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Menton, Clio, or Craigie? Tasting menu blow-out for family. Recent expeiences?

Greetings fellow Hounds.

I'm coming to the great city of Boston to visit the Brother and Sister-in-law next month and want to treat them to a blowout tasting menu dinner. They are both professional classical musicians, part time organic gardeners, with two little girls, so they don't get out much for things like this (although they are very well versed in the local restaurant scene and have excellent taste in food and wine). I realize these three restaurants are not the most imaginative choices, but hey, I'm trying to make a statement, and these seem to be the "big three" for this type of thing. Before you start yelling at me and posting links to older threads (most of which I've probably read) I'm wondering if anyone would be willing to offer some fresh insights before I make the reservation. I'm leaning towards cocktails at Drink followed by the full tasting menu with wine pairings at Menton, although I've read they can be a little stuffy (although that was not my experience at No. 9 when I dined there on my last trip). Never been to Clio, which looks really good on paper but I have read multiple times that service and execution of the dishes is fairly inconsistent. Loved my last dinner at Toro, however. Lastly, I've eaten great food at Craigie, even if a couple of the dishes seemed to lack a point of reference, however I was probably seated a bit to close to the kitchen-watching a commis and food runner have their asses handed to them by Chef in the middle of my meal was particularly unsettling, as I work in the hospitality industry myself. L'Espaulier was on the short list after having wonderful snacks in the Salon after passing my Sommelier cert a couple years back, but I've since gotten the impression that the shine is off that penny. Soooo, if anyone has recent experiences at any of these establishment or can provide any additional feedback, I would be very grateful.

A little about me so you know where I'm coming from: worked for that last ten years in the wine biz in Napa (so wine program is an important consideration), currently working as a waiter/som at a restaurant in southern California (so professional service without attitude is preferable) and goes without saying my expectations of the food is very high. Have dined at most of the major restaurants on the west coast multiple times (TFL, Clio, Provenance, Sirus, Campton Place when Daniel Humm was at the helm, etc.) and I recognize Boston takes it's food very seriously, so as I said, expectations are very high. As an aside, very much looking forward to meals at Salts and Bondir on this trip as well, maybe even more than the above, just so you know I'm not star-struck.

I apologize in advance for the length of this post. I look forward to hearing from you all.


p.s. Is Shad Roe still available in April???

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  1. Er, that is recent experiences . . .duh.

    1. Er, uh, and that's Coi, on the west coast, not Clio. I really should have proof read this . . .heh

      1 Reply
      1. re: gueuleton

        The tasting menu with wine pairings at Menton is extraordinary.

      2. If wine and food is that important, I think Troquet is your best choice. The tasting menu is outstanding and nobody in the city can touch their wine list.

        4 Replies
        1. re: csammy

          Ditto on Troquet, although I don't think you would go wrong at Clio either. Both compare well foodwise with Coi and Providence imo. Service is probably more professional at Clio than Troquet and food a bit more edgy. Cocktail program is very strong at Clio, weak at Troquet, if that's a consideration. Clio also offers tasting menus with more courses, if you like variety.

          1. re: barleywino

            I think the food at Coi is better than anything in Boston. I did the full tasting menu at Coi and it was extraordinary. I thought the food was better tasting than Alinea's. However Alinea had more inventive presentations of the dishes, extraordinary wine pairings for the high end wine pairing option (85 Dominus, 06 Grand Cru Burgundy, etc.), and stellar service. With more polished service, Coi could garner three Michelin stars in my opinion.

            I love Troquet and it's wine list with depth, age, and bargains. Chris, the owner, is a true wine pro and acts as the sommelier.

            1. re: KevinJF

              I think Alinea is in a separate category-- food that is fun to experience once perhaps for the novelty and creativity, but not a place I would come back to on the basis of taste, unlike places like Troquet or Clio.

              1. re: barleywino

                I agree on Alinea, but worth every penny once.

        2. Clio a true disappointment.

          I would favor Troquet. The food is simply awesome, and the wines to die for. Chris is a great guy.

          6 Replies
          1. re: aadesmd

            The enthusiasm for Troquet has piqued my interest. I have to say I have heard many good things. The current menu, as posted on line, seems well constructed, even as it leans on the conservative side. The by the glass list (alas, the full wine list is not printed) certainly contains some classics (although I am always skeptical when I see wines such as Krug and Yquem by the glass-how many $40-$70 pours do they really go through in an evening to guarantee it is in pristine condition?) as well as some of my personal faves (Dr. Loosen, Tres Picos, Ruinart, Ponzi, Sinskey). However, some of the btg pours also range from the tasty but boring (at least to me . . . Guigal CdR, Volver Temperanillo, Momo SB) to the downright questionable (again, to me-Hess, Sebastiani, Roth, Grand Cru). I know it is unfair and impossible to pass judgement from afar, so I will be making an effort to check the place out at some point . . . anyone else care to chime in? This has all been helpful thus far.

