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L'Espalier - Who's Been?

Surprised that we haven't seen any reviews yet on the new L'Espalier "attached" to (not technically part of) the Mandarin Hotel. Hard to believe really...

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    1. We stopped in after a dinner at Hamersley's earlier this month. We were craving great cheese and asked if they had space in the "Salon" for us to have a cheese course. They did and it was a lovely conclusion to our evening.

      We had a glass of champagne and asked for five cuts of cheese. After a bit of conversation about what we liked and our favorite cheeses, we let the staff select for us. When our server returned, he laughed that he "got carried away" and delivered eight perfect cheeses that fit our tastes. Each one seemed better than the last as we made our way around the tray.

      As I expected, the excellent service and food soon made me forget the setting - which by the way was serene and lovely. Before long, I was simply enjoying what is somehow the essence of L'Espalier.

      Be sure to ask what wines they are pouring in the Salon. We topped off the night with a glass of a vintage Dom that I've never seen offered by the glass anywhere else. It was expensive but less expensive than saving up for a bottle of it only to learn that while it was very good, it was not suited to our taste as much as many other champagnes.

      I'll have to pull out the cheese list and our notes for the cheese hounds. I'm running a little behind on posting our dining experiences lately.

      We seem to fit with the stodgy and boring folks who like quiet elegance and don't enjoy places that bounce with cool people, noise, and "edge."

      I agree that I do like the "Library" but it was nice to sit by a window and overlook the street scene from a peaceful perch so I'll be open to the other two rooms.

      1 Reply
      1. re: BostonZest

        While I do love a glass of vintage Champagne, it can be found in the obvious haunts. Being from NYC, DP both Blanc and Rose, are offered frequently BTG. We also enjoy the real gems, like vintage Krug and Ruinart BTG. I guess I dont find it a rarity. It is a great way to splurge without depleting the kitty.

      2. Food and service are as good as ever, which is to say superb. The lounge area is a nice addition, a place to enjoy a cocktail while you wait for your table. McClleland seems to be dabbling a little bit with some more molecular touches, like a liquid-center dessert ravioli that was "cooked" through some cold process. The bigger space means much more separation between tables in some parts of the dining room, though others are still pretty cramped, like the tables set back amid the exposed wine racks.

        Mainly I'm heartbroken as to how luxe-hotel-generic the new dining rooms are. The romance of the old place feels utterly absent to me. The other big issue I have is that as a hotel restaurant, they appear to be forced to accept hotel guests who ignore the "jackets suggested" dress code. Half the guests on our visit were expensively but very casually dressed ($300 jeans, sneakers, cashmere hoodies), which really saps the special-occasion feeling in my book. My beloved echoed my sinking feeling: we'll be looking for new places to celebrate our big occasions. Very, very sad.

        21 Replies
        1. re: MC Slim JB

          Haven't eaten there yet, but after lunch at SdlT we walked down the walkway and spent considerable time looking into L'Espalier's kichens from the viewing area. Fascinating.

          When you looked into the pastry kitchen there was ample evidence of molecular gastronomy, with containers of chemicals stacked up against the windows. One was labeled "for research use only" or something like that. Again, fascinating.

          I did look into the restaurant and my reaction was like MC Slim -- soulless luxe hotel generic. Sad, I agree.

          1. re: MC Slim JB

            So what would your candidates be now for a special occasion restaurant? I can't think of any other place that has the charm of the old L'Espalier. Certainly Clio has to be on the list; although another hotel restaurant, because of both the charm of the Eliot and the beauty of the dining room, it doesn't have the same hotel restaurant feel. Others?

            1. re: Blumie

              That's a tough one. Maybe NYC. Maybe we'll just got to Trattoria Toscana and bring great wines.

              Other places that I think are romantic spaces include Salts, Pigalle, Rialto, the White Barn Inn, Arrows, The Bristol, Regatta of Cotuit, Mamma Maria (the little dining room with one two-top). That's probably in the order of my preference for their food, too. But none of those chefs have wowed us like McClelland did over the years.

              1. re: MC Slim JB

                I guess that's my point. Boston has many great high end restaurants, but no obvious special occasion place with the old L'Espalier gone. A trip to NYC, to the White Barn Inn, or to Wheatleigh, Blantyre or the more affordable Old Inn on the Green in the Berkshires now may be the best options.

