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L'Espalier?

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Ok, I've patiently waited a couple of hours for someone else to launch this thread, but I have to ask: is it a good thing that L'Espalier is going to move to the Mandarin Oriental?

http://www.boston.com/ae/food/restaur...

My initial reaction (not yet having been there, maybe that explains it) is that this is a great loss, a great restaurant in a romantic townhouse seems much better than the same restaurant in a fancy hotel.

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  1. I never read the paper til after work so hadn't seen this yet. I think it's a really sad thing. That space is so unique and a lot of what makes L'Espalier L'Espalier. Plus with another SeldlT opening, sounds like a possible receipe for failure. Guess I'll have to shell out for one more real meal there (as opposed to Mon. wine tasting) before they move.

    1. I'm sure the new location will be a beautiful space, but it's hard to imagine it being anywhere near as charming as L'Espalier's current digs. I too will visit before it closes there.

      The part of the article that gave me a chill was the reference to Todd English, whose similar move to a bigger space, though I didn't know it at the time, was the beginning of the end for what was once my favorite restaurant. Sic transit gloria mundi.

      1 Reply
      1. re: MC Slim JB

        L'Espalier somewhere other than its current location would be like the Red Sox somewhere other than Fenway Park

      2. There's only downside risk for this move. It's not like the new digs are gonna make L'Espalier better than it is. Even if they're able consistently to produce the same quality food in the new digs, we all know it's not going to match the wonderful experience of their present location.

        1. I can understand it from a business move, but something will definitely be lost. The Back Bay townhouse image is part of what L'Espalier is. I'm sure the new space will be beautiful, but another little piece of the "real Boston" will be gone. On the bright side, at least the new restaurant in the Oriental will be a local insititution and not part of a national chain or God forbid another steak house.

          1. Absolutely inexplicible, tragic move.

            One rest in the hotel (SDT) would have been fine. Aboslotely no reason to move L'Espalier. I am saddened to say the least.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Gabatta

              It all comes down to $$$....'tis truly a disappointment though

            2. wow! i can't believe everybody is so negative!

              do you have any idea what it's like running a restaurant in a building that old? one designed as a residence? utter bloody nightmare for plumbing, electric, hvac, deliveries, running food, storage (especialy proper temp storage for wine) trash, the back bay neighborhood association, everything.

              at that price point, i always found the rooms too cramped. upstairs you can barely get around if a larger person is near you. i also don't like paying that kind of money to wait for the bathroom, only to realize it's my server in there. i'm in the business, but at $100+ pp, that's not right.

              i could rant on in my sympathies for mclellan wanting out of that townhouse. he'll have a bigger space with all brand new, state of the art stuff. everybody here seems thrilled that barbara lynch is expanding infinitely, what seems to be the problem here? frank will have 3 stores. 2 right next to each other.

              i understand tradition, and charm, but *an inexplicable tragedy*? c'mon folks...

              6 Replies
              1. re: hotoynoodle

                You know, I trailed in the kitchen at L'Espalier for a day when I was looking for a job, and I was very surprised at how small the kitchen was. On one hand, I was impressed how they were able to get their prep done efficiently, but at the same time I was wondering to myself what they would be able to do with some more space.

                With the influx of customers with deep pockets flowing from the hotel, they'll be more successful. I bet the food will get better, and even more pricey.

                1. re: hotoynoodle

                  I have no doubt that this is a great move for Frank and his staff. That does not mean it will be good for the customers. I am absolutely convinced that the environment in which one dines has a dramatic effect on one's enjoyment of the meal. (I think this is a key reason why it's nearly impossible to find a great Louisiana-style cajun or creole meal outside of Louisiana.) It is hard to imagine that dining in a big hotel-style dining room, no matter how beautiful and no matter how good the food is, will be as satisfying as dining in the L'Espalier townhouse.

                  1. re: hotoynoodle

                    Is everyone thrilled about BL's expansion? My sense is that many of us have made clear we'd rather see some new faces in new places...

