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Clio vs. L'espalier: Boston's Best?

  • m

I'm traveling from Austin, Texas to Boston this April to run my first Boston marathon and to celebrate me and my wife want a fabulous blowout meal. After looking at all the guides (Gayot, AAA, Mobile, etc) I'm torn between Clio and L'espalier, which one has more incredible food/wine/overall experience? Of course these are matters of opinion somewhat, but we want a tasting menu experience that will really blow our socks off! Any help from the local chowhounds would be greatly appreciated!

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  1. i'd add a third option.... no 9 park

    1 Reply
    1. Can you tell us more about your expectations?
      It's a rough classification, but one could say that Clio represents a more modern, globally-influenced culinary experience (lots of Asian flavors, architectural plating, a flirtation with molecular gastronomy), while L'Espalier kicks it more tradionally old school French. If it were me, I'd follow chrisinroch's lead and go to No. 9, but that's mostly a matter of personal preference—you can't go wrong at any of the three.

      4 Replies
      1. re: garlic breath

        But if you want the best meal, best setting (well at least before they change venue this summer) and best service, go to L'Espalier.

        1. re: garlic breath

          I think that's a good comparison...

          they're all among the best in Boston. L'Espalier..classic French...most formal service in a beautiful Back Bay townhouse... #9 French/Italian..litttle less formal but more contemporary room..and Clio..French/Asian..more creative style.

          All 3 are good choices..just a question of what style you want. to experience.

          1. re: garlic breath

            No. 9 Park is definitely another one I would consider, and if I lived in the area I would try all three, but since I don't I sadly must choose one...Type of cuisine isn't as important as a place that serves interesting, flavorful, wonderful tasting food, paired well with wines, and good service. But most importantly, we want an experience that the food just tastes out of this world......Where you put something in your mouth and all you can think is this is the best thing I've ever tasted :)

            1. re: mapep

              I went to L'Espalier this year for their Thanksgiving feast... It was incredible, from the atmosphere (romantic, cozy), to the service (attentive, yet not annoying), to the food (yes, every bite seemed like the best food I ever tasted).. In my experience, you can't go wrong there. THE place to celebrate, I'm going back when I graduate in May.

          2. It's barely a matter of opinion. L'Espalier is in another class than Clio.

            If you don't trust me read what Andy Hayler (and independant food critic that once dinned at all 3 star rated Michelin restaurants in the same year) had to say of both:



            And to answer chrisinroch , I wouldn't consider Number 9 in the same category either. And here's what Andy had to say as well:


            5 Replies
            1. re: joebelt

              I would probably reccomend L'Espalier for a one shot meal However the OP certainly would not be disapointed in the least with N9 or Clio.

              One of the things that makes this site great is varied opinions (IMO). It is at least reasonable to assume that these three restaurants are in the same league. Having dined at all three, there is no clear cut favorite for one meal that everyone will agree upon. To ignore otherwise is a bit close minded.

              Methinks that Chowhound needs to put an ignore button in their next release...

              1. re: Gabatta

                I concur with all that you say in this post, especially the ignore part.

              2. re: joebelt

                First list doesn't have much credibility.

                What's Zagat think..as long as we're going to rely on outside sources?

                1. re: 9lives

                  Zagat rates L'Espalier higher than Clio & No. 9 Park if you need to know.

                  They also describe L'Espalier as New French.

                2. re: joebelt

                  We are addressing this to all posters on this thread (and have removed some of the more heated posts.)

                  Please keep in mind- one poster (or blogger's, or food critic's) opinion does not outweigh anybody else's opinion here. Please keep the discussion focused on sharing your own personal opinions with respect for the fact others may have other perspectives and there are no absolute answers.

                3. I also would add No. 9 Park to the list. Clio-multiple small plates, somewhat "avant garde" cuisine, asian accents. Lespalier-Modern french, traditional formal atmosphere and service. No. 9 Park-French with a touch of Italian, comfortable service, more relaxed feel. My opinion is that your more likely to find someone in "nice jeans" at No. 9 and someone fully done up at Lesplaier and Clio, so it depends on what you are looking for. No. 9 is my favorite out of the three, but to each their own.

