Last Wednesday I treated myself to a feast at L'espalier in Boston. I was lucky enough to get a spot at the chef's table and have an experience that will never be forgotten. Executive Chef Frank Mcclelland and Chef de Cuisine Shane O'neil run one of the best kitchens in the northeast. It is organized, clean, and well-managed. The cuisine is primarily French with accents of New England produce. All of the members on staff are dedicated and passionate professionals. They know what they are doing.
Eating at the chef's table is more than a meal, it is an experience. Chatting with the cooks was a blast and I got to see how the restaurant functions. Eating alone was not awkward what so ever. The staff made me feel welcome.
Service was the best I ever had. One person's job was to wait on me, that's it. I had my own personal server! He was very knowledgeable about every course that was served to me and answered all of my questions. When I had to use the restroom I was escorted to the bathroom, which made me laugh a little. When are you going to be escorted to the bathroom? I was treated like a celebrity in the kitchen, it was a surreal experience. To put it simply I was pampered and loved it.
Since there were sooooo many courses I will not comment on all of them. If you have any questions about any course that I did not comment on don't hesitate to ask.
When they say that you eat in the kitchen they are not kidding. Look at that view!
Torchon of Foie Gras with Candied Kumquats, Cocoa Bubbles, and Toasted Brioche
Goat Cheese Gourges
The Goat Cheese Gourges was light and airy, yet still decadently cheesy. It was a magnificent morsel of food. The foie gras was equally as delicious. The rich foie gras paired well with the bitter cocoa bubbles and sweet kumquat. So far an incredible start.
Island Creek Oyster with Cucumber Salad and Cucumber Foam
This dish was light and refreshing. The pure flavors of the oyster and cucumber shined through in this simple preparation. The addition of liquid nitrogen looked really cool, but did not add anything to the flavor of the dish.
Lemon and Lime Fizz
The lemon and lime fizz paired perfectly with the oyster dish. The bright lemon flavor and the cool cucumber was a match made in heaven.
Pretzel and Foccacia with Apple Street Farm Butter
The foccacia was good, but the pretzel was fabulous. I have been craving the pretzel ever since I left L'espalier. It was doughy, salty, and just right.
Baby Red Beets with Compressed Strawberries, Rhubarb Mousse, Vermont Chevre, Cabernet Sauvignon Vinaigrette
This plate of food showed a lot of finesse. Aesthetically it was gorgeous; the vivid colors were strikingly beautiful. Everywhere on the plate there were big flavors, especially the compressed strawberry. It was fresh and intense.
Butter Poached Maine Lobster with Pear and Rutabaga Puree, Celery Leave, and Sweet Pepper Emulsion
Due to the butter poaching the lobster was really tender. The smooth puree of pear and rutabaga had a great body and was super flavorful. The clean celery flavor from the under utilized leaf was a nice touch. The monotonous texture was a small fault in this tasty dish.
Blood Sausage with Potato Bilini, Duck Egg, Truffles, Roasted Tomato, and Hollandaise
This was one of my favorite dishes of the night. The blood sausage was astounding on it's own. The potato blini added the comforting flavor of mashed potatoes in an elegant fashion. As I have stated before in this blog, "Does a runny egg ever fail to delight? I don't think so.". The luxurious addition of the black truffles gave this dish a depth of flavor.
Virgin Bloody Mary
A Virgin Bloody Mary was spiced accordingly and well suited for the "breakfast" course.
Roasted Foie Gras with Pineapple
Roasted Foie Gras was lush, meaty, and well seared. The savory flavors of the foie were so tasty with the acidic and sweet notes of the pineapple. However I felt as if this dish needed another garnish, something to bring the foie and pineapple together.
This drink was delicious and nothing like the commercial ginger-ale found in supermarkets. The ginger flavor was not over-powering, it was subtle and refreshing.
The lime sorbet was served with the foie gras and helped to balance out the fat from of the foie.
Coconut Linguine with Candied Olives, Coconut Powder, Lime Fluid-Gel, and Roasted Pineapple
I have to say this dish emphasized technique over flavor. Nothing on the plate was offensive, or delicous. The olives were cut too big and tasted pretty weird with a gel and powder of coconut.
Rhubarb Fizz with Strawberry Explosion
Roasted Amish Chicken with Spring Vegetables and Apple Street Farm Maple Sap Nage
This might sound strange, but this chicken tasted like chicken! When you get a great product, like L'espalier does, the flavor is so much stronger than the enemy's (Purdue). The vegetable garnishes were simple and tasty. This was another favorite of the night for it's simplistic deliciousness.