                    1. re: hotoynoodle

                      I think Blume and Tatamagouche echoed some of my reaction. I'm sure it's hard to resist an opportunity to get a big, spacious, brand-new kitchen and a lot more seats in a location with some built-in hotel trade: bigger stage, more seats, more money. I understand Lynch's considerable ambition, though I have some questions about the wisdom of moving No. 9 away from its base of local regulars.

                      My intial reaction was: "The new space can't help but be less charming." Better for FOH and BOH? No doubt. A disappointment for people who love the Gloucester St location? I'll go out on a limb and guess, yes.

                      I'll raise the specter of Olives again: there's no question that the new location was a crucial step in English's campaign to become a multi-million dollar national brand, but that once-great restaurant sucks now. Good for the restaurateur, bad for his once-loyal customers.

                      1. re: MC Slim JB

                        The original Olives was great. You had Todd and a sous chef, that's it. When he moved to the new larger quarters it was different but still a great place. The reason it went down hill is that Todd decided to expand and he was hardly around. So now with 20 or so places its just a shadow of its former self. A little different than L'Espalier as Frank should still be at the helm as he is now... just a new venue. Hard to compare the two.

                        1. re: WineTravel

                          Yeah, I remember how Olives went downhill; I'm a former big fan. I'm not trying to rush to judgment here; I'll make my own assessment of the impact of L'Espalier's move myself. But you are reinforcing exactly the point I'm trying to make.

                          My concern is not just the loss of an incredibly charming (for diners) space, but the possibility that it signals a different kind of ambition on McClelland's part. He has already broken out of the Hamersley's mold by expanding his reach to two restaurants (L'Espalier and Sel de la Terre). Now L'Espalier will more than double in size, and there will be three SDLTs.

                          Can he do this and maintain the current L'Espalier's quality? Remains to be seen. Would it be even harder if this is just the beginning of a larger expansion plan (L'Espalier Las Vegas!)? I think Todd English provides the cautionary tale.

                    2. I'm surprised by this passionate rush to judgement among the CH crowd, especially among those who are usually tempered voices.

                      While the passion for L'Espalier is evident among the posters, I'm a firm believer in waiiting to actually see the new space before making my mind up. I am positive the new space will not be to everyone's liking (what, after all, is?) yet I see no benefit in pre-judging this move, or worse, condemning it.

                      This thread reminds me of the 2001 Patriots' season. As a loyalDrew Bledsoe fan, I was less than thrilled to see Brady get the nod. The lesson, of course, is that you'll never know how the new version will play out until you give it a chance. In the case of the Pats, many of us were happily proven wrong.

                      So, who knows? Maybe Frank McLelland wil surprise the nay sayers.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Bob MacAdoo

                        But I think you can safely say it could never be as charming as the present L'Espalier.

                        1. re: Bob MacAdoo

                          I lived withing walking distance to L'Espalier for 12 years. We have celebrated many special occasions there, and looked forward to many more. It is one of a few restaurants which encapsule some very special holidays, anniversaries and other family traditions. The kind of memories which don't come along often. Certainly the type which are worth waiting a minute or two to use the bathroom for, We have plenty of large factory high end places around here thank you. I am not worried about the infrastructure challenges. This place has a charm that won't be replaced. It also now ceases to be a neighborhood place, which it is for Back Bay residences. We loved walking from the residential streets right into L'Espalier. Now one will need to cross Boylston and into a monstrisity of a commercial space.

                          So yes...to me and many others it is inexplicible and very sad.

                        2. Hi Hounds, sorry to interrupt, but we'd like to very gently remind everyone that the goal of our boards is to share chow-tips. If you have any solid information about L'Espalier's new space or any tips on dining at the current space, we'd love to hear about it. But speculation about how L'Espalier is going to change or guesses about who is going to move in to the old space is off-topic for our boards. While it's very tempting to share rumors and gossip, we would like to keep the boards focused and hard chowtips. Thank you for helping us keep the boards focused.

