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Dec 18, 2008 07:21 AM

L'Espalier These Days

I'm posting this question for my parents. They are thinking about taking their good friend out for her 60th birthday and were interested in hearing some feed back on L'Espalier these days. Is it still really good? They've been a number of times before but not recently (I on the other hand have never been. My Dad said I should be taken there by a man that loves me and wants to romance me :) ).

Also their website doesn't have any info on prices. How much is the pre-fixe 3-course meal plus a nice bottle of wine? (There will be 4 people--2 couples--total).

Thanks for your help.

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  1. Ok I spoke too soon. The current menu up there (the Autumn menu) says the pre-fixe meal without wine is $82. Does this seem about right?

    Still looking for comments on the quality of the food these days.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Elyssa

      I've only ever been for tea and lunch, but I've been to the new location and can say that the food and service are every bit as good as they were before the move. Some people dislike the new location, others don't. Personally, I think it's pretty nice, but there is something sad about losing such a magical location like the old one (also, while the interior is pretty nice, keep in mind that you get a really great view of Lord and Taylor or Crate and Barrel from a lot of the tables instead of pretty brownstones). But for me, it's always about the food, and the food is still excellent.

      1. re: Elyssa

        There's also apparently a 6-course seasonal prix fixe for $102 without wine, which I hear from a friend last night included ? blanking on course 1, foie gras with chanterelles, "some fish from Hawaii", lamb, cheese plate, and dessert.

      2. That pricing is accurate. Here's a review I did on the old location of L'Espalier, just before it closed last summer, followed by an update based on a couple of dinners at the new location (both thankfully subsidized by a professional stipend). If your parents and their friend never went to the old place, they presumably won't feel my pain at the relative lack of charm in the new space.

        Review of the old place: "Boston's best high-end European-tradition fine dining experience -- at least until it moves to a new home. (I had to get a review of L'Espalier before it moves in September 2008 to a much bigger -- and inevitably, I'm afraid, less charming -- space in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel.)

        When I want to play at having eff-you money and not just extravagant tastes, I put on my finest threads and swan over to L'Espalier, which perches atop the uppermost tier of the city's luxury dining establishments. That is, of course, after saving my nickels for two years: a full meal of the elaborate platings of intricate, eminently creative New England / French food served here, rife with top-quality local ingredients, can easily set you back a couple hundred bucks - three hundred if you bring a date, four hundred if you get an okay bottle of wine.

        But it's a nonpareil experience: my notes from my first visit years ago were gaga: "Like getting invited to dinner at the urban mansion of your good friend, The Archduke." Rather formal, hushed service in beautiful rooms with lovely, tasteful accoutrements (which of seven pieces of flatware do I pick up first?) adds to the exalted atmosphere.

        One of many excellent-service memories I have of this place: going on Valentine's Day (a mistake, pure amateur hour, and the prices were jacked up), and having the waiter catch me in the hallway on my way back from the restroom to hand me the check. Odd. Then it dawned on me later why he did this: most visitors that day are first-timers, and doing the handoff privately spares your date from seeing your shock and horror at the check total. That's called not stepping on your game. It's little bits of thoughfulness like this that make the difference between merely excellent and supernal service.

        Compositions are so delicate and beautiful that you hate to desecrate them with a fork or spoon. In my book, the best meal to be had in Boston (in the Western tradition, anyway) is served here, and it's vegetarian. That's right, Steak-Boy, you heard me: L'Espalier's Degustation of Seasonal Vegetables with Matched Wines is the *ne plus ultra* of local fine dining, and there's nary a bit of animal flesh in it. (Cream and butter, however, they do not shun, though the ethos is more nouvelle than haute.) In addition to several complimentary amuse-bouches, this feast usually features excellent bread, soup, salad, pasta *and* risotto (sorry, brother Primo), followed by a cheese plate, sorbet, dessert, and petit fours with the check. (I've also tried the non-vegetarian degustation: by course two, after the foie gras and lobster, I was half-dead: it's far too rich.)

        Adding the matched wine option yields a lovely four-glass progression of a sparkler, a white, and a couple of reds. Better yet, you don't have to wade through that 500-bottle tome of a wine list with Supercilious Wine Guy breathing down your neck as you try to choose something that won't require a third mortgage or compromise the chef's extraordinary vision. If I were a filthy-rich gourmand proposing marriage to a vegetarian plutocrat, this is the meal over which I'd do it -- in the Front Room, the prettiest of the three dining rooms, over by the marble fireplace with hundreds of candles burning in it. Wretched excess never felt so cruelty-free."

        My update on the new location:

        "Still astonishing food and service, about as good as they get in Boston, but folks who loved the old space will probably share my crushing disappointment in the utter lack of romance in the new one.

        I'm really glad I made it a point to have one last great meal in the old L'Espalier space in August 2008 before it moved. Food and service in its new home in the swanky Mandarin Oriental Hotel 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. McClelland seems to be dabbling a little bit with molecular gastronomy, as in 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 baby echoed my sinking feeling, hates the new space, too. McClelland will no doubt rake in a lot more money here, just not any of mine; I'll be taking my big-number birthday, anniversary, and business-deal celebration dollars elsewhere."

        1. I had the pleasure of dining many times in the old location as well as celebrating my birthday in the new location, my DC and I both had the Autumn Degustation 5 course meal, I posted about this earlier, The Food, Service and Atmosphere is 5 star in my book.
          I am planning on spending christmas eve there