                    1. re: admiralackbar

                      I think Radius has slipped some..great when they opened but I don't think they're putting out the same quality as the others mentioned.

                        1. re: admiralackbar

                          I didnt like anything I ordered at Radius. Even the dessert, which is what they're suppoed to be good at?

                          1. re: admiralackbar

                            Agreed. I've had an inedible entree at Radius (beef so suffused with rosemary as to be nauseating), but never anything less than perfection at L'Espalier.

                          2. I would definitely recommend Clio. They are playing around with many new techniques but are still sticking to classic techniques. Radius is also a very good option. They are experimenting with new flavors both Asian and French. Radius also features top notch service. Like almost everyone else has said L'Espalier is the place to go if you want a classically French experience. No matter which one you choose I don't think you can go wrong.

                            8 Replies
                            1. re: aichef07

                              and by classically French he means New French, Contemporary French or Nouvelle Cuisine. L'Espalier is not a traditional French restaurant. If you want traditional French cooking in Boston, go to the Hungry I or a place like that.

                              1. re: joebelt

                                But Hungry I is nowhere on the same level as L'Espalier or Clio.

                                1. re: Chris VR

                                  Never said it was but that's traditional French cooking. L'Espalier is nowhere near traditional French cooking.

                                  1. re: joebelt

                                    The goal of this thread is to help the OP decide which restaurant will give an incredible food/wine experience. We both agree that Hungry I won't do that better than L'Espalier or Clio. I don't know your intention in bringing it into the discussion, but since it's not a recommendation that is appropriate for the OP, I thought that needed to be clarified.

                                    1. re: joebelt

                                      by classically french i meant that it is using french techniques and french ingredients, unlike a restaurants like clio and radius which are taking asian influences and using post-modern or avant garde techniques

                              2. re: aichef07

                                I agree with many of the other posters that Clio and L'Espalier are both exellent but are quite different. I love them both, but personally prefer Clio for the tasting menu experience because of the creativity of the molecular gastronomy-type experience. If you like this, go for Clio. L'Espalier is a wonderful experience too, and has a prettier decor and more attentive service.

                                No. 9 Park is also a definite possibility.

                                The other two places I would mention for an extravagant tasting menu type experience are Aujourd'hui and the Craigie Street Bistrot. I haven't been to Aujourd'hui in a very long time, but a friend goes periodically and arranges a tasting menu in advance. He has been very impressed. Craigie Street Bistrot is a more unique and slightly less formal place. More on par with No. 9 Park in terms of elegance, but in a little hideaway in old Cambridge, rather than on a charming street in Downton Boston. The Chef's Whim is just that. And very good!

                                1. re: lipoff

                                  I agree that Craigie Street is a very special restaurant in Boston and an asset to our food scene. It doesn't compete with L'Espalier but that's not their intent either. In terms of mid-priced high-end cooking, they are one of the strongest forces in Boston.

                                  1. re: joebelt

                                    I LOVE Craigie Street, especially the Chef's Whim. It's not the special occasion, high-end dining experience that L'Espalier is, but in terms of the OP's request for a place that makes you think with each bite, "this is the best thing I've ever eaten," the Chef's Whim dinner at CSB is the only place in Boston that's made me do that. (Haven't tried Clio, though.)

                              3. I love No 9 Park but for creativity I prefer Clio. One other place I'd add for your request of a place that has great wine pairings is Troquet.

                                4 Replies
                                1. re: lissy

                                  But Troquet is nowhere on the same level as L'Espalier or even the next level that Clio is on.

                                  1. re: joebelt

                                    In my opinion, it's one of Boston's better restaurants.

                                    1. re: joebelt

                                      I don't want to get into a shouting match over what is obviously a matter of opinion, but I will step in here for a moment to defend Clio.