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: The Chowhound Team

                            I'm happy about the move to the Mandarin. The current location is very pretty, but not the best as far as a restaurant goes. I'm not a fan of the place in it's current form precisely because the tables are too cramped. Yes, it's a beautiful townhouse, but I cant get comfortable there. When the back of your chair touches the back of the chair behind you (the deuces that circle the dining room)... its too tight. I'd tolerate it a little more if I didn't have other high end options. Personally, in addition to the space not being very comfortable, the food doesn't compare to other places in NYC, Chicago, SF, or especially Europe. So, if I didn't travel I'd go from time to time... but since I am in Europe often and other US cities, I prefer to do more high-end dinners there, and stay simpler in Boston. In additon, I prefer Clio when I need a Boston highend fix. Another reason I avoid L'Espalier is their insanely overpriced wine list.

                            I think the move to the Mandarin can only help... and I will definitely try it once its open... however, Im sure the wine list will still be rediculous. Since the chef is talented, I think the move will give me a chance to take a new look at a place I've given up on for the reasons above.

                            1. re: WineTravel

                              I have a slightly different take on the atmosphere at L'Espalier. I certainly haven't found it so cramped that I'm bumping into seats at adjoining tables, but there is a kind of intimacy that invites you to keep your voice low, to lean into your dining companion to converse. That is exactly part of its charm for me. I have to admit I'm partial to one of the three dining rooms: I think the Front Room is prettier than the Library, and quieter than the Salon.

                              I'd be curious to hear a more informed (than my own) opinion about the wine prices at L'Espalier vs. Clio. It seems to me that they're both gouging about equally on wine.

                              I'll suggest that a lot of the reactionary attitude here, my own included, is that we're not L'Espalier regulars; it's a once-in-a-lifetime or once-in-a-blue-moon kind of experience. We want it to be exactly the same as we remembered in case we ever get back there. I understand that this is not a compelling reason for McClelland to stay put: he's going after bigger volumes of a better-heeled kind of patron.

                              1. re: MC Slim JB

                                It does sound like the kitchen was a little hellish for them too. A friend who did publicity for them said they had a guy who was on constant call to repair stuff in that old building. Which makes you wonder if they'll keep it as a commercial space.

                                1. re: MC Slim JB

                                  Regarding wine pricing at both... they are both overpriced. Some of the selections at Clio look so high for what the wine is that it looks like it must be a mistake. However, if you look carefully you can find a few wines that are ok that are not priced in the stratosphere. Mind you, I don't mind spending a lot of $ on wine... $300 a bottle is ok if its priced fairly. I don't want to spend 300 on a bottle that costs the restaurant $60. Both places have terrible wine programs. On the other hand, a place like Troquet is fantastic (by the way, great food too).

                                  You make a good point about L'Espalier... I think most of their business is "special occasion" dining. The reason I'm not a "regular" is that I don't think its a great restaurant... not cause I don't frequent those types of places. The "regulars" I think are those locals (businessmen mostly) who need a high end venue in town. ALL of my foodie friends feel the same way... they never go.

                                  All the same, I look forward at taking a look at the new place when it opens. Perhaps the re-vamped L'Espalier will be more appealing.

                            2. L'Espalier's move is truly a sad event, for all the reasons stated. However, it was sad to hear of the Old Ritz closing also.

                              Change, especially with a New England mentality, is hard to swallow (pun intended).

                              I will say that I will be one of the people who will enjoy the current environs before the doors shutter. I love that old townhouse and having been a waitress in more than one restaurant that had a kitchen in the basement and stairs to navigate, I can completely understand the move. Surprise it has taken this long.