                1. re: Blumie

                  I agree with you. I've always felt that Boston's "high-end" was always a tier below the great restaurants in the US and Europe. As far as L'Espalier goes, I was also never a huge fan of the "old" L'Espalier. Sure the building had character (esp. the beautiful door)... but for me I always felt the table spacing of the dining room was terrible... so cramped. I can't enjoy my meal (no matter how wonderful the food is) if my chair backs up against the diner at the table behind me. I never felt the food was so special there that I would endure the cramped nature of the place... and there was also the wildly overpriced wine list. But I always admired the building every time I drove by.

                  Now, the new place. I took a tour of the restaurant and I definitely prefer it. Why? Because of the reasons I just mentioned I haven't considered the old place in years. Since here I can sit in a comfortable room... at least there's a chance of enjoying a fine meal here. When I stopped by I sat in the salon and enjoyed a bottle of champagne while looking over the wine list and menus. I'll be back soon for dinner. As was stated by MC Slim JB, there are still some tables that fit that "cramped" category that permeated the old place, but now there a number of excellent tables. While the ambiance is modern and has less charm than the old... I see it as a huge improvement. Let the "nondescript" ambiance (compared to the old place) serve as a backdrop to the food. Let the chef do the speaking with what's on the plate... the servers with their service... the wines, etc.

                  For me, the new place is a breath of fresh air. I wish them well and hope they can deliver.

                2. re: MC Slim JB

                  I have question, and a few other possibilities. First, can you really bring wine to TT? If so, I'm moving it to the top of my list. I have no problem paying corkage, and this would be great.

                  As to other "romantic" places, what about Meritage (I haven't been, but I'm told the view can be great, food very good, and lots of table spacing--I know it's in a hotel, but still); perhapsTroquet, if you get the right table; Ten Tables can be romantic--it's dimly lit, and noisy enough that you always feel like it's private. And I'll keep my fingers crossed that the new Craigie St. Bistro fits the bill.

                  But I agree that the high-end, special occasion list is considerably shorter. Perhaps Aujourd'hui?

                  1. re: winedude

                    I believe it's illegal to bring wine into Boston restaurants, corkage fee or no. I've had okay experiences at Meritage. I'm a fan of Troquet, and adore Ten Tables. Aujourd'hui might make my list of Boston occasion places (the redesign was an improvement), but I haven't been back in a while.

                    1. re: MC Slim JB

                      Just posted on this in the "Boston Brahmin" post. We're celebrating our annual holiday season date night this year at Aujourd'hui. Have only been once years ago, so I'm looking forward to it.

                      Presumably, Barbara Lynch's "new place" will fit this bill as "Relais & Chateaux Gourmand" has been tossed about recently. I think the launch is slated for Jan-Feb if all goes well. The idea is to truly bring "special occasion" back to the city.

                      1. re: MC Slim JB

                        Confirmed, it is in fact ILLEGAL to bring wine for corkage per the State Liquor Authority. Boston takes another stab in the heart of diners everywhere. How lame.

                3. re: MC Slim JB

                  I have to agree about the dress code. I was stunned to see a totally, tasteless woman walk in wearing in a baseball team shirt as a jacket. We also saw a few other folks walk through in tacky attire. It is fun to have some places where you are required to dress for the occasion.

                  1. re: BostonZest

                    That is really disappointing about the casual dress. It makes a place much less special.

                    1. re: pemma

                      Well that may be true, this hardly is the econcomic environment in which you can expect restaurants to turn customers away. Moreover, hotel-based restaurants have to be more flexibile with hotel guests than they otherwise might be.

                      1. re: Blumie

                        Aujourd'hui is in a hotel. Do they have many diners wearing clothes as casual as baseball jersies and hoodies and sneakers? I really don't know. I haven't been there in years.

                        1. re: pemma

                          I haven't been back to Aujourd'hui in a little while, but I never saw a diner there who wasn't dressed up in their Sunday best . But in general the dining public has gotten much more casual, even at fancy places, and restaurants are understandably reluctant to turn anyone away. It used to really chafe me; now I'm at the point where I'm grateful if the guy takes off his baseball cap. Too bad it's a fallen world.

