Favorite Tasting Menu?
My wife and I get back to Boston a couple times each year (I am a Boston expat) and we very much enjoy the tasting menu experience. As we will be returning again next month, I'd love to hear what some of the other hounds consider their favorite place to go for a great chef's tasting.
When Im thinking tasting menu in Boston, this is what I think ot... In no particular order...
> Clio... always reliable... Im sure you've been there already
> Troquet... excellent chow, more relaxed casual atmosphere, not as high end as Clio and L'Espalier but the food is almost as ambitious and some dishes can surpass (mainly specials)... and better wine program. For foodies not looking to impress.
> L'Espalier... new location makes it doable for me now, didn't like the cramped nature of the old space... will be trying soon but seems promising. You'll have to swallow hard on the wine pricing though (as opposed to Troquet... and choices not as good).
> Craigie on Main... some of the best chow in town... very casual, very limited wine list and no sommelier... just moved to new space... still in Cambridge and will open any day now. Very psyched to check out the new space when it opens.
Yes, I have done a tasting menu at Clio some years back and I have to say that it is my current high water mark. Here is a recap of that meal...
IMPORTANT NOTE: The following report is many years old -- I am sure that Chef Oringer is now spinning something completely different.
A fifteen course tasting menu (listed in approximate order, as best I can remember)
1. Tomato water (juice strained until all pigment is gone and only clear tomato liquid is left) soup served in a martini glass with finely chopped white and red tomato, two drops of basil oil, one large caper berry on the stem and a ½” square tomato popsicle on a toothpick. Apparently the tomato liquid had been strained over 30 times to remove every last bit of pigment, but the flavor was so pure it was almost startling without being overwhelming. Still one of the most incredible food experiences I've had. Surprise and Delight!
2. Hamachi sashimi (yellowtail) with yuzu, some other stuff I can’t remember and fresh grated wasabi root. Three small pieces on a bed of fresh pea shoots. Visually and texturally beautiful. It tasted amazing too!
3. Scallop and uni sashimi with rice wine vinegar, daikon radish and other stuff I can’t remember. The subtle play of flavors set off the uni beautifully without masking the delicate sweetness of the scallops.
4. Seared Nantucket bay scallops in a truffle butter sauce. Sweet and tender, simple but so sublime.
5. Crab salad with Alaskan king crab. A rectangle of crab salad topped with a piece of Alaskan king crab and pink grapefruit. Plate decorated with pools of melon puree and thinly shaved slices of radish. The play of sweet, tangy rich and buttery flavors was unexpectedly rewarding. It worked so very well. Grapefruit with crab is brilliant!
6. Mixed seafood “chowder”. A Razorback clam, two small whole shrimp with heads, a really good mushroom none of us can remember the name of, a mussel, and an amazing rich truffle infused cream sauce.
7. Seared Carolina Shrimp. Two peeled shrimp with tails, seared at high heat with browned garlic then flash broiled with mixed spices and butter.
8. Chestnut soup. A rich broth infused with mushrooms (and I think truffles) and finely ground chestnuts. Served in a small espresso cup with an espresso spoon. Definitely food of the moaning. The broth was so amazingly complex and flavorful without being overwhelming and heavy.
9. Quail egg and caviar. A small potato blini topped with a sunny-side up quail egg. Served with Osetra Caviar and butter sauce. Amazing blend of flavors, the quail yolk with caviar is to die for!
10. Pan seared Foie Gras. Simple, perfectly executed, extremely good quality Foie Gras, served with caramelized scallions on the side. What more can I say? Oh yes, the wine. Of course Sauternes, one half glass of the best in the world. Actually our party of four got three half-glasses of mediocre wine and one half glass of D’Yquem, just to give us all a chance to sample the good stuff. What a difference!
11. Half breast of squab with roasted baby root vegetables and potato puree. The tiny veggies, all cut in different shapes, gently roasted and amazingly perfect in presentation and flavor. The squab was beautifully rare, seared crisp yet tender and oh so beautifully flavored. The mashed potatoes had the perfect balance of cream and butter.
12. A cheese course. Four different cheeses were served, all from Fromaggio Kitchen. All supremely good but very different cheeses. A tangy soft goat’s milk cheese for Nancy. For Ellen a small round of raisin bread along side a goat’s milk aged blue that was more like a stilton than a true blue – nutty and very mild blue flavor with a much firmer texture than I would expect from a blue. John had a cow’s milk semi-soft cheese with apples that I would have appreciated more if I hadn’t just had the blue cheese (still quite good though) and I had a cow’s milk soft cheese (like a brie) with finely diced pear and more of the raisin bread.
13. Fruit coulis topped with coconut foam. Two of us were served raspberry, and two pineapple. Served in narrow liqueur glasses with espresso spoons, the coulis was about an inch up the glass and the top two inches were coconut foam. Wonderful flavors, great presentation.
14. Cold Fruit soups. Two different soups were served. The first, in a shallow fruit bowl, was a mango “ravioli” in a citrus “broth”, a cube of mango wrapped in pickled ginger surrounded by a clear citrus liquid that was tangy and not terribly sweet. The delicate flavor of the mango was lost in the citrus liquid, but it was still very good. The second was a black mint pear soup, served in a narrow liqueur glass. A thin slice of pear was wrapped inside the glass, holding a piece of black mint to the side of the glass. A pear anise mint soup was then poured into the glass. Absolutely wonderful presentation and flavor combination.