                                      I do not think that Clio is down a level from L'Espalier as far as the food goes. They are different kinds of food to be sure, but to my mind are absolutely the same level in terms of creativity, attention to detail, high-end ingredients, flawless technique, beautiful presentation, delicate flavors, consistency, etc. Actually, perhaps Clio has a slight edge on creativity, while L'Espalier has a slight edge on the smoothness with which flavors in a single dish interact. In sum, they are both purveyors of extraordinary cooking.

                                      Clio has a beautiful setting and fine service; L'Espalier has a unique setting and extraordinarily attentive service. L'Espalier goes the extra mile (some might say a bit overboard) with extra amuse bouches, gifts from the chef, petits fours, cheese trays, etc. Extra flourishes such as being greeted downstairs and then being introduced to the maitre d'hotel on the next landing and then being shown to your table . . . yes those extra touches may put it in a different class in that respect than Clio, but they may also make it a bit precious at times and do not affect the food.

                                      I often enjoy reading Andy Hayler's reviews, but I will make no bones about this --- I think he's way, way out of line in his review of Clio. I also question the veracity of any review when the reviewer has had only a single meal at a restaurant. I'm happy to report even trying a single dish at a restaurant here on Chowhound, but I wouldn't try to pass the definitive word on a restaurant either in print or in my head, without having tried it multiple times. I don't begrudge someone for travelling and trying a restaurant once, but I confess that dislike the tone of finality in his reviews.

                                      In short I agree with MC Slim that you can't go wrong with the tasting menus at L'Espalier, Clio or No. 9 Park. One can easily spend as much at O Ya, Oishii or Uni and have a meal of similar quality, although in a different genre. One could also order up a banquet of subtlety and complexity at Fuloon.

                                      But I also want to reassert that to me, and I believe to a number of other people, Clio and L'Espalier are at the same level in terms of their food. I know that others feel differently, but I stand by my own experiences! :)

                                      If I was forced to pick only one restaurant for a special meal, I'd pick Clio, because I love that style of cooking.

                                      1. re: lipoff

                                        I certainly respect your opinion and I hope no one here wishes to engage in shouting matches. Clio and L'Espalier are clearly the contenders for best restaurants in Boston. I find l'Espalier more consistent, service clearly a step above (if the food isn't maybe clearly a step above for everyone, no one will deny that the service is) and the setting in the old townhouse is unique and much warmer & romantic than the Eliot Hotel. You can clearly envision a business meal at Clio, I think it's inappropriate for l'Espalier.

                                  2. If you go with the multi-course tasting menus at Clio, L'Espalier, or No. 9 Park, you're not likely to be disappointed. I think all three have their relative strengths and distinctive styles. I'd give the edge to each as follows: Clio (creativity, molecular-gastronomic flair), L'Espalier (wine list, atmosphere, vegetarian menu), No. 9 Park (cocktails, service).

                                    I suppose if I had to choose one, I'd grudgingly go with L'Espalier, perhaps for the sentimental reason that I love its unique atmosphere and know that this is going away soon (they're moving from a charming old townhouse to a new hotel this summer).

                                    There are other places that are similarly creative, service-oriented, and luxurious, like Uni, the tiny sashimi restaurant downstairs from Clio, O ya, an unusual Japanese restaurant in the Leather District, and Oishii Boston, another very high-end Japanese in the South End, but the bias in these discussions tends to tip toward Western restaurants.

                                    It's also probably worth noting that none of Boston's top fine-dining restaurants, in my opinion, would place very highly in a discussion of North America's top restaurants. We do pretty well for a city our size, and much better than most on a broad range of other accounts besides luxury fine dining. I hope you get a chance to look around beyond the blowout-meal level; this board is a great resource for those kind of tips, too.