            1. re: gueuleton

              As an aside, agree with Kevin, Coi in SF is a truly remarkable American restaurant, intellectually compelling, experimental yet fundamentally earthy, far more so it would seem than the fantasia of Mr. Achatz's Alinea (haven't been there yet but would love too, looks like a helluva lot of fun). It seems to me that New England would be the perfect home for a restaurant with Coi's (or, say, Noma's) approach to regionalism in modern cuisine. I always get very excited to cook when I head to the North East-the seasonality and plethora of regional ingredients get the tail wagging and the mouth watering. Ok, back to the subject at hand . . .

              1. re: gueuleton

                When I did the tasting at Coi it did not seem as experimental as Clio (or say Manresa) but this was some years ago so they may have upped their game since then, as Craigie seems to have done (slightly) since winning the Beard award

              2. re: gueuleton

                Email me at flemingkevin@hotmail.com if you want to see the Troquet bottle list. I have the list from November, but it changes often.

                1. re: gueuleton

                  My dissenting view: I think of Troquet as a place to go when you really want to drink some great old wine and don't much care what you are eating. The wine list is very deep, very impressive, and well priced. The food is BORING. Obviously just my opinion.
                  Craigie is great, their tasting menu dazzling and delicious, and their wine list is well-chosen and well-matched to the food, though mostly young.
                  O Ya is another good choice at this level for a tasting meal, if you're willing to drink good sake instead of wine. (They have wine, but I can't see drinking it with their food.)

                  1. re: jajjguy

                    I agree. I was totally unimpressed with the food menu at Troquet. The wine list was really impressive. If you're a wine-nerd, it's definitely worth a visit. Food wise it just was kinda boring.

              3. Has L'Espalier fallen so far off the map in its second life as hotel restaurant that it's not even mentioned in a thread like this? L'Espalier tasting menu is still the best meal I have ever had in Boston, although that was in the old townhouse.

                Any recent great experiences?

                3 Replies
                1. re: tamerlanenj

                  I prefer L'Espailer to Menton or Clio, but they are all very good. Clio service can't touch Menton or L'Espailer and sometimes they rely too hevily on trickery (e.g. liquid nitrogen). Menton food is great, but I feel like I am in a funeral home when I'm there. I'm heading to Craige for the tasting in a few weeks, but can't comment on the tasting yet. Troquet, although good, is not the right place for the meal you are describing. While it has a great wine collection (although I wonder if the old Federalist collection in the bottom of Mooo is better), it isn't trying to be a truly special gastronomic experience. If I were truly trying to impress, I would sit at the chef's table at L'Espailer (not the hermetically sealed fish bowl at Menton) and let them know you want to try some exciting things... or I would go to O ya.

                  1. re: ScotchandSirloin

                    I concur with your assessment ScotchandSirloin. I would not send an out of towner looking for a meal in the same league as the ones the OP mentioned to Troquet. Yes, it's a great wine list, but it's not like L'Espalier, Menton, Clio, Craigie only serve Charles Shaw by the carafe. The OP is a sommelier and I'm sure can make a great pick regardless of which of these restaurants they are at.

                    The service and dining room at Troquet is not at the level of the others. I can't imagine TFL, Coi, Fleur de Lys, Manresa or other high end American restaurants seating you at a banquet (Yes, obviously this is a different story in Europe). Further, the service at Troquet is not at the same level as Menton/L'Espalier. Troquet is a great restaurant but it is definitely not top top tier and considering that our top top tier restaurants (Menton, L'Espalier, Craigie, Clio) already are a notch below the best of New York or San Fran (in my opinion, and anyone is free to disagree with me) I wouldn't recommend dropping two notches to a level like Troquet for a blow-out dinner.

                    Considering your past experiences at Craigie and the fact that its dining room is less formal than the other three, and considering that your guests will be organic gardeners and may appreciate more classical preparations of quality vegetables to modernist techniques (Clio), I'd say that either Menton or L'Espalier would be your best bets.

                    As an aside, I ate at Salts last week and really enjoyed it. The place is very influenced by Keller and TFL and the food was wonderful. Classic French techniques fused with the tiniest bit of modernist techniques that never distracted from the beautiful refined simplicity of many of the dishes. My only complaint was the wine list was over-priced and had only a single bottle (a rosé) below $55 which I find inconsiderate for a service-oriented restaurant. I remember eating at Del Posto last year and being floored that their list had 50 bottles under $50 and a number of them under $30. If I had my way of course I would be spending $200 a bottle every time I go out to dinner, but some restaurants need to be realistic that many of us love wine but aren't on expense accounts.

