What to have at Clio
We were at Clio recently and I have to say the tasting menu is really out of this world. By any standards - not just Boston standards - it is quite phenomenal and would rank in the top five tasting menus I've had - anywhere. They advertise it as 13 courses but it really ends up being 15-16 depending on how you count; be sure to give yourselves a good 4 hours (at least) to get through it all. It is not an excessive amount of food (most courses are very small) but it really showcases the breadth of what the kitchen can accomplish. Most of the dishes are very creative.
We lost track of everything we had but it was all pretty much fantastic: a very inventive amuse, sashimi, an oyster, a kind of "tomato water martini" (sounds bizarre but was surprisingly good), "smoking salmon" (served in a small inverted glass with the smoke still wafting inside), a mysterious shellfish of some kind, a lobster dish, a wonderful carrot salad, foie gras, an excellent and very rare pork chop, cheese, two desserts - oh my - I am sure I have forgotten a few.
In some ways the presentation and preparations can be a bit over the top, but I don't think it's overly extravagant and that is part of the fun. In some dishes the sheer number of contrasting flavors tended to overpower what might be better done as a more spare preparation: for example the foie gras had some kind of foam, strawberry jam, and a spicy sauce on the plate that crowded out the foie gras flavor a bit too much. The lobster, their 'signature dish', was pretty chewy and would have had more impact as a more straightforward plating. But these faults were easily trumped by the quality of the food and service. Personally I think there are more hits than misses and one reason I like tasting menus is that they let you hedge your bets - Not a bad night at all.
I have eaten here three times in the past 6 weeks. Something is missing.
Normally I am not one to comment on my restaurant experiences (this is my first review), since far and away they can cook much better than I. However, Clio has won my award for so close yet so far. The first time, about a 6 weeks ago, was as close to a perfect dinner as I can remember, the waitress—woman with short, brown hair in a pony tail, the same style we saw her in the latter two times, but did not have the luck of having her as a our server (sit in her section if you can!)—knew everything about the menu, answered all of our questions about the ingredients without having to check with the kitchen, was prompt, and suggested two excellent bottles of wine that were not 800% marked up and went very well with the meal. My girlfriend and I had the tasting menu, which was excellent. The whole dinner was very smooth. Going in I was wary of Clio, since I had felt it was going to be overpriced and not a good value for what they serve—compared to a few small gems in the South End or our perennial favorite Craigie St. I know some people may lament that compared to other restaurants these aren’t the best, but I really believe that based on price and quality Craigie St. is at/near the top. But Clio’s tasting menu was GOOD!!! Anyway, we resolved to bring her parents and her sister here when they came up a few weeks later. So we show up with her parents and sister and lo and behold, we request the tasting menu but were given the line that “chef didn’t like the ingredients that day so didn’t do a tasting menu.” Ok. We were a bit surprised and ordered from the regular menu, but we were a little disappointed. The food was so-so. I had a toro pate which was good, and cod which I ordered to see what they could do with it, but was only ok. Nowhere close to the tasting menu on round one. Plus, they seemed to have hired college kids as their waitstaff for the summer. Not that I mind college kids, but if I am paying these prices (almost a freakin’ grand when her family was here!!) at least put a little effort into knowing what you are serving. The waitstaff did not fully describe the dish, did not know answers to our questions when asked, and suggested a mediocre bottle of wine without going to check what would be best for the combination of our orders. At least go back and ask and then suggest on overpriced priced bottle, it gives the waitstaff much more credibility when suggesting, but they didn’t even know to do this!!!
Ok, so on to round three. My girlfriend’s sister was coming back up to Boston again, and we tried to capture the great dinner we had the first time we went and made reservations for the three of us at 8 on a Thursday, making a point to request the tasting menu, after talking to the maitre’d on round two and learning to make sure to specifically request the tasting menu when making reservations. We got there promptly at 8 and were asked to sit at the bar since our table was not ready. Ok no prob. Had a liquid nitrogen cocktail—not bad, but not worth the price of the paying for the liquid nitrogen. Finally seated at 8:25; closed our menus at 8:26; and weren’t asked about our order until 8:45, at which point were told it was getting late for the tasting menu and probably would be rushed to be done, since they close at 10 and were told that it was a 12 course meal. Wonderful. So we went ahead with it, and it was going great. Got a legit waiter, not the dark haired woman unfortunately, and he suggested one good bottle of white and one ok half bottle of red. About two/thirds through the meal, we asked how many more courses to go, were told four, two main and then two dessert…not so fast, only one more main and one more dessert. It was getting late(10:45) and clearly the staff wanted to go, but there was a two-top, four-top, and three-top still sitting, so we didn’t feel as bad, but at least give us a complete tasting menu, especially if we are paying for the whole thing. It’s not our fault we were seated late (ok so maybe we should have made an earlier reservation if we were doing the tasting menu). Lastly I ordered an espresso and, even though I don’t think I should have, made an attempt to say sorry for ordering one last thing, only to responded in a slightly snide/sarcastic tone, “Oh that’s ok…”
So essentially for the prices they charge, the service SUCKED. It’s true he can redeem it with his food, but only so much.
I know I should only think about their food, but it was hard to fully enjoy the food with the overall approach of the staff to our dining experience. However, our first trip on the tasting menu was pretty close to sgt snackers review. The lobster _was_ overcooked that wasn't just me :) Phew. I'm not going crazy. But the tomato martini was great, the scallop was fantastic, and the giant clam from someplace in china was very interesting. The smoking salmon we had on round one was really good, but unfortunately didn't get it on round three. During the most recent outing on Thursday the tasting meny had a lot of Asian/citrus flavors of fish for the first two thirds of the menu, which was very good, but I didn't feel that meal had a very good balance compared to the first meal.
Ok, enough rambling. Overall, get the tasting menu, get there early (6-7), and see if you can sit in the brown haired woman with the pony tail's section. Hope this helps!