                                    Marathon Weekend is obviously a big draw; in addition to the race, it's a holiday for many public employees (Patriots Day) and always features a Sox/Yankees series. You might want to nail down a reservation pretty quickly.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: joebelt

                                      To further illuminate the service question: I've had generally excellent service at all three of these places. I give the edge to No. 9 for how well they respond when something goes awry, like a kitchen error. I've never seen so much effort go into making sure things get fixed, or if the mistake in unrecoverable, to atone with follow-up comps.

                                      L'Espalier has also impressed me on this score. I think of the time when they noticed that we weren't finishing all our tasting courses, despite us not giving them a single indication we were less than happy with the food. (I suspect the larder for the vegetable degustation was a bit bare; we kept seeing the same ingredients in multiple courses, the only time I've been less than thrilled with the food.) Their technical chops are outstanding, they rarely miss a beat or a mark, but the style is not for everyone: it is quite formal and can be a trifle affected at times. I think it suits the place, especially with the number of special occasions that are celebrated there. A bit of theatricality can be a good thing.

                                      Clio's service is solid but seems a distinct step down from the other two.

                                      1. re: MC Slim JB

                                        One thing that sticks in my mind, is a few years back when my wife was pregnant (about 4-5 months), we dined at l'Espalier. When one of the dishes was uncovered at the table, the waitress immediately took it back to the kitchen because she deemed--as she told me later on--it wasn't cooked enough for a pregnant woman (and it wasn't). We hadn't even mentioned that my wife was pregnant and that she needed foods well cooked. The belly wasn't out in full force at that time but the staff picked up on it without so much as a word from us. I think because she wasn't drinking and the hint of a belly. I was very impressed by the attention to detail in a situation like that.

                                    2. I don't think you can go wrong with Clio, L'Espalier or No. 9 Park. Other posters have brought up excellent points as to the strengths and weaknesses of the restaurants as well as the upcoming change in L'Espalier's location (the current location is unique, gracious and just lovely).

                                      An additional factor you should consider is where you are staying and when you are going. If you are going on Marathon Monday here are some things you will want to consider. Even with the earlier 10 am start, Clio is located around mile 25.5. You will have to go through drunken crowds either on foot or by T. I know, that evening I can't bear to fight through crowds.

                                      If you are staying near the finish, L'Espalier is located off to the side of the finish line and No. 9 is away from the finish and the course. Also, both No. 9 and L'espalier are easily walkable and not as much crowd navigation as Clio.

                                      1. My top five:

                                        L'Espalier-Food/Tasting Menu 36/40
                                        Service 24/25
                                        Wine/Cocktails 22/25
                                        Ambience/Location 10/10
                                        Total 92/100
                                        The best! but you will pay, especially for wine!

                                        Clio- Food/Tasting Menu 37/40
                                        Service 23/25
                                        Wine/Cocktails 21/25
                                        Ambience/Location 9/10
                                        Total 90/100
                                        Great Food. The wine program needs help.

                                        #9-Food/Tasting Menu 36/40
                                        Service 23/25
                                        Wine/Cocktails 23/25
                                        Ambience/Location 9/10
                                        Total 91/100
                                        Always top notch. Great cocktails, surprisingly good wine list.

                                        Troquet-Food/Tasting Menu 36/40
                                        Service 22/25
                                        Wine/Cocktails 24/25
                                        Ambience/Location 9/10
                                        Total 91/100
                                        Wine program is second to none. Troquet is under the radar and does not get the recognition it deserves.

                                        Craigie Street-Food/Tasting Menu 36/40
                                        Sevice 22/25
                                        Wine/Cocktails 21/25
                                        Ambience/Location 8/10
                                        Total 87/100
                                        Location and a lack of cocktails hurt.

                                        1. First off, mapep, welcome in advance, and thanks to all you Austin hounds for making your local board so informative. My trip there last year was made decidedly better as a result.

                                          My two cents to add to the myriad opinions already present here:

                                          L'Espalier is the only truly formal dining experience in Boston, with wonderful service and unparalleled ambiance. There's an episode of Frasier where Niles decides to accompany his brother on a visit back to Boston because he's able to score a reservation at L'Espalier. The food is absolutely flawless, but for my personal tastes it's a little safe and stodgy. The way I've put it before on this board is that "flawless" and "outstanding" are not necessarily the same thing.