15. The dessert course. Four different desserts. Ellen had a chocolate cylinder with lemon verbena ice cream on the bottom and a warm chocolate soufflé poured over it upon presentation. Nancy had a white mint semi-fredo filled with dark chocolate sauce and a cap of dark chocolate. I had a small molten center dark chocolate cake with nougat, candied orange zest strips (almost like a marmalade), ground nuts and crème fraiche ice cream. John had a sweet cookie (almost like a lace cookie) curled into a cylinder and filled with layers of lemon ice cream and raspberry puree. Again, all very different but very good. I don’t think we really appreciated them, after about the 9th course it began to all swim together and we were more than full by this time.
We started the evening with drinks. John and Ellen had Peach infused Alsaician sparkling wine. Nancy had a Frambois Martini and I had a variation on a Pina Colada that had preserved pineapple and coconut foam.
A Tokay Pinot Gris was our wine with dinner, we had the above-mentioned Sauternes with the Foie Gras, and we shared two glasses of digestive (Amaro) after dessert. Nancy had Chartreuse, with 120 herbs in it, made by Cartusthian monks. I ordered the Averna Amaro I like and we shared the drinks all around.
The waiter brought out some small glasses of Muscat from a friend of the owner’s estate to finish off the meal. That was actually a very nice wine.
All in all, an amazing (and amazingly expensive) meal.
At the time of this meal, the tasting menu could range from $95 to $125 per person, depending on the dishes presented and the mood of the chef. We ended up paying the $125, but I must say for what we had it was worth it. The service was prompt, professional and very good. Our waiter was able to answer our questions or approach the chef to get the info he didn’t know. At no time was it too much (although we did laugh about getting fresh raffia-tied napkins every time one of us left the table) or too little.
Only one major beef. The alcohol markup was steep, there wasn’t a wine on the menu for under $45, and the wines at the low end were nothing special. There was no by-the-glass menu, the only wine we knew of by the glass were the Sauternes, and those ranged from $12 a half-glass to $55 a glass. I suppose if we had asked there probably were wines by the glass, but at that markup rate it just wasn’t worth it. The cocktails before dinner set us back $12 each. The Amaros were not that reasonable either. The Chartreuse was $18 a glass. When the cognac I drink costs me $90 a bottle (that translates to about $8 per glass) I do not want to pay $55 a glass for it. Our alcohol total came to $175. That’s one bottle of wine at $50, four cocktails, four half glasses of Sauternes, one coffee and two digestives.
The total bill for the meal after tax & tip came to $205 per person.
re: Uptown Dave
Wow, that's quite a memory! He's had a wine by the glass list from the beginning but I have to agree that the wine program has always been a sore spot there. There's a new guy there now doing the wines and I think things are beginning a turn for the better. The menu changes, but he does rotate dishes that he's done for years, so you could see some familiar things... and of course that Tomato water martini still pops up a little too much for my taste... enjoyed it the first time but not much of a surprise now after 10 years.. and not wine friendly. Still a great spot to dine and one of Boston's brightest stars... Certainly one of the top degustation menus in town.
If you are looking for something a little different, the vegetarian tasting menu at Oleana is amazing. I am a veg, but my carniverous DC said it was spectacular as well. I also recently did a tasting menu at Craigie St Bistrot - I had the veg tasting, my DC had the meat, and they were both perfect. Neither of us were as impressed with our tastings at L'Espalier (practically blasphemy on this board) or T.W. Food - for both of those I did the veg, the DC did the meat. They were both very good, but not as fantastic as Oleana or Craigie St.
I'll add Salts in Cambridge to the mix. Light on gimmickry, heavy on carefully thought-out combinations of ingredients and strong cooking technique. Due to Salts' tiny size (maybe a dozen tables), they don't always offer a tasting menu, so best to call in advance.
I agree with many of the posts above; my other Boston area favorites are Clio, Troquet, and Craigie. My recent experiences at No 9 have been expensive and a bit underwhelming (although cocktails have still been outstanding).
During the summer and fall harvest season, I think Cambridge's best high-end places (Craigie, Salts, sometimes Oleana) shine the brightest with their eat-local ethos. As we move towards winter, I think Clio and other Boston restaurants with more of an international ingredient focus might be a bigger draw.
re: Uptown Dave
It's entirely possible Salts just isn't to your style; in many ways it's quite a bit less flashy than many of its contemporaries around town at a similar price point. That said:
1) If you went before 2004, it's a completely different restaurant than it used to be, different owner, different chef, different management. The name is all that remains from its previous incarnation.
2) If you happened to order the boneless duck for two, definitely go back and try something else. The duck, I believe, is their best seller by far, but it also stands in pretty sharp contrast to the core of the menu. Most items are delicate, subtle, and unexpected; I'm still dreaming about a cream of parsnip soup I had last spring topped with a dollop of dark chocolate. The duck, by contrast, is a big plate of meat and stuffing; it's very good for what it is, but it has precious little to do with the rest of the menu.
It may well have been before 2004, I don't recall -- time flies so quickly! Regardless, sounds like it's worth a try again.
On a separate and unrelated note -- I can't help myself -- last night I cooked for some restaurant industry friends and the chef surprised us (i mean, REALLY surprised us) by bringing along a bottle of 2002 Sine Qua Non Hollerin' M Pinot Noir he'd been saving. While there are wines in the $50-$100 I think would be equally enjoyable for me, I have to admit this was a pretty darn good bottle of wine! Deep black cherry flavors, perfect balance.
I really loved the tasting menu at Troquet last year. They will pair wines, and often bring out very special bottles or half bottles for your delectation.