                          1. re: MC Slim JB

                            Funny you should say that. We were sitting at Hamersley's earlier this month and both my husband and I noticed and commented on a guy sitting in the dining room eating with a baseball cap firmly in place.

                            I guess we'll have to be grateful when the cap is not on backwards and the t-shirt is somewhat whole and clean.

                            1. re: BostonZest

                              Hi Hounds, for discussions on dress code and the reasons for enforcing them, please continue on the Not About Food board. Thank you very much!

                              1. re: BostonZest

                                Could that have been the Chef, Gordon Hammersley who is almost always seen wearing a well worn Red Sox Cap in the kitchen????

                    2. re: MC Slim JB

                      Hi:
                      I was very disappointed to learn of the change in atmosphere and diners at L'Espalier. You mention looking for new places for special occaisions. I have a very special occaision coming up and am wondering what you might suggest?

                      1. re: jrgkittredge

                        Repeating my answer from above: that's a tough one. Maybe NYC. Maybe we'll just got to Trattoria Toscana and bring great wines. (This is partly in jest, as the practice is illegal in Boston. Maybe I could get away with it with some graft.)

                        Other places that I think are romantic spaces include Salts, Pigalle, Rialto, the White Barn Inn, Arrows, The Bristol, Regatta of Cotuit, Mamma Maria (the little dining room with one two-top). That's probably in the order of my preference for their food, too. But none of those chefs have wowed us like McClelland did over the years.

                        1. re: jrgkittredge

                          I think people shouldn't jump to conclusions. It's still a special occasion place with great food and service and a pretty nice room in its own right.

                          1. re: Joanie

                            I agree. Whereas L'Espalier's old space was a jewelbox, it wasn't a comfortable place to dine and the kitchen was too tiny for the chef to fully express himself (or at least comfortably). I prefer the new place... the room/s are fine, they look great. The new location is a blessing for both the diner and the staff. Now let's see what the chef can do with all his new gadgets and space to spread his wings. Will report on the experience when I get a chance to get in there for a full meal. This and the newly relocated Craigie St (now open) are on the top of my high end todo list

                      2. The original comment has been removed
                        1. What's the current pricing for dinner?

                          11 Replies
                          1. re: jody

                            Going on Thurs. Friend made a reservation and had to leave his credit card info PLUS they have a 48 hr cancellation policy! For a reservation just for 2. Seems a little excessive.

                            1. re: Joanie

                              Unless I missed it, not one review yet from someone who's enjoyed a meal at the new version of L'Espalier. I would have expected it at this point. I know the economy is off, but still surprised based on all the buzz from longtime admirers. So, Joanie... looking forward to your comments.

                              1. re: WineTravel

                                It would be an exaggeration to say I didn't enjoy my meal at L'Espalier; the food and service were as impressive as ever. But the new room is a huge step down in charm and romance. It might be less of a problem if it hadn't been my favorite occasion place in Boston, but it was, and the ambience was a big part of it.

                                1. re: MC Slim JB

                                  MCSlim...Sorry about the confusion. Missed that you dined there, thinking that you were making more general observations about the room, service, dress. When I used the phrase "enjoyed a meal" I just meant that I hadn't seen a review of a meal... ie. that hadn't seen that someone had dined there yet. Now, re-visiting your comments above, you mentioned that the food and service were as good as ever... and only specifically mentioned the ravioli dessert dish. Care to elaborate further on the meal? Curious how you think L'Espalier stacks up on the food/wine front vs. other places in town, for the moment taking ambiance out of it. I will try to find time to get over there in the next few weeks to see for myself... and will post my thoughts.

                                  1. re: WineTravel

                                    I deliberately avoid specifics on my L'Espalier meals in the interest of anonymity (I went a couple of times to review it for a paying gig), but I can tell you I got one autumn degustation (the current online menu has a couple of dishes from that one) and one vegetable degustation (usually my favorite way to order here). That was partially to compare them with similar meals I had at the old place just before it closed.