                              5 Replies
                              1. re: kate used to be 50

                                I too will miss the old townhouse. However, the Boston restaurant scene is changing. It is witnessing it's most competitive era. Every chef in this city is making moves right now. Most of the chef's we admire and whose food inspires us are spreading themselves all over the board...Foxwoods, suburbs, out of state, etc. Chef McClelland is moving across the street. The L'espalier kitchen and logistics of the transending dining rooms are limiting. The fact that the folks in that location can reach the level of food and service they do, on a regular basis, is a miracle. The new L'espalier WILL be the biggest restaurant opening in this city since Radius. The food and service will absolutely, definately, without a doubt be better. Take a moment...think about that. L'espalier is going to be better. Put yourself in his place...what would you do? I would struggle with it but I would do it. You may not realize this but this is not the first time this institution has changed locations. The oringinal L'espalier was located above what is now Rattlesnake across from Parrish Cafe. I'm sure there was controvesy then as well...but look how that worked out! The move is sad...but necessary. This is long, long, long overdue. I for one am excited about the opportunity to see what the most talented restaurant group will do with real equiptment, resources, space. The restaurant dining community should embrace this move. In five years this city will be on par with Chicago, SF and (gulp) NYC (?). Why not? This city is transforming into a cuinary mecca and changing with the times is the only way to keep up with the competition. This is not like Olives..not like No9...this is a revolutionary move. I've eaten at L'espalier many times. The new space, from what I read in the Globe and have hear...will not be twice the size. It won't be that much bigger at all. I trust L'espalier and I don't think for a second that Chef McClelland would have done this if he wasn't 100% positive that he was making his business better. Discuss it as much as you want...argue it, but then go eat there. Then get back on this board and judge the final product honestly. If you still think it to be sad and you still long for the townhouse then I'll be back here to read your thoughts...but, please, give this man the benefit of the doubt. He's been the #1 restaurant in this city for over 20 years. Take a look around the country...name one other chef to have that kind of success. I'll bet you a dinner at the new L'espalier you can't.

                                1. re: marshmellow fluff

                                  L'Espalier the #1 restaurant in the city for 20 years? By whose measure? Don't get me wrong, I'm an admirer of L'Espalier, but that assertion is highly debatable, especially on a board where people are as dedicated to the pursuit of the ideal XLB as the best foie gras torchon.

                                  I'd be curious to hear how this move is "revolutionary", and not just like the original Olives' move or No. 9's pending one to larger, sleeker spaces. Your allusion to Radius is chilling; its opening was indeed noteworthy, the experience interesting in its first year or two, but that place has gotten steadily more expensive and less worthwhile with every passing year. Not a great example, in my book.

                                  I'd love to see Boston become a top-tier North American dining destination, but it will take more than McClelland's crew getting some elbow room for that to happen. Boston's weaknesses are hardly just about our lack of ultra-luxury restaurants (I'm thinking of a Le Bernadin); it's a lack of range across the board. I think it has as much to do with our conservative, relatively incurious and hidebound local dining culture as with what our local restaurateurs are choosing to do or not to do.

                                  I'll grant you one point: the new space won't have twice as many seats, only about 40% more (90, up from the current 65). But you're ignoring the fact that there will now be three SDLTs as well, a few hundred more seats diluting McClelland's' attention.

                                  I think many posters, myself included, have said, "With trepidation, we'll wait and judge for ourselves." But the notion that moving one of Boston's priciest restaurants to new digs will somehow bring our dining scene to another level strikes me as overly optimistic.

                                  I think what the city needs to become a dining mecca is 50 more great neighborhood restaurants, and for the average local to get a little more adventurous about cuisines that aren't French, Italian, or New American. That probably implies a shift in spending away from national casual-dining chain outlets (unlikely, but I can dream). Those kind of changes -- on the demand as well as the supply side -- are what would make Boston a national dining destination in its own right. Adding another five places that offer $300/head Chef's Tasting Journeys won't be enough to get us out of the second tier.

