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Jan 28, 2009 02:43 PM

Sensing, High End Boston, Distracted Chefs

Haven't been to Sensing yet myself. Probably end up there sooner or later for a cocktail or a nibble. Dinner is a big commitment.

My critique is this. Does Boston need another absentee chef; this one with no ties to the Muddy Charles?

Hey he's got his three Michelin stars and he is going to milk them for every Consulting-Executive-Chef penny he can get. As others in the other Sensing thread have already suggested, as the bloated restaurant teeters, he'll probably be gone in a year blaming the philistines in Boston who prefer boiled dinner to les vrais cuisine Francais (hope I got that right.)

We already have Todd of national fame, Olivia, and Barbara, and Ken, and even Ana is spreading her wings. I am sure I am leaving a few out. Even poor Scott of Grotto fame appears to have over-extended himself with Marliave. Love his food, but he sadly has not been generating enough buzz to fill Marliave. And most of these folks, certainly Todd, fail to consistently deliver deliciousness night after night, typically in direct, inverse proportion to the scope of their empires.

Is it too much to ask that the chef at a VERY pricey restaurant actually spend time in their kitchen. At a certain point are we purchasing deliciousness, or buzz?

As some famous Boston punk rockers said a long time ago; and heck I think I have even used this line before somewhere: "this is Boston NOT LA, this is Boston NOT LA."

Forgive me if I crave substance over foofery; flavor over foam.

A delicately seared foie gras, as it should be served with a nice piece of toast and perhaps a cornichon rather than liquid nitrogen varporized jackalope loin.

The food I favor most is prepared by a chef who puts his/her heart and soul into it; I swear I can taste it... not their aspirations for empire and an increased checking account balance.

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    1. Witness, brother.....In response to the OP, of course...
      Say, "Amen"....

      1. Well your premise that Chefs of very pricey restaurants actually spend time in their kitchens is a good one but I don't know what your definition of " time " is and depending on the amount of " time" you expect, the national and international landscape of dining could be radically changed . Here is an excerpt from the first thing to pop up when I googled " chefs in Las Vegas" (The celebrity chef trend has shown no sign of slowing. Recent arrivals include some of the biggest names in global cuisine: Joel Robuchon, Alain Ducasse, Daniel Boulud, Bobby Flay and Tom Collichio have joined the all-star cast of Nobu Matsuhisa, Emeril Lagasse. Wolfgang Puck and Jean Georges Vongerichten, among many others. Today it is no exaggeration to say that visitors to Las Vegas can experience a world of famous dining, choosing from the most famous chefs of New York, San Francisco, LA, Paris and Italy. No city on earth has more outposts of celebrated chefs, and even for the hungriest – and wealthiest — visitors, the choices can be overwhelming. Here are the Vegas offerings from some of the world's best culinary talents) I actually have been to Sensing ( see my review from last night) and while it wasn't the most extraordinary dining experience I have ever had it was damn good and I didn't think the army of chefs working in front of me were at all distracted ...They each went out of their way to greet us and check in to be sure we were satisfied. Guy Martin wasn't there obviously but his influence (see my comments on the duck confit entree and where else in Boston is thinking about serving trout stuffed chicken?) I don't particularly care whose name is associated with the restaurant as long as the food is good, it is clean, the staff is attentive and the prices are such that I am willing to pay them. I am mystified by the attention and wrath on this Board about Sensing which seemed to emanate with the disclosure of a 20 dollar Martini. The title of your post alone " Sensing , high end Boston, distracted chefs" causes the casual observer to arrive at a very negative conclusion of Sensing. If you dont want to pay 20 bucks for a martini ...don't drink it ( I didn't ) But lets not castigate a restaurant that we have not visited because we dislike the pricing ( without exeriencing the value), or we assume the name associated with it is ripping us off or because we are in tough economic times. I am glad that some excellent chefs ( no I don't include Todd in that group) have moved around the country or into the country...I frequent and support the one offs and appreciate them immensley ( Craigie, Rendezvous, Green Street ,Salts, Hammersleys ) But also believe that there is room out there for other options and the strong and well intended will and should survive .End ( my ) rant .