                  2. re: tamerlanenj

                    I for one had a fabulous tasting at L'Espalier with my sister a few weeks ago, so I would not hesitate to recommend the place for anyone who wants to a memorable meal. I don't drink but had several delicious juice pairings, but my sister was able to enjoy a glass of beautiful wine. Ironically neither of us are big cheese people, so their cheese plate was probably the one part of the meal where we were not overly excited for, but I can't deny that how they presented it and their selection was very well done, but it didn't convert either of us a into stinky cheese lover.

                  3. I love Craigie but if you are going for the blowout tasting menu experience I'd go with Menton. The food is superb, the wine pairings are really interesting (I'm sure as a wine person you'll be impresssed), and the service is amazing. We expected a stuffy vibe the first time we went but did not get it at all - they are all about making you comfortable. I felt like royalty eating there, and not in a "embarrassed to be treated so well" way.

                    Also, if you're really into the wine, Craigie doesn't do per-course pairings. They will certainly work with you to bring you appropriate wine throughout the meal, but it won't have the same care as a true pre-thought-out food/wine pairing for every course.

                    1. I've always wondered if the answer to this question (or other questions like this) is partly generational. As a 29 year old, I have absolutely zero desire to eat at Menton. That stuffy, and quite formal atmosphere, just isn't fun to those in my peer group. It's the same reason I'll never eat in the Clio dining room again (I am quite fond of the cocktails). Despite the "you're lucky to be eating here" attitude that many feel at Craigie, I've never left saying that I didn't have fun.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: mkfisher

                        Even though I outage you by nearly 20 years, i too am not a fan of the "stuffy" atmosphere, and wasn't looking forward to wearing a jacket for dinner, but they have the very best service I've ever received in Boston, and the food was fabulous. As for the OP, I think either Troquet, or Craigie would do the best, with better wine at Troquet, better food and cocktails at Craigie (not that I dislike the food at Troquet).

                        1. re: mkfisher

                          Possibly, but as a 26 year old who enjoys the formality of very high end restaurants and getting dressed up for them accordingly, I don't know if it is always a generational thing. I enjoy formality because it makes the experience feel all that much more special. If I'm paying a lot for a dinner, I want it to feel like a different atmosphere than the neighborhood restaurant. On the other hand, I love Strip T's which is no-frills atmosphere and fantastic food. For me it depends on what I'm in the mood for but I do love both. I have friends though like you mkfisher, who despise formal restaurants either based on a bad experience or just on the fact that they don't like them.

                          I think the biggest challenge is that how welcoming, warm, and friendly the service at a restaurant is is separated from how formal it is, but people often think, or have an anecdotal experience based on a bad server, that they are correlated. I've had a lot of fun and laughs at Le Bernadin with a staff that was engaged and responded to the mood we were in (and I would consider that a very formal and often cited as a "stuffy" restaurant). On the other side I've had very unwelcoming service at much more modest restaurants or mid-high tier restaurants who somehow think snobbery equates with formality which is a shame. With the downward trend of formal high end eats and the upward trend of high end yet casual restaurants, it's clear though that somewhere along the way the idea of "service" was lost and turned off people and that's too bad.

                        2. while i regularly eat at Troquet due to the fantastic and relatively (being the operative word) inexpensive wine list, i think that the food is merely very good. The wines have always been in good though Chris buys from cellars and auction so you cannot guarantee the condition. You are not going to be eating 3 star michellin food. So, if wine is your thing, then it is my favorite place in boston. However, i have a good cellar so am a big fan of places such as 11 Madison that have BYOB policies.

                          I also to eat at Craigie, and like the food, though the wine selection is nothing special.

                          i never drank a wine that i found tasty but boring.

                          1. Have dined at (and greatly enjoyed) all three. In my mind, if money's no object and you're looking for something formal, Menton is by far the best restaurant in Boston.

                            13 Replies
                            1. re: Josh M

                              I wouldn't call Menton formal in the classic French, tuxedoed waiter kind of way. You could wear a jacket, no tie and would not feel underdressed. I found the service very warm and engaged. Our female sommelier took great pains to explain the wine pairings, offering tastes of others off the menu. The tasting menu was over the top--the bone marrow after the lamb was gilding the lily. The atmosphere is luxurious in a contemporary way--a Californian might appreciate it more than someone used to the more traditional decor of a Louis the umpteenth palace.

                              1. re: whs

                                Agreed that Menton could hardly be considered stuffy or old-fashioned.

