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Disappointed with L'Espalier

s
sdwr98 Nov 28, 2010 12:50 PM

My DC and I went to L'Espalier last night hoping to cap off a week of great food with a fantastic meal at a place with fantastic service. Unfortunately, we didn't get quite what we were looking for.

We arrived and were shown to our table promptly. Our server introduced herself, and we got started with a drink. I had the Smoky Martini, which was Beefeater, Laphroaig 10, and preserved lemon. It was actually quite delicious. We then started to peruse the menu. As we were reading, someone showed up with a small plate of amuse bouches. Ordinarily that would be great - but he didn't place them on the table for us to eat at our leisure. He just held the plate in front of us, forcing us to fumble with our menus, place our napkins in our laps, and take them with our hands. Not elegant.

We ordered the Autumn Degustation, and they were very flexible in letting my DC choose an alternate starter course since she's allergic to shellfish. That was a good sign, and they had even asked about allergies when confirming our reservation. However, when a second amuse showed up, the server placed the shrimp at my DC's place and the lamb at mine. Not a huge deal, we swapped them, but another misstep nonetheless.

Our first course took about 20 minutes to come out, which seemed a little long. I had the butter-poached lobster and my DC had the salad. Both were good, but I'd had much better lobster at Bergamot a few weeks ago. The salad was good, but seemed random - it had some curried cauliflower thrown in on the side that seemed to be very out of place.

Our second course was the fois gras terrine. It was served with gingerbread cookies and an apple compote. When I put some terrine on the gingerbread and took a bite, the terrine completely disappeared behind an onslaught of ginger flavor. The apple and cookies seemed more suited to dessert. They were tasty, but way too sweet.

The third course was fish, a seared escolar. It had very good flavor but a really tough texture. The grilled pineapple, however, provided what was up to this point the most delicious bite of food. It was sweet, warm, and nicely caramelized. Also, before the course was served, our server had to correct the person laying out the silverware as he had started to lay down the implements for the meat course.

The fourth course was lamb, and it was done perfectly. It came with some good sauteed greens, a tiny salad, and a little bratwurst. This course was definitely the highlight of the evening.

Following that, we had the cheese course. Five cheeses, all of them tasty. Our favorite was the blue cheese, a French variety. There was a nice chocolate-dusted goat cheese as well.

Lastly, dessert. It was a chocolate praline with milk ice cream. It was good, but nothing to write home about.

Overall, my impression was this: They were on autopilot, resting on their historical quality, and turning out rather formulaic food. The staff didn't seem especially excited to be there or excited to have us there. There was nothing wrong per se with the service, but the few mistakes show the difference between a top-tier restaurant and one that's not really trying anymore. The food was good, but nothing to make me take a bite and say, "wow". In Boston, I've had better meals at Craigie and O Ya. For service, I'm eager to make my way to Menton and see how things there are. My personal high-water mark for service is Blue Hill at Stone Barn in New York, and L'Espalier has a ways to go.

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L'Espalier
774 Boylston St, Boston, MA 02199

O Ya
9 East Street, Boston, MA 02111

Menton
354 Congress St, Boston, MA 02210

  1. cannedmilkandfruitypebbles Dec 1, 2010 01:29 PM

    My experience there a few years ago was very very similar to yours, sdwr. you can see my review if you search for it. I think there are better in Boston.

    1. lipoff Nov 30, 2010 02:52 PM

      I'm sorry that you had a bad meal, but from reading your description, I really don't understand why.

      It sounds like the only two lapses in service were that a server placed a lamb amuse bouche in front of you and a seafood amuse bouche in front of your DC, when it should have been the other way around, and that a runner start to put out the silverware for a meat course and was corrected by the server. These seem like absurdly minor "lapses", similar to the runner at Menton presenting my amuse bouche before the lady's, or the busboy swiping a cocktail before the last few drops were quaffed. I mentioned those in my review of Menton last April to show how good the service was, not to nitpick.

      Most importantly, your description of the food makes it sounds scrumptious to me!

      I guess we can agree to disagree, but I find L'Espalier presenting the pre-amuse bouche from the silver tray to be quite elegant. It could be a little precious or gimmicky, but they do it with utter seriousness, and I find it is one of those little distinguishing features that makes fine dining something special. These days everyone folds your napkin, braces themselves against the wall when you walk by, and gives you petits fours with the check, but that little extra touch at L'Espalier makes every meal there feel more like a special occasion.

      -----
      L'Espalier
      774 Boylston St, Boston, MA 02199

      Menton
      354 Congress St, Boston, MA 02210

      21 Replies
      1. re: lipoff
        rlove Nov 30, 2010 05:10 PM

        Excellent rejoinder, lipoff, and my sentiments exactly.