                                          The food at Clio is significantly more adventurous in terms of ingredients and technique, especially if you order a tasting menu and specify that you're interested in trying some of the more daring stuff. It's much less formal than L'Espalier, and while it's a very cool hotel restaurant, it still feels like a hotel restaurant.

                                          To me, L'Espalier epitomizes well-heeled Boston, and would be my pick for someone visiting from Austin. You live in a cool, urbane city, in closer proximity to the Asian influences available in California. But you have nothing that comes close to the feel of L'Espalier. Bring the deed to your house and have a great time.

                                          [As a FWIW aside, I should say that neither is on my high rotation for special occasions. I prefer the smaller artisinal bistros in town, especially Salts and Craigie Street in Cambridge. I usually wind up at Clio and L'Espalier when friends visit from out of town.]

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. I dunno; it's kind of like asking "sofa, or recliner: which is more comfortable?" Well, it depends on your mood! The good thing is, you can't go wrong- they are both excellent, excellent restaurants. L'Espalier might have an edge on service; I would argue that Clio has an edge on food, but that's because I have a personal preference for more inventive vs. more traditional preparations (neither is traditional, but Clio is more inventive). But really, I'd say you are just as well off flipping a coin as asking Chowhound!

                                            1. I would give L'espalier a miss. We have been there before and loved it. Were there on Saturday (Feb 16th) - SO disappointing. The service was robotic, the food mediocre. We had intended to have the chef's tasting journey but weren't that hungry and so opted for the winter degustation. We were both delighted that we had not subjected ourselves to several more courses of mediocre food. We shall not be returning. We like Clio and look forward to trying No. 9 Park.

                                              1. Thanks everyone for all the imput! We decided to go to Clio at the beginning of our trip and L'espalier at the end, so since we couldn't decide we'll just do both! No 9 Park looks great too but that we'll have to wait for another time. I blog in April about the experience at both, thanks for the advice!

                                                1. I got news for all of you Jack *SS- Troquet and Craigestreet- are with out a doubt the two Best restaurants in town- the rest try but do not succeed-

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: btexpress

                                                    Well, of course, nothing is "without a doubt" when you're talking about opinions. I'll disagree with your opinion but will agree that Craigie Street Bistro is one of the best restaurants in Boston. I haven't been to Troquet recently and while I have liked it a lot in the past, it's not at the same level as L"Espalier for me.

                                                  2. L'espalier genuinely impressed me with their dynamic flavors in the cuisine (that I ordered), their presentation, service, and overall atmosphere. Not to mention the wine pairings are remarkable. See my experience at http://divinebella.blogspot.com/searc...

                                                    there are photos too! It's now one of my favorite restaurants in all of Boston. Don't miss out on the cheese platter experience and the wine.

                                                    1. My first Clio experience was this past Friday and I was really impressed. I'd go so far as to say blown away.

                                                      While I think L'Espallier is a better special occassion restaurant due to incredible service, atmosphere and attention to detail, I enjoyed the food at Clio more. The food was so creative, playful and downright fun at Clio, that the experience there just put it over the top. Presentations were outstanding, our server did a great job explaining every dish to us, and the food ranged from out of the ordinary to "I've never seen anything like this before".

                                                      L'Espallier wins hands-down for wine and cheese selection, but Clio wins on food imo.

                                                      2 Replies
                                                      1. re: heWho

                                                        Always nice to hear about that kind of experience. Any details on your meal? Was it a tasting menu?

                                                        1. re: MC Slim JB

                                                          It was. I'm going to try to post a formal revue at some point this week, but it was a 14 course tasting menu, so it's going to take more free time to post than I have at the moment... I was trying to recall all 14 courses last night and I think I've got them down. Details will be hazy though... it was a 4 hour meal!