        31 Replies
          1. re: capeanne

            "I don't particularly care whose name is associated with the restaurant as long as the food is good, it is clean, the staff is attentive and the prices are such that I am willing to pay them."

            OMG, that's a pretty low bar to clear for the notoriety and prices (yes, I said the "P" word!) that Sensing appears to be charging. I wouldn't bother to hit the restos you name in LV, I've hit the originals of some of them. I'd be hightailing it to Lotus of Siam, for vaunted, and vetted great Thai food.

            The reviews I've read online of Sensing (and I'm a 'heavy web 2.0 user, as my webmaster BF says) have been middling. Despite the glowing reviews of a_few_ relatively new hounds, whose history I don't know enough about to put my (scant) monetary faith in, the Emperor still seems somewhat scantily clad for this chilly environment.

            1. re: galleygirl

              I am not a new hound and respect your opinion. This is a forum for opinion and civil disagreement . I do think it sad that opinions are formed before Hounds experience the restaurant . and Galley Girl I too used the "P " word. I was willing to pay the prices for the value at Sensing. Not a low bar.

              1. re: capeanne

                No, CA, you're not. I personally can't afford the tariff at Sensing at this time. Actually, if I could, there would probably be places I'd still go to first. I've eaten pricey food at various restaurants, some I still salivate over, some I feel were not worth it.

                Do you *really* think the food at Sensing is a good value? If you had paid the same price at a 3-star restaurant in France, would you have been satisfied? Overall, it doesn't seem that that's the reason for going. It sounds as though that may be the highest price point in the Boston area.

                The real point; Is it really the best tasting food one can find?

                1. re: galleygirl

                  Never said it was the best food I ever had... I really enjoyed the experience . I thought the duck confit was very creative and delicious. I also really like the app. I haven't been to a 3 star in Paris but this is up there with 2 stars I have had the pleasure of experiencing. Would I go back weekly...likely not but not because of the lack of value. It is rich food , limited menu and a unique experience in my opinion but then I wouldnt go to Salts every week or Hammersleys. We didn't spend alot less at Bina the night before and we have spent a similar amount at Sorellina. We have spent more at L'Espalier. ( Edit: and ALOT more at O Ya) Re value yes I think there is good value for the experience and for the creativity of the dishes I ordered last night...although I was critical of textures for the entree. I dont know where Hounds got the impression that the prices were analagous to the likes of Per Se or Talleivant..they aren't .Likely the extrapolation from the infamous martini. I am just disappointed that this place has received a bad rap on this Board by folks who havent tried it and also want to be sure that we encourage civilized divergent opinions and new opinions...My Husband paid the bill last night and he is the first to comment about stratospheric pricing and he commented that it was about 30 bucks more than we paid at Bina ( granted booze is the variable ) but he was glad to have Sensing as an option in the am I

              2. re: galleygirl

                rather snide... just because some may be new (i am not a "hound") to this board does not mean points may not be valid. what i find disturbing is that people have commented solely on price.(and those who haven't even been there!!! not very credible, HUH?
                i don't need to provide my restaurant resume of experiences to prove anything. but i'm starting to see why there is a lack of "high end, high quality places" the expectations by most on here are based on price??/ what is that?
                it seems as sensing has brought on quite a bit of this. i just hope that others dine there before they knock the place. i enjoyed quite a bit.

                1. re: cockscomb

                  As the 20th (+/-) largest city in America (pop. 600K), how many "high end/quality" places should Boston Have?

                  1. re: T.Clark

                    Well, that's not really a fair ranking. Being as old as it is, Boston found itself surrounded by other towns and cities before it had the chance to grow like more Western metropolises, and, despite trying, it never acquired or merged with these surrounding towns like NYC did with its various boroughs.

                    As a result, it's much more realistic to consider the population of the metro Boston area when making comparisons, not just that of Boston proper.

                    If we look to the government for guidance (always dangerous!), we see that the FCC lists the Boston metro area as the #10 market by population in the country (

                    1. re: BobB

                      Fair enough. What should the proper ratio of High end places be according to our population ranking?