                                I think both Menton and Clio are at the top of their game lately. The wine list at Menton is among the most interesting in town, and the staff (not just the sommelier) know it inside and out.

                                I enjoy Troquet, but I think the restaurant isn't in the same league as the three the OP named. Not even close.

                                I think O Ya is on par with Menton, and even if you're not into their superb sake list, the wine list is well curated and well-tuned to the stellar food (I am fond of ordering a bottle of fine white Châteauneuf-du-Pape there...).

                                  1. re: Jolyon Helterman

                                    off to Clio tonight. Relying on you JH! fingers crossed!

                                    1. re: opinionatedchef

                                      well, that was a MAAAAJOR disappointment. On all fronts.Cannot tell you how worthless it was compared to a really opposite and wonderful experience at Island Creek Oyster Bar last night. I'll write them both up at some point, but suffice it to say that I would never send anyone to Clio now, and we will not be returning. Major food and esp. service problems, plus a TERRible room (blah, physically awkward and major loud.) If Clio is now 'at the top of its game' then i cannot imagine what it was like before.

                                      gueuleton, have you come to boston yet? if not, Don't go to Clio. Or if yes, where did you dine?

                                      1. re: opinionatedchef

                                        Hmmmph. I was looking forward to trying Clio at some point this spring or summer, but... I await your review with bated breath, Opinionatedchef, as I've come to hold your opinion in as high a regard as most anyone on this board. L'Espalier-as-hotel-dining hasn't increased my interest in returning there (a couple of special occasions in the 90's), and Craigie strikes me as more casual than I prefer for such a price point. I think I've been as intrigued by Asana and TW Food as nearly any other restaurant in town, for my next "fancy" meal out (although neither seems to pop up much here on CH as compared to some others, and I worry TW might fall into the "too casual" category as well). Would that qualify as your vote for Menton, as your choice for "one night only/special occasion" dinner in BOS?

                                        1. re: BrettLove

                                          well gosh, brett, i'm much more used to getting CH bashed, so i am really glad that my writing has been helpful for you. and i will write in detail soon. But i've never been to menton; we almost took our visitors there last night, and now i wish we had.

                                        2. re: opinionatedchef

                                          I can relate to this. Of all the "higher" end places I've tried in the last six months, the one I keep returning to is ICOB and when I've had important dinners (friends coming in from out of town that I want to make sure have a great time) ICOB just knocks it out of the park and the check ends up being less.

                                          I look forward to hearing about your Clio experience.

                                          1. re: opinionatedchef

                                            @opinionatedchef: Sorry you had a bad experience—maybe it was an off night? I'm especially sorry, given that my recommendation may have figured in to your decision to give it a try. I will add your experience as yet another data point in my views about the place.

                                            That said, I'd be hesitant to become a zealous detractor of the restaurant after only one disappointing meal there. Clio has validly earned its way into the pantheon of Boston's top restaurants (whatever they think of the current incarnation, you won't find many people who will deny that, at least...). For that reason, categorically steering people—especially out-of-towners—away from the place seems a little unfairly harsh to me. Especially given your loyal following ’round these parts! :-)

                                            1. re: Jolyon Helterman

                                              jolyon, unfortunately, this was one of those (need good expression here)loser meals where not one piston fired, and i will not return there. Just too expensive to risk it again. I am sure you have had an experience like that. i will write it up before long. It will be titled something like "All the Things That Disappointed Me About Clio". Unless a visitor specifically asks about clio, i won't bash it. I have simply removed it from my list of recommended spots. besides, i'm just a drop in the ocean and am not going to affect the fortunes of this busy place.

                                              1. re: opinionatedchef

                                                Gotcha on the too-expensive-to-risk part, and yes, I've had meals like that, unfortunately. :(

                                                Looking forward to reading your blow-by-blow report.

                                                1. re: Jolyon Helterman

                                                  My memory of Clio is being seated at a booth and having a slow leak dripping from somebody's bathtub upstairs onto my dining companion's jacket. Their reaction was to laugh and move us to another table--no apology and nothing offered. Not even to pay the dry cleaning bill. The sea urchin cotellete was delicious, but nothing else sticks.

                                        3. re: Jolyon Helterman

                                          troquet is great for wine with some food to accompany it.

                                    2. Thank you all for the comments, they were a tremendous help. With only a hint of trepidation, the deal is sealed for Menton. Will happily post a full and detailed report for the rest of the pack. Actually was considering blowing all of my original targets off and simply hitting Salts and Bondir on consecutive nights (because I love tiny restaurants that try really hard, like the one I work at) but due to baby-sitting restraints etc chose to roll the dice with Menton and Drink, betting on their recent induction to R&C to still hold weