentive – the kind of service where when you stand up to go to the washroom, someone intercepts you as you get out of your seat to tell you where the washrooms are. The sommelier was very helpful, and recommended to us a Nuits-St-Georges that didn’t overpower any of the many delicate mixes of flavours that we enjoyed in our courses.

My only suggestion for improvement of the service is that while our server was perfect in every other respect, she brought us her favourite cheeses for the cheese course, without asking the table their preferences. She assumed that she knew something about our palates and preferences, and while I did enjoy her selections, when I later saw the list of cheeses that they had (including epoisses), I would have chosen different (and much stronger) cheeses if our server had asked us for our choices.

Overall, this was a wonderful meal. The service, atmosphere, and food were all fabulous. The meal was indeed expensive, but as some of the highlights from this meal fell into the ‘best I’ve ever had’ category, I would argue that it is worth it. I have had similarly or slightly more-expensive meals (Charlie Trotter’s comes to mind) where I did not think the food was as good, or that the restaurant had executed as successfully on all aspects of the meal.

You don’t see people complaining that the French Laundry is too expensive, or that Paul Bocuse charges too much for his soup (L’Espalier is not close to the same price orbit as either restaurant). L’Espalier just needs some time to earn its cachet, to earn its legions of foodies who worship this place. When it does, you’ll go and see that they’re right. So for this food, service, location, atmosphere, for the singular experience that the kitchen staff provided with some of their dishes – I thought there was very good value. A night out to see the Maple Leafs from the good seats would have been more expensive, and for me, less of an experience – à chacun son goût, I say – but try the beef and then let me know what you prefer.

774 Boylston St
Boston, MA 02199
Tel: (617) 262-3023

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Tags: French · Special Occasion

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