Blood Orange Bubble Tea
Veal Sweetbreads with Confit Ox Tongue, Pickled Shimeji Mushrooms, Fava Beans, Horseradish Cream
This dish was beyond amazing, bordering perfection. Every bite was explosive in flavor. I wanted this dish to last forever, but sadly it couldn't.
Roasted Dry-Aged Lola Duck with Sweet Onions, French Breakfast Radish, and Poached Green Garlic
Oat-Crusted Loin of Lamb with Roasted Garlic, Escargot and Asparagus
A perfectly cooked piece of lamb loin was grassy and moist. The nutty oats brought out a distinct flavor in the lamb that I had never tasted before. This dish was interesting and new. I loved it.
Painted Hills Beef Tenderloin with Chanterelle Puree, King Oyster Mushrooms, Bearnaise, and Crispy Potato
Selection of Nine Cheeses
The highlights on the cheese board were the Azeitao Dop from the Arrabida Mountains, which suprisingly tasted like booze, and the tartufo flavored cheese, which had an intoxicating aroma of truffles.
Raspberry with Sorbet (Forgot Flavor), Dehydrated Pineapple Filled with Granola
Fromage Blanc Curd with Compressed Rhubarb, Strawberry Balsamic Tuile, Pink Peppercorn Sable, Pineapple Sorbet
A common criticism of L'espalier is that it is good for Boston, but not good for New York. I am a huge fan of the NYC dining scene, but I would have to disagree with that statement. My meal at L'espalier was the most consistent meal I had ever had. What I mean by that is that everything was good, there were no major flaws.
I left L'espalier happy and stuffed. It was one of the best meals of my life, and I look foward to coming back.
Thank you so much for your review - I so appreciate a active diner who chooses share their experiences. When I reread your post (and I will), I'll have questions re preparation and other flavor/texture presentations.
Your review is both detailed and concise - beautiful. And it left me with more questions and a desire to revisit the restaurant.
I hope the rest of your trip was as interesting.
I'm intrigued by the number of and ordering of the courses. You seem to get to pudding/dessert about half way through (coconut dish, sorbet), but then it goes all savoury again before you end up with cheese, more sorbet, more cheese, then more sorbet before finishing!
Is that really how it went? And how long did the meal take?
The meal took a little over 3 hours and is in the sequence listed above. The dessert mid courses were there to refresh your palate for the upcoming meat courses. I did not order any courses I let the chef cook for me. I have to admit there was a lot of sorbet and pineapple on the courses that I got.
well teddy, good for you! you persisted in the belief that this was the right place for your blow-out. and you had the fantastic experience you planned for! hooRAY! Sounds like we all gotta get ourselves over there, so thanks so much for the details and the impetus!
Neptune oyster was great. The oysters were awesome and really tasty. The lobster roll was to die for.
Toro was also really good and was really cheap. Heart tacos were delicous and only three dollars. The sea urchin bocadini was tasty, but did not really taste like uni.
I will write more in-detailed posts in the near future.
1704 Washington St, Boston, MA 02118
We were Really underwhelmed by L'Espalier when we were there for dinner over Memorial Day weekend. We had been there previously & were looking forward to the return trip (& yes we had read about the location changes - that was not the problem.)
I would say most things about L'Espalier were mediocre - not awful, but not what one expects from that level restaurant. Service was just OK - & while it may seem superficial, our server had on a suit that was stained & had a button missing. Right at eye level for diners. Again, I think if you dine there you deserve better.
The food was "predictable" - not wonderful. The wine seemed overpriced to us, & we are used to eating at upscale restaurants at major cities.
For a $400 meal for 2 people, I expect a bit of "wow" - & that simply did not happen at any level.
774 Boylston St, Boston, MA 02199
mbooth,your experience is what i would have expected there (save for teddy's recent gala tasting evening ,documented above), but sorry for the disappointment nonetheless. Plse share where in Boston you have been really pleased at that price point? All the better for advising future visitors....
