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Regal Lunch at L'Espalier

Ornate ceilings, old world bay windows, serene tones. Thanks to Joanie, 8 ladies lunched today in one of the most stately settings imaginable. Quiet elegance yes......silencing and uptight, no. L'Espalier managed to pull off the delicate task of combining professional service with whimsical lightheartedness.

Most of us ordered the $24 lunch prix fixe. All started with wine.....a bit expensive at $15 a glass. My cabernet, thanks to my lunch mate Barbara's suggestion, was big, bold and dry. A well-informed server held an enticing basket of bread, pointing out the olive bread, fig, foccacia, and sour dough. Our bread plates were re-filled regularly. I chose for my first course sauteed shrimp with caponata and smoked cockle vinaigrette. I huge white soup bowl dwarfed its contents, but the tastes were large. Fresh, snappy shrimp. lovely thick tomatoey caponata and little cockles strewn about (looking a bit like tiny clam bellies to me). My main course was perfectly cooked salmon over a dense vegetable puree, complemented by several summer vegetables strategically placed to look oh, so pretty. Dessert was espresso scented creme brulee, topped with two lighter than air biscotti-shaped cookies and accompanied by a spoonful of seasonal berries in berry sauce. A heady concoction.

As if we all had done a good thing by lunching, we each received on our way out a little present tied with a bow (a tiny baba?). It's nice to be appreciated!

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  1. Thank you for posting so quickly- I'm headed there for lunch tomorrow and was hoping there would be a post from this afternoon! Sounds lovely!

    1. Wow, so well put! It was a lovely afternoon! I actually opted not to order from the prix fixe menu:

      Chilled Watermelon Soup (was actually also on the PF menu) - very fresh and refreshing on this hot afternoon!

      Open-faced sandwich of poached eggs (3!), grilled asparagus and mixed greens on toast with a truffled vinaigrette. This was wonderful and I would definitely order it again. It was actually too big - I left one egg on the plate (was expecting just one, to be honest!).

      Skipped dessert but did get a bite of the decadent chocolate cake and the espresso creme brulee...both were fantastic but one bite of each was more than enough.

      The fig bread I had to start was out of this world.

      Thanks to Joanie for organizing.

      1 Reply
      1. re: heathermb

        I will defintely be going back for that open-faced sandwich. i was wavering a little, but went with the prix fixe of salmon, becasue I was trying to be virtuous and stay on my diet. Luckily, this was not a problem, becasue my 2" square of salmon was rather meager, tho as others have mentioned, cooked perfectly. It had a chickpea puree underneath it, and the baby beets were a sensation...I have to admit, i snuck a few glances at the other salmon orders, and they seemed significantly larger, but clearly, the waiter must have known about said diet, and presented me with the more modest (ahem) portion..

        Lunch seems like a great way to experience this place, and they couldn't have been nicer to a group who they probably assumed would be getting the prix fixe. On his way to another table, the waiter made sure he showed us the lobster BLT, announcing it, and stopping, so we didn't have to crane our necks. I wonder who warned him about who we were!

        Service who leisurely and unhurried, i actually had to leave early to make a demo, and that was 2 hours into the lunch. We could have surely whiled away more time there over coffee and adult beverages...

      2. What a nice review- thanks for this! I'm adding a Place link so it will be easily found by anyone looking for info on L'Espalier.

        774 Boylston St, Boston, MA 02199

        1. Yes, great post!

          It was a lovely way to wile away a few hours this afternoon. I started with their house cured smoked salmon that was served wrapped in a lovely chive crepe topped with something called "Aunt Midge's sauce" which was a citrusy aioli type of sauce and the whole thing was just delicious. Next I ordered the grilled shrimp and crab salad (they have a small and large order--I got the large). This was good but I'd likely not order it again. For a large, it was relatively small. I think it had three or four medium sized shrimp and a crab salad that maybe had saffron?? It was good, not great, but I did get a few shells in the crab.

          Overall it was a really lovely afternoon and I found the lunch prices to be quite reasonable. I think my meal above plus one $15 glass of wine came to $45 or so.

          Thanks to Joanie for organizing and thanks to everyone there for a fantastic time.

          1 Reply
          1. re: lissy

            I feel as if I was one of the ladies who lunched---I could almost taste every morsel! The elegance that this Boston institution is so well known for was perfectly matched by the elegance of this reviewer's prose. I'll look forward to reading about this group's next get-together!

          2. All in all, a lovely leisurely luncheon in an elegant and cool room with fabulous company.

            I had the watermelon soup, which was a real surprise and has me inspired to try to recreate it at home.

            I also had the confit of rabbit. It was full of flavor, but a bit dry. I am starting to thing, maybe I just don't like confit? The highlight was a long rich piping of creamy polenta and tiny spring vegetables, including beets in three colors!

            For wine, I chose a Red Graves, which was big and rich and perfect with the rabbit.

            I had the creme brulee, which the menu called out as "espresso scented". It was more than scented. Luckily I love espresso, but I was thinking of my sister, who would have been attracted to the scented since she loves the aroma of freshly brewed coffee but won't drink a drop. This creme brulee was mightily infused with espresso.

            PS - I had to leave before the rest of the group as well and missed my gift. :-(
            What about you, Galley Girl?

            2 Replies
            1. re: bgavin

              I didn't get one either...I spied thm in a little basket next to the door, and thought that's what they might be, but there was no one around, and after doing demos all the time, i have strong feeling about people helping themselves...;)

              I was lucky I left when i did; that creme brulee was seriously good...And did anyone mention the dessert amuse bouche of aprium sorbet and blueberries? Lovely.
              Presented at just the right temp for perfect consistancy.

              1. re: galleygirl

                We also failed to mention the cheese tray.
                If I hadn't had to get back to work, I definitely would have partook.

            2. And, you were not the only chowhounds in the room. I was there treating my husband to lunch at L'Espalier for his birthday. From the tea thread I thought there might be another hound present and sat there wondering if it was one of the two ladies in the corner or the woman with a man by the window. It never clicked that this was a Chow Event!

              What's more, I was slightly nervous when I saw large table present. I feared that it could be one of those loud groups that takes over a room with their presence and might ruin my treat for my guy. But, you were prefect dining companions. Respectful of the staff, the other guests and the food while obviously enjoying your meal and one another.

              We ordered a la Carte because we knew we wanted the cheese course instead of dessert.

              We had a champagne tasting with friends and fireworks on the 4th so we continued that mood with a bottle of Beaumont Rosé Champagne.

              Husband chose:
              Mint yogurt marinated sautéed scallops with sweet peas and mint risotto
              (scallops were perfection, and he said the risotto was as good as mine and I do make a mean risotto-- we seldom order it out because it is seldom as good.)

              Grilled hanger steak on toasted baguette with Cafe de Paris butter; roasted marinated red peppers and black olives
              (He is a hanger steak fan and was very pleased with this one)

              I had:
              Chilled watermelon soup with mint and cucumber (Just wonderful-- you might have seen me tipping my bowl to get every last drop.)

              Salad of young greens with fresh chèvre and pistachios; native strawberries and black pepper-champagne vinaigrette. (The dressing will become my new quest. It was memorable, and I want to learn to make some version of it. The berries with the greens and the cheese were a balancing act that few could pull off-- the chef should be proud of this one)

              And we shared the cheese course which we allowed them to select for us. They gave us the listing with the cheeses marked and arranged them in a suggested tasting order from the lightest, to the wonderful Blue from the folks who make Constant Bliss.

              After cheese they brought a lovely peach sorbet with fresh blueberries.

              The service was impeccable. Not just for us but all around.

              It was so good that we considered going again today, but we are heading to the MFA for the Hopper show and will have dinner somewhere instead. This is a mini vacation of for us, and we are spending it catching up on our dining out.

              1 Reply
              1. re: BostonZest

                I watched that bottle of rose champagne gp by with longing....

              2. Look at that review, why are you so shy about posting? I just have to give HUGE props to the bread. Embarrassingly, it may have been my favorite part of the meal. The fig and foccacia were amazing, olive was good too, not sure which I didn't get. The waiter was great, he was juggling three bottles pouring our wines and kind of fumbling around which I caught and he joked about that. Our expensive wines as noted. Silly me saw the half glass price of $6.25 thining, wow, what a bargain but I did enjoy the white from Alsace. It was easy to relax for hours in there and even tho it was so relaxing, I was wiped out. Walked around the JP first Thursday and grabbed a small piece of rum cake from Sweet Christopher's which was tasty, and dinner. Funny that Bostonzest was there too.

                3 Replies
                1. re: Joanie

                  All of the breads you enjoyed are available for take out at Sel de La Terre near the Aquarium. I pick up some anytime I'm in the area. The fig and anise is also my favorite.

                  1. re: BostonZest

                    Thanks for the reminder. I need to remember to stop by that takeout counter at Sel de la terre next time I am in the area. Do I remember correctly that they also have premade sandwiches and other prepared foods? If so I might pick up a picnic lunch and go eat in the park down there.

                    Sel De La Terre
                    255 State St, Boston, MA 02109

                    1. re: Chris VR

                      Yes, and some lovely pastry. A perfect stop for a waterfront picnic.

                2. The room was absolutely beautiful. I felt elegant just sitting at the table.

                  I think I speak for everyone when I say "Wow" to the bread. I started with the foccacia, which was delicious. I wanted a second piece, but the Hounds who had the fig bread were raving about it, so I tried that instead. They were right - lots of fig flavor. Can't go wrong with L'Espalier's bread!

                  For me, the shrimp appetizer, while teeny-tiny, was the highlight of my meal. I thought the Rabbit Leg Confit it was a bit over-cooked, but the polenta and sauce it was served on was very, very good.

                  The aroma of the cheeses was heavenly. It was quite clever of our group to fill our heads with it by quizzing the waiter on each of the selections!

                  The two desserts were both pin-up worthy. I had the espresso creme brulee. My preference for creme brulee is that the custard should not be as sweet as the bruleed sugar and, unfortunately, this dessert disappointed in that regard. But everyone else seemed to really enjoy it. Those cookies were surprisingly light, and the berries perfectly ripe.

                  It really was a pleasure meeting everyone. Thank you for a fun afternoon!

                  1. Great write up. I work around the corner and it is a real treat for a quiet lunch every now and then. Your lunch is exactly the type of experience that is going to be next to impossible to duplicate in the new location. It reminds me of what a loss this is going to be for the neighborhood. Only two blocks, but a world away...

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Gabatta

                      The good news, somewhat, is that the move will not happen for a year or so...