        I'm not fanatical about L'Espalier, but I've always had a wonderful experience, even in the new location (which, while not as charming as the old townhouse, is quite nice and not as bad as folks make it out to be).

        -----
        L'Espalier
        774 Boylston St, Boston, MA 02199

        1. re: lipoff
          Jolyon Helterman Nov 30, 2010 09:22 PM

          -a fish course marred by tough texture and a scene-stealing garnish
          -an overly sweet foie prep overwhelmed by ginger
          -a butter-poached lobster rendition that paled by comparison to the same dish served at a restaurant half its price point
          -an unremarkable dessert
          -server ennui
          -a general impression of overall uninspiredness

          is what I read in the OP's review.

          Prose seems calibrated, at least to my ears.

          1. re: Jolyon Helterman
            9
            9lives Nov 30, 2010 09:54 PM

            Joly,

            Many valid criticism of a the meal...

            !,Escolar is a 2nd ate fish and shouldn'be served at L'Espalier....caught plenty..junkfish

            sweet foigras terrine and ginger bread...nothing I'd order

            Lobster at twice the price of another place,,,Ehhh? better atmosphere, service?? We usually catch our own.

            Dessert, I',not a dessert eater so can't comment...

            Service ennui and uninspired....how can I say? I usually cook for Ms 9 and the the service is always inspired..)

            You gave a thorourgh analyses. Thx. Truth is you got me at escolar..:)

            1. re: Jolyon Helterman
              t
              three of us Dec 1, 2010 03:52 AM

              Wonderful reply. OP gave a fairly balanced review, imo. While it's fine to disagree with his assessment, sometimes the protestations seem overly strong. There are well-loved and enjoyed restaurants on the Board but that doesn't mean they should be sacred cows, above any posts about negative impressions or experiences. We had the worst meal ever at No. 9 , and we're not nitpicky/ignorant/negative folks -- it was simply a crappy experience for the price point. I didn't post about it because I know how well-liked it is on the board and didn't want to deal with posts telling me how wonderful their experiences have always been. That's great for you but it sucked for us. My trepidation to post about it is my problem. However, it's important to keep an atmosphere of open communication on the Board, as well.

              1. re: three of us
                MC Slim JB Dec 1, 2010 06:30 PM

                I've been more often underwhelmed than wowed at No. 9 Park, myself. Adore the cocktails, love the service, miss the old bar menu. Don't love the ambiance in the dining rooms, think the food is good but generally not worth the cost.

                http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                1. re: MC Slim JB
                  hotoynoodle Dec 2, 2010 05:45 PM

                  not to stray too far ot, but i have always been underwhelmed by the food at no. 9. even at special events.

                  it's important for people to honestly express opinions here and i think the op was well-balanced. at those prices, dinner should be hit after hit out of the park.

              2. re: Jolyon Helterman
                Bob MacAdoo Dec 1, 2010 04:59 AM

                Jolyon, ditto.

              3. re: lipoff
                StriperGuy Dec 1, 2010 06:16 AM

                I agree that the original post seems perfectly appropriate and well written. It is in fact "about the food" and the total dining experience.

                As many have said below numerous items in the meal were sub-par. Never mind the poor choice of serving escolar which is really not appropriate for eating period.

                Not sure at all what the point of your "counter post" is other than to nay say the OP.

                1. re: StriperGuy
                  Prav Dec 1, 2010 06:23 AM

                  Escolar is the "butter fish" that gives people the oilies, right?

                  1. re: Prav
                    StriperGuy Dec 1, 2010 07:38 AM

                    YES, the oilies.

                    No self respecting resto would serve Escolar.

                    1. re: StriperGuy
                      m
                      mgcmonkey Dec 1, 2010 08:08 AM

                      Escolar is deliecious. I eat it often when in Hawaii and almost always order it when I see it on the menu at a restaurant. There should be no problems if prepared properly and eaten in small quanitities (supposedly < 6 oz), but I've had more and never an issue. Dissapointed to read that the L'Espalier version wasn't up to par.

                      Le Bernardin, which is considered to be the best seafood resto in the States by some has had escolar on its menu for quite a while.

                      -----
                      L'Espalier
                      774 Boylston St, Boston, MA 02199

                      1. re: StriperGuy
                        lipoff Dec 1, 2010 08:14 AM

                        That is ridiculous. I've seen it on the menu at Le Bernardin, Adour Alain Ducasse, and SHO Shaun Hergatt in New York, not to mention at Gargoyles in Somerville and just about every sushi restaurant. When escolar is prepared properly and served in a reasonable portion size, there is no health effect from the high oil content.