                                                          It really was a fantastic experience. Oringer was at the helm, the stars seemed to align.

                                                      2. The Foods great at both. I prefer L'espalier for service and sometimes slightly prefer the food at Clio. But I think one thing all Bostonian foodies can agree on is that Ken Oringer NEEDS to lay off the confetti flowers they're just getting a little ridiculous haha

                                                        1. L'Espalier will definitely have the special feel you are looking for along with the best food and service.

                                                          Clio's platings are a notch too precious for me and I didn't think anything I had there was that great. My husband agreed. I've only been once, several years ago, but I will never be back.

                                                          Radius and Troquet and No 9 all have excellent food but none of their dining rooms are as wonderful as L'Espalier. I believe Radius and L'Espalier have the best service in Boston, and No 9 is up there. Someone mentioned Troquet is underrated and they are right. But it doesn't feel special occasion to me. The dining room there is so yawn.

                                                          I'd also add Excelsior to your considerations.

                                                          1. A strong recommendation for a fourth option: Troquet on Boylston St. I recently went to L'Espalier and I honesty think that the food at Troquet is as good, possibly better than L'Espalier. Went to Clio several years ago and really wasn't particularly impressed. No.9 Park has a great reputation - haven't been there, but have heard many good reports. Consider Troquet - you will not be disappointed. In addition to excellent food and service, they have an outstanding wine list.

                                                            4 Replies
                                                            1. re: dreaminfood

                                                              I think all three restaurants (L'Espallier, Clio, Troquet) have their own niche and I'm fond of all three. Here's my take on them:

                                                              L'Espallier - when you want to wear your best suit, celebrate a special occassion, and most likely when you're on a date of some sort. Service, wine list, cheese selection are tops.

                                                              Clio - when you want to wear a cool sport coat, have a night of the unexpected, and maybe are feeling a bit flashy. Presentation rules all, though I agree 100%, the decorative flower pettles were way too much! Fit for a special occassion, but would be great with a party of 4 - 8.

                                                              Troquet - when you are in dire need of great food and great wine. Doesn't have to be a special occassion at all, and if you feel like going out in jeans, all the better. Certainly the best value of the group, with plenty of charm, some of the best priced wines in the city, a solid cheese plate, and a very knowlegable, down-to-earth staff.

                                                              Depending on the night/occassion, I'd prefer one over the other. The food is great at all 3, no question.

                                                              1. re: heWho

                                                                I was in Boston for one night back in September and I was able to eat at Clio. I got the 14 course tasting menu and had a wonderful experience. The food was delicious and the waitstaff were courteous and knowledgeable. Next time I am in town I want to try L'Espalier.

                                                                1. re: MooseInSJ

                                                                  I will never never go back to Clio. I have been so turned off by this place. You could not pay me to go back there. Why?, You ask. Husband and I took our parents there to meet after we had gotten engaged. Dinner started off as fine, food was ok, not the best micro portion plated place I have ever been but very good.

                                                                  Then it was time for dessert. What do they have on the menu but a tasting of 14 different kinds of ice cream. Ok, I'll bite ,I'll have that. I order and was told "We're out of that. Huh, seems a bit weird, but I change my order. Not less than five minutes later I see an ice cream tasting dessert pass our table. Call waiter over, asked about the dessert and his statement that they were out of it. He goes on to state that they only have five sets of dishes for the tasting and that when they are all in uses they have to say they are out of the dessert. Asked for the ice cream with out the fancy dishes. No go. It was and still is one of the most pretensious and snooty things I have ever seen done by a chef.

                                                                  I won't set foot in that place ever again.

                                                                2. re: heWho

                                                                  How would compare Aujourd'hui to these places. It seems to have the formal, old-school glamor of a L'Espallier. How is Asana?

                                                                  Does you feel that L'Espallier, Aujourd'hui, Clio, and Troquet could compete with the best of NY, Chicago, Vegas, San Fran, and what not?

                                                              2. I'd have to put Salts in Cambridge into the conversation.