                2. re: galleygirl

                  Am a new CH and hoped to gain some insight from others on this board. I find the pontificating of those who have not experienced a restaurant facinating. Also interesting are the irrelevant attempts at comparisons and a desire to bash someone or someplace without ever going. Pretty sad.

                  1. re: stradacouple

                    Really, do you feel bashed? I don't see anywhere that happened.
                    I don't feel I pontificated; when I do, I'm sure you'll know.

                    The reason to question the value of a place I haven't been to? Wanting to hear drool-worthy reviews for a $270 tab? That's not bashing a place, that's smart shopping and doing one's research. Like I said, for a starving artist like myself to fork out that kind of cash, I have to make sure it's a good value...I just haven't heard that yet.

                    1. re: galleygirl

                      My reference to bashing was what some folks are doing to the chef/s and the restaurants not me. My reference to pontificating was also a comment on need for me to point them out (it s pretty easy to figure it out).

                      1. re: stradacouple

                        Then why point it out in your reply to me?

                        For the record, I think this is the place to vent about chefs and restaurants, because it is a place to bring up divergent points of view. Putting a finished "work" out for consumption and comment by the public, whether the hoi polloi or the great unwashed, invites criticism. And opinions also invite discussion and support of same. To say that those who have not had this experience are not voicing valid points is surely shortsighted. If I heard it was that good, I'd be hoarding my pennies.

                        1. re: galleygirl

                          I was just commenting on this thread. Did not think that this board was "about venting". At end of the day, it's only a meal we're talking about here......

                          1. re: stradacouple

                            I misspoke; "vent our opinions" would be more concise...And yes, it IS just a meal, but that's the point, isn't it? ;)

                    2. re: stradacouple

                      I havent been to Sensing yet but reviews are not not overly motivating.

                      Once a restaurant opens to the public, it is open to criticism on boards like this..and I dont see that its necessary to go to form an opinion.

                      I don´t need to be poked in the eye to know it hurts.

                      The higher the price point, the higher the expectations for exotic, expensive, hard to find ingredients, expertly prepared in a nice atmospher, and served well.

                      A new place like Bina meets my expectations, which are high. An old place like Floating Rock also meets my (lower) expectations.

                      I too live in the area, and will probably try Sensing, but my motivation to go now, based on what Ive read is not high.

                      1. re: 9lives

                        Confused about how "I dont see that its necessary to go to form an opinion". How can you form an opinion of a restaurant without experiencing it? You would give your opinion of a restaurant based other people's opinons?

                        1. re: SmugLump

                          I dont need to go to the north pole to have the opinion that it´s cold there. I´ve heard it from enough knowledgeable people to believe it.

                          After participating on this online community for 5 years, there are certain posters whos taste generally calibrates to mine. If enough of them liike a place, I can reasonably assume that Ill like it, and vice versa. Its not foolproof because there are always new posters whose taste may also calibrate with mine...but it takes some time to learn that.

                          For example if a long time poster who I may have met and eaten with many times raves about a place, it gets high on my list of places to try. If someone who has never posted raves about a place, I dont give it as much credence.

                          Cockscomb, as to price, of course it plays a factor. I have higher expextations for a 300 meal than a 50 meal. I hold the more expensive to a higher standard.

                          1. re: 9lives

                            I hate to tell ya 9lives, it's been a lot longer than 5 years. Time flies...

                            1. re: Joanie

                              You´re right. Time does fly.

                              Having not been to Sensing, I can´t comment on the food or overall experience, but I can form an opinion on where it falls in the hierarchy of places that Id like to try, based on the opinions of others, who have previously steered me to winners.

                              I was anxious to try Bina (I think the 2 are compared a lot recently here because they are both recent high end openings), because of the opinion of those that I trust..and Ive enkpyed it 3 or 4 times.

                              Sensing is not generating that for me now. Of course that couñd change, but we all make decisions on how we want to spend our dinig dollars now and thats just how it is..

                              Not to suggest that Sensing is a poor value or not good (I wont be going for a while regardless because I am gorging myself on Mex food and fresh fish), but good economy or bad, I still want value..and that ranges from a Bina to a Chacarero or great bahn mi.