                                  1. re: MC Slim JB

                                    Very well said... agree completely. Agree with MFluff that it is a needed move for L'Espalier to go to the Mandarin... the significance though is a stretch.... and certainly NOT the leading chef or restaurant in Boston for the past 20 years by any means. Boston is a great great city... but it has a LONG way to go before you can mention it in the same breath as NYC as a restaurant town. In fact, chefs in a position to open outposts outside of Boston have done so precisely because other markets make so much more business sense... esp. any place with gambling. Just ask Todd English or Jasper White.

                                    Also, keep in mind that I would guarantee that the Mandarin (with its deep pockets) has made many considerations (cash and otherwise) to have L'Espalier move to the hotel... or even possibly just a offering them a management contract which guarantees the place makes money. Any way you look at it Mandarin is subsidizing the venture. Makes sense for them... and its a nice fit for both. This trend of course is not new.

                                    I was happy to hear that L'Esp. is moving. Perhaps it will inject new life in a place that needs. If everything was so great there Frank wouldn't be moving. Trust me, this is a good and smart move. I think the Mandarin came along just at the right time for Frank. In the immortal words of Austin Powers, when the Mandarin came along with their offer, I can just hear Frank saying, "Yeah Baby!". As MFluff stated, agree the food and service will no doubt be better.

                                    1. re: MC Slim JB

                                      Where is No. 9 Park moving to?

                                      1. re: pollystyrene

                                        Lynch is developing a large (15,000 square feet) new complex on Congress Street in Southie. If I've read the news correctly, it will include a big restaurant, a large bar/lounge, and retail space (perhaps gourmet groceries and kitchen equipment). As I understand it, this will become the new home of No. 9 Park, while the old location will be recast as a more modest bistro.

                                2. I checked out both the Epicurious (which features Gourmet & Bon Appetit magazines) and Food & Wine magazine websites--neither mentions l'Espalier in their listings of best restaurants. Though these listings are subjective, it's interesting that No. 9 Park makes all of them. Maybe by moving to the Mandarin Oriental, l'Espalier hopes to get back some of its buzz.

                                  8 Replies
                                  1. re: whs

                                    Any old thread, but I wanted to see what the verdict is on the new L'Espalier. It's been a year or so since it's re-opened.

                                    How's the food? Service? Environment? Is L'Espalier doing well in these times (with some of it's competitors going out of business)?

                                    1. re: Eastwind

                                      I think the food and service are as good as they ever were, which is to say superb. It appears that the new, spacious back of the house has given the chef some room to dabble in molecular cooking. Having a lounge up front in which to enjoy a pre-dinner cocktail is another nice new amenity the old space lacked.

                                      But I think the atmosphere has taken a giant step down in two ways. One, the new space is kind of luxury-hotel-generic, modern and charmless, with nothing of the incredible romance of the original. Two, they've abandoned their dress code, and now allow patrons to dine in really schlubby clothes. I saw two guys in jeans, t-shirts, sneakers and baseball caps (which they left on for dinner) the other night. I think that detracts considerably from the atmosphere at a place this formal and expensive, one that is so widely used for special-occasion dinners.

                                      If you never saw the old space, and don't mind casually-dressed customers around when you're dropping $300 and up on dinner for two, those things won't matter.

                                      http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                                      1. re: Eastwind

                                        MC Slim JB nails the comparison: Food and service are as good as they ever were, if not better. Still the city's top "special" destination, with superb service and a wonderful (albeit not cheap) wine program. Food is spectacular.

                                        While I think the move's decor could have been a lot worse than it is--it is not bad--it is a big step down from the old townhouse, which was just filled with charm. It made the place. Despite this, the big hit to me isn't the new decor but the patronal changes. As MC Slim says, I've walked in to find guests completely out of place. I'm not one for dress codes, but it really detracts from the sentiment and vibe of the place to see a dude in a Sox cap. Instead of formally-dressed couples out on a special night, huddled close together, whispering, you have shabbily-dressed hotel guests, loud and out of place.