We've had excellent dinners at Mama Maria's and Hammersly's. Wonderful lunch at the top of the Prudential building, but that was awhile ago. Other than that I'd suggest visitors eat low-key in Boston & head on over to Providence, RI or New York City for excellent dining. We just don't find it in Boston.
hmm, i think my taste is quite different from yours.Prov. better than Boston? Hammersley's?I think you have really missed out on some great eating here. Hope you will some day visit and have some wonderful food at:
Island Creek Oyster Bar
Craigie on Main
63 Salem St Ste 1, Boston, MA 02113
134 Hampshire St., Cambridge, MA 02139
Craigie on Main
853 Main Street, Cambridge, MA 02139
354 Congress St, Boston, MA 02210
Island Creek Oyster Bar
500 Commonwealth Ave, Boston, MA 02215
Finally got to try the "new" location on Friday night. I had been to the Gloucester St. version once, and ranked it as best vegetarian meal in Boston by far. Years later we've got a new location and feel for L'Espalier - as well as more competition for high-end vegetarian.
Started off a little worrisome when I was presented with a raw fish amuse just minutes after ordering the vegetable degustation (and telling our server I was pregnant.) Mine was whisked away while my husband enjoyed his. Then the hors d'oeuvres - 2 each of three kinds, one of which was non-veg again, so lucky husband got 4 bites to my 2. Then they brought my amuse. None of this really matters at all - all in all we were very well fed and cared for - but I immediately got the impression that this wasn't the olden days of absolutely impeccable service.
First course a lovely carrot soup over some roasted veg. 2nd course an assiete of vegetables (let's call it a salad - a good one) from Chef McClelland's farm. Our waiter had an unfortunate tendency to point his finger perilously close to the food while describing it. And for some reason all of the servers who described dishes seemed to avoid enunciation - they were hard to understand. 3rd course was my favorite - cauliflower 3 ways. Roasted, steamed into a sort of dumpling/mash, pickled, all with a brown butter foamy sauce. And one delicious, small ravioli, filled with maybe sweet potato or squash. It wasn't mentioned/jabbed at by the waiter, nor did it involve cauliflower, so maybe it fell in from another dish. Anyway, I'm not describing it beautifully, but this felt like the most unique dish of the meal. Next was a mushroom risotto. A very good mushroom risotto, if a bit salty. It's just that the token vegetarian entree at every "nice" restaurant is a mushroom risotto, and I had better memories of L'espalier. I love me a good risotto, but if we are going to be in Italian territory I will always be more impressed by perfect homemade pasta.
This is out of order, but the bread service was nice. Pretzel roll lacked the characteristic bite of pretzel skin but maybe they weren't going for that. The holiday stollen they came around with was actually one of the best bites of the whole night. They're selling whole loaves for 20 or 25$ at the door.
Cheese course. Solid, and accompaniments lovely - but unlike at Menton, I didn't come away scribbling the names down of things I MUST buy look for next time I'm at Formaggio. And some surprisingly similar flavor profiles amidst the selection of 5. Maybe it's because I required pasteurized cheese this visit.
Small palate cleanser dessert was great - the most molecular of the night - gelee, pop rocks, sorbet, celery. Fun and indeed palate cleansing.
Full dessert was ginger ice cream, saffron mousse, a sphere of white chocolate, a tube of milk chocolate and tube of dark chocolate. The elements were all good, but my husband especially was experiencing horizontal plating overload at this point. Have we come too far from 90s sky-high verticality? A blob here, a dab there - it can be tiring to attempt to optimize each bite, to have to think about how to combine the myriad flavors and textures you're presented with. Sometimes, especially at the end of the long meal, you want the chef to take care of that for you.
Also, with two degustations ordered I would consider giving the couple two different desserts.
Despite having a beautiful bouquet with me (go husband!), we weren't asked by our server this time, unlike last, whether we were celebrating a special occasion. A wee bit sad to see them coming by with candles for other anniversary couples. I guess if we really cared about our candles we should have put it in the reservation.
Mignardises good. Best was a white chocolate passion fruit caramel. Others were prettier than they tasted.
In reading this through it makes the experience sound more negative than it was, but that's what sky-high expectations will do, I suppose. For me, Menton now wins best of Boston service and TW Food best of Boston veg tasting menu. L'Espalier is still a total gem, just perhaps not as sparkling as it once was...
774 Boylston St, Boston, MA 02199
wow, what terrific writing. I particularly liked your comments on horizontal plating, and completely agree about the need for 2 separate desserts and more observant and detail oriented service.
I recently watched a dvd ,Danny Meyer-The Restauranteur, which really gave me more of an appreciation for all the details needed to make a 3 or 4 star restaurant.Sounds like they need to see that film.