                        I happen to like escolar, but not everyone has to, of course. But I think fine dining is more than serving predictable, high-end proteins in simply prepared ways. It takes creativity to prepare escolar well, but I find I often enjoy the result.

                        1. re: lipoff
                          StriperGuy Dec 1, 2010 08:25 AM

                          I think you will find that even at the high end places the whole Escolar trend was mostly DONE a year or two ago.

                          Just think L'Espalier is a good bit behind the curve on this one.

                          -----
                          L'Espalier
                          774 Boylston St, Boston, MA 02199

                      2. re: Prav
                        9
                        9lives Dec 1, 2010 12:48 PM

                        Escolar and butterfish asre not the same. I saw butterfish at that market in Chinatown..and will prepare it.

                        I'd put escolar in the same "virtual" bucket as bluefish caught locally. Like to eat it fine but woudn't expect to see it on a fine dining menu....

                        Bernardin offers it in a tiny portion, slightly cooked, carmelizes nicely under high heat cuz of the oil. Think Mackeral or Saba..in a Japanes resto..catchy name but would a diner at a high end restaurant want a plate of it?

                        1. re: 9lives
                          f
                          FoodDabbler Dec 1, 2010 04:05 PM

                          Prav was correctly not calling escolar butterfish. He was calling it "butter fish".

                          1. re: FoodDabbler
                            9
                            9lives Dec 1, 2010 04:17 PM

                            My apologies to Prav. Lucky for him that he has an adcocate like yourself.

                            Some of yhe Chinatown Mkts might not see 1 to I with you...norr prof fishermen; but whatever.

                            eta...Hawaiin butterfis his not thsame fish as what is ofth en sold in marketsin NE as butterfish. I dould throw a handlefulmog butterfish t you that I bought on Ctwn(thrown in fun, not malice) and you wouldn' know it from Hawaii..2 diff fish.

                            1. re: 9lives
                              f
                              FoodDabbler Dec 1, 2010 05:34 PM

                              Yrxw smpourt bttrfsh, 9lvs.

                              1. re: FoodDabbler
                                9
                                9lives Dec 1, 2010 05:54 PM

                                fu...out

                        2. re: Prav
                          Nab Dec 1, 2010 12:56 PM

                          Also known as the Jasper White Diet.

                      3. re: lipoff
                        s
                        sdwr98 Dec 1, 2010 06:55 AM

                        Lipoff,

                        I'd agree with your comments if we were talking about almost any other restaurant in Boston (and I wouldn't have posted mine). But L'Espalier (and Menton) are consistently mentioned as having outstanding service and outstanding food. With dinner for two north of $300, I expected to be wowed by both, and came away wowed by neither. Believe me, nobody was more disappointed than we were!

                        I know that dining is a very subjective thing. The couple at the next table seemed to be having a wonderful meal, and I'm not out to say that people who have enjoyed L'Espalier are wrong. I'm just providing my point of view. Compared to other places I've eaten at a similar level of cost and reputation, L'Espalier fell short.

                        -----
                        L'Espalier
                        774 Boylston St, Boston, MA 02199

                        Menton
                        354 Congress St, Boston, MA 02210

                        1. re: sdwr98
                          t
                          teezeetoo Dec 1, 2010 12:43 PM

                          eric ripert doesn't think escolar is done. it's prominently featured on Le Bernardin's menu. i do understand why you might not like it, but don't understand why it is "passe."

                      4. m
                        mmocpi Nov 29, 2010 07:04 PM

                        Thanks for taking the time to write such a detailed and interesting review.

                        I so loved the old location (beside food and decor, service was a big reason it was my special special occasion spot). Sigh ... Sounds like these guys need a bit of a wake up call.

                        Btw, what is a DC?

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: mmocpi
                          Prav Nov 29, 2010 07:22 PM

                          Dining companion.

                          1. re: Prav
                            Boston Strangler Dec 2, 2010 05:53 PM

                            I always thought DC stood for dedicated chowhound.

                            1. re: Boston Strangler
                              Prav Dec 2, 2010 06:03 PM

                              That's cute!

                        2. k
                          kimfair1 Nov 29, 2010 12:23 PM

                          Too bad about the service issues, as the service at the old L'Espalier was very good. Haven't been to the new one, but the food never wowwed me on either of my two trips to the old location. I have yet to experience service in Boston like that at Menton, really top notch. I'm sure you'll enjoy it (and I liked the food much better as well).

                          -----
                          L'Espalier
                          774 Boylston St, Boston, MA 02199

                          Menton
                          354 Congress St, Boston, MA 02210

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