                        2. re: 9lives

                          9lives... fair analogy to be poked in the eye. my frustration is that some are unfairly criticizing. and then there are some who are talking out of both sides of there mouth. and some have neverbeen to the restaurants they are criticizing.
                          i want to hear commentary on the price/quality ratio at a restaurant and i think that is what the site is about???? far too many are focusing on the price and yes we all know, the economy is bad. who needs to hear that anymore?? but i do think that even more so now, restaurants will be scrutinized for that ratio.
                          i'm sure stradacouple is wishing he had never brought up the 20 martini now but at least i have found more credibility to what strada is talking about because the remaining words spoken were not just about price. and strada actually has been to this particular place!
                          it makes me question if a lot of these "hounds" actually go to the places they criticize.
                          i'm relatively new to this so that may be unfair to say but, as of now, my skepticism is high.

                          1. re: cockscomb

                            To decide that one would probably not like a restaurant based on the reviews of others is no different, or no worse, than declaring that a restaurant is "trying to be what it can't be" without having tried the best that a restaurant offers. In each case, opinions are formed based on incomplete information, and it goes witthout saying that such opinions are imperfect. High prices and unfavorable economics do matter because they make it harder to justify going to a place to find out firsthand whether a place is good or not.

                            1. re: barleywino

                              if you are refering to my comment about troquet, i have tried everything it has to offer. bar menu, tasting menu. all of it. my opinion is that the food is good. i don't think it's the best in boston. what's the point? and why are you still badgering me about troquet?
                              i come on to this site to share comments and get a feeling for what people consider good in this city. not be "HOUNDED" by other posters.
                              it's just food and in fact, "it's all poop in the morning" as a great food mind once said

                        3. re: stradacouple

                          We, as a group, are a diverse and interesting bunch. As with any "social network" there are those in this community that we (generally) agree with, and those with whom we (generally) disagree. The comment regarding "new hounds" was actually an indicator that, for many of the reviewers of this restaurant, we as a community do not yet know if we agree or disagree with your opinions. It is not an insult or a bash.

                      2. re: capeanne

                        As the guy who mentioned the "martini price"...... my wife and I have eaten at Sensing on 3 occasions and have enjoyed it each time. I too have found the chefs anything but distracted. They and the folks woking there have done nothing but make us feel welcome and our return visits appreciated. We're becoming regulars and I am proud to say it!!!

                        1. Very often, one restaurant isn't fulfilling enough for a chef. Chefs can get bored. Some have a great many ideas and the need to create in as many ways possible. It's not just about the empire. Granted, consulting for a restaurant 3000 miles away is plain silly, and expecting that you're going to really experience Guy Martin here, or Joel Robuchon in Vegas, is even sillier. I was once determined to create a restaurant empire, myself. I wanted a fancy kaiseiki/omikase place, a tapas bar, a crab shack, a Mexican spot and more. I still do, but I'm getting old. At that point, it's about managing, not cooking, and I'm a crappy manager. So, too, are many of these overextended chefs. Your ego can't carry you everywhere. Neither can the withered talent pool of cooks and servers and managers in Boston. It's a catch 22, and we can only hope that some of these chefs can pull it off.

                          1. re: almansa

                            I love your posts, almansa. Always an education, always to the point.

                            1. re: almansa

                              "Neither can the withered talent pool of cooks and servers and managers in Boston."

                              young chefs like tony mawes, alex castagneto and brian konefal ( & dave nevins before he left town) are hardly "withered", and are producing some excellent and exciting food. sorry, if you're bitter after too many years in the business, i guess i'm just not that negative.

                              some of the chefs who have succeeded in branding themselves, like todd english, michael schlow and even the mini-emperor marc orfaly, i never thought were all that great initially. honestly? i was mostly disgusted by the excesses of the plates at olives, and was always underwhelmed by radius and great bay. pigalle is woefully inconsistent, unless marc is actually in the kitchen. barbara lynch at number 9 always provides me with at least one *miss* of a dish during a 3-course dinner, and her pricing at b&g and the butcher shop makes me enraged.

                              ken oringer, while a passionate chef, got a business degree before attending culinary school.

                              gordon hammersely is in his kitchen most nights, executes consistently and beautifully, yet because his food lacks smoke and mirrors, gets little love on these boards.

                              folks in boston love to complain, lol. posters are griping about sensing, while admitting they have never been! that's absurd, i'm sorry. posters whine about the lack of exciting local options, that boston isn't a food or wine town, yet slam a place like bina osteria for being too pricey in this economy. the business plan was hatched several years ago and on all my visits i have been blown away -finding it well worth every penny.

                              we speak with our wallets people. if you find the philosophies, attitudes or business models of certain restaurateurs offensive, spend your dollars elsewhere. we all perceive value in different ways.

                              1. re: hotoynoodle

                                Bravo for your comment on Gordon. I could not agree with you more. Whenever we go, his restaurant is familiar, solid and presents excellent food (now I feel guilty for not going more often). I'm dating myself when I say I remember "standing in line" at the original Olives in Charlestown and having some great food and being at Radius on their opening night and the paint was still wet on some of the walls (I still remember the amuse that night). Too bad some things have to change.

                                PS - I agree with your comments on Orflay and Lynch......and Bina is great

                                1. re: hotoynoodle

                                  My comment referred to cooks, not chefs. Boston is not a competitive market for line cooks, so there is a lack of talent to fill as many fine dining restaurants as we have here. There are plenty of talented chefs, but their talent is often unnoticed or wasted.

                            2. All the more reason to judge food by it's deliciousness (or lack thereof), rather than by the chef (or lack thereof). It is worth noting that some of the exec chefs that actually run places like these can be exceptional, and they can put their hearts and soul into the food, they just didn't put their name on it.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: limster

                                Agree limster. Chefs make the decision to expand for various reasons. You judge the place for what it is. When you go to Vegas (or any other place with outposts) you don't expect the "name" chef to be there... you factor that into the decision to go. As almansa so accurately stated... it's about management at that point. Some do it well, some don't. I don't dismiss these places out of hand. Each place stands on it's own... and many are fine.

                                Speaking of Vegas... I think Vegas gets too much attention for it's dining scene. There are a number of high profile chefs with places there, but the places are not that good. There's a "Vegas attitude" that permeates most of the places there... mostly poor service and an underlying thought that they need to get the patron back to the casino. The labor pool there is not very dining/service savvy. It's also hard to get good people in the kitchen. That said, the dining scene is worlds above what it was 20 years ago when it was unbearable. I remember having to go to Spago at Caesars Palace every night because there were no other options that were tolerable. It's ok now, but I cringe when I hear people call it the best dining city in the US or even the world.

                                Keep in mind that from a business standpoint a chef, even a successful high profile chef, can't make that much money on a single restaurant. Some can make good coin on TV or with books, but that's a select few. There are a small group of chefs that do what they do as a labor of love... for most, it's a business (not to say the two can't coexist). From a business standpoint, it's a natural thing to try to expand once they have a successful place. Some crash and burn and some succeed. We shouldn't blame them for trying to build their businesses. Those that can manage it well will succeed and those that don't will fail. That's the risk they take. No different than a dry cleaner or CVS opening another store.

                              2. SG, I think your post begs the question of whether high cuisine can be "franchised" successfully. It all stems back to Roman Catholic Church doctrine and the use of Latin at Mass - the idea that wherever you go, the same universal language was used (pre-Vatican II) and the same spiritual exercise was experienced. Actually, the church is one of the most successful franchises in history...but I digress. The next most successful franchise in history is McDonald's and even though Ray Kroc was not present in every outpost, you knew what to expect and that you would get it, darn near perfect every time. With other restaurant franchises, the degree of difficulty seems to correlate with the degree of variability.

                                So can high end dining be replicated in the image of the master?

                                Obviously jackalope and foie gras alike require a certain amount of care and training that cannot necessarily yet be reproduced from a training manual. But by hiring the appropriate professionals, I can imagine a system in place that the work of the master chef will be transmitted and transformed into the identical form that was intended.

                                Call it intelligent design?

                                But enough puns.

                                Personally, I like supporting the local products. And I try to avoid the McDonaldses of the world, regardless of the pricetag.