                                    I'd still call it the best European-tradition fine dining experience in Boston from a food and service perspective. The wine list is still impressive (though it looks much smaller in the new form factor, a lightweight, narrow booklet instead of the old leather-bound tome), and still, from what I can tell, a bit price-gougey.

                                2. re: WineTravel

                                  So last nite was the big nite. I entered thru the main hotel door and it was a roundabout way of getting to the restaurant, my own fault but confusing. We sat in the lounge area which I had assumed had a bar but just about 6-8 tables w/ comfy chairs. I got a lychee/ginger "martini" from their cocktail list and loved it ($15) while my friend had his usual Johnny Walker neat. Drank half of those then they brought us to a table by the window as he had requested. He told them this was for my b-day but everyone misunderstood and anyone who came to the table kept wishing him happy b-day. I think the room is very pleasant and if you hadn't known the former location, you'd feel quite comfortable there (altho the big Lord & Taylor sign is slightly obtrusive). It's one of those places where you sit a long time before they even bring you the menu and somehow people seemed a little more formal than in the old place. But I only ever had one real dinner there (and one Mon. wine dinner and a lunch) so who knows.

                                  On to the food, they passed around a little smoked something that I can't remember. It was kind of different offering you this little bite from a tray, you could have picked more than one. And they did come back around for more if you wanted. The waitress let me have a taste of the Austrian Riesling which was dry enough and I said I knew I should be drinking red wine. She said drink whatever you like and didn't seem to poo poo me. Friend went with a cab. They brought the real amuse but it's all kind of a haze (that one extra drink has left me foggy), it was good. We got the menu and it's all either the 3 course or various other tastings, so you're dropping $82 or whatever it is right off the bat. But it was worth the splurge. I turned my friend onto sweetbreads a while ago so he went with the veal SBs and I had a crispy pork jowl app. Bread included olive, focaccia (that wasn't so focaccia like) and a rustic white. Mains were venison for me and beef tenderloin for him. The sauce was described as citrusy which seemed weird to me for vennison so they brought it on the side, but I really liked it as I did the side of veggies (some greens w/ mushrooms maybe) and mashed something. I'm sorry this is so vague, maybe it's on the web site. i just know it was good as was my taste of his beef. I had the apple dessert w/ marscapone (sp) ice cream and he had a very chocolately dessert w/ pumpkin ice cream. They brought a couple small bites after, one chocolate and another one. It was funny cuz the guy had a hard time taking them off the plate and I told him he could just slough them off onto our plate, that we were simple people.

                                  Amusingly, Big Papi was there and he was the least dressed up person since pretty much all the guys had a tie or jacket. I did walk by and say "not watching the Patriots?" and his gf (or friend) was just coming back to the table and he said "I'm just watching this patriot" or something like that. They didn't seem to eat much btw. And Frank M. came around to the tables. I said it was great and something about "but as everyone says, the old space had more panache" or something. Sheesh, I think I would have said that without 2 wines and a martini. He was really nice.

                                  So a super meal even tho my review is very half assed. I then met a friend at La Verdad cuz we wanted to watch the game some place where we could definitely get a seat. No problem there, it was pretty much us then another party of 2 then 4. Bartender was really nice keeping my water filled. Friend got a plate of duck tacos and a shot of some tequila he really liked. Too bad the Patriots didn't go for 2, damn those J.E.T.S

                                  1. re: Joanie

                                    Sounds like a great meal! All the time I've been going to L'Espalier and I've never seen anyone remotely interesting in the dining room. I'm glad you said something to the boss about the room.

                              2. re: jody

                                From the website: $82 for the three course prix fixe, $90 for the vegetarian degustation, $104 for the meat/seafood degustation; $185 for the Chef's Tasting Journey. That's before cocktails, water, wine (a big bump here), tax and tip. And hanky.

                                1. re: MC Slim JB

                                  Thanks! Had been to the website and seen the descriptions, but didn't realize that you could click through to get more detail.

                                2. re: jody

                                  Their site is back up and working now. You can download the various menus with prices. I still can't find the Thanksgiving menu. We were considering it but I do want to see the menu first.

                                  http://www.lespalier.com/index.shtml

                                  1. re: BostonZest

                                    Just checked out the regular menus on the web. Have to say, looks great.