                                        One item MC Slim doesn't hit on: The back room, called The Library, is actually fantastic. A corner seat, particularly for a party of two, rivals anywhere else in town. That room is expertly designed and quite stately with the wall-to-wall books. Somewhat separate from the rest of the seating, it has a quiet, darker feel to it.

                                        1. re: rlove

                                          I never went to L'Espalier (the old location or the new one), so I can't comment on the decor. I do like it, though I can understand about the lack of charm coming from a place like a townhouse.

                                          I hate the lack of dress code at such a place like L'Espalier. It doesn't have to have to a suit and tie, per se, but not a cap/t-shirt/sweater/sneakers (ect.). I like concept behind Fearing's at the Ritz-Carlton Dallas. It has seperate rooms (one for a more formal setting, one for a more causal, ect.).

                                          One thing I've read is that the restaurant, due to all the extra space, has a lot of new gadgets/tools to play with and incorporating some elements of molecular gastronomy. Have you notice this change in the new location in comparsion to the townhouse?

                                          1. re: Eastwind

                                            Eastwind, it is hard to answer your question, for two reasons: One, I don't go enough to have a great sample (not sure anyone does) and restaurants are experimenting with molecular gastronomy and other innovations more and more as time passes, which biases the pre/post sample.

                                            That said, at my two visits to the new location, various dishes employed modern elements. One memorable dish was hamachi sashimi, artfully arranged root vegetables, and a root beer (I think?) foam, on a beautiful narrow glass plate--looked like a dish out of Coi.

                                            And everything is cooked sous vide now, if not before--plenty of room for all of those plastic bins.

                                            1. re: Eastwind

                                              Definitely some molecular flourishes in Jiho Kim's desserts: vacuum compression of fruits, liquid ingredients unconventionally solidified with various gelling agents. I can't readily recall other touches on McClelland's end, but I'm certain he's doing a couple of Adria-esque things these days. Sous-vide is certainly in use, thought that technique isn't exactly cutting edge, dates to the 70s.

                                              http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                                              1. re: MC Slim JB

                                                Sounds like a nice balance between a traditional and modern techniques.

                                                L'Espalier sounds like it is a great training ground for young, talented chefs who may go to open their own Boston-area restaurants.

                                            2. re: rlove

                                              I'd have to agree with rlove. I went to L'Espalier in January for an anniversary dinner and we got a corner table in the back room. I didn't know it was called the Library but it makes total sense. It was so intimate and had that real New England dark wood feel - if that makes sense. And ofcourse the service and food was amazing so it was definitely a memorable meal!

                                        2. The thing that bothers me about the dress code is that Sel De La Terre is right downstairs. If you want casual dining, there it is. It just doesn't make sense to make consessions to the hotel if there is another option.

                                          6 Replies
                                          1. re: jgarnache

                                            Does the Mandarin Oriental have any say over how the restaurant is run? Or do they just lease the space? It's not the hotel restaurant per se, as the MO has Asana as it's main dining establishment along with two other outlets.

                                            1. re: Eastwind

                                              It is a leased space, just like Sel de la Terre.

                                              1. re: kate used to be 50

                                                I might be back in Boston in a few weeks. We are thinking of hitting up Sel de la Terre. Is it worth it? What would the budget be for 3-4 people?

                                                Haven't had a chance to try L'Epalier. Hopefully one day. I wonder how the Michelin Guide (the French version/standards) would rate it.

                                                1. re: Eastwind

                                                  L'Espalier might be one star, but definitely not more than that.

                                                  1. re: hcbk0702

                                                    Interesting.

                                                  2. re: Eastwind

                                                    standard 3 courses will set you back about $45 not including gratuity or 6.25% tax. drinks...can be as cheap or expensive as you want. is it worth it? well...its pretty consistent and service/space is nice. depends on what you're in the mood for. be more specific and you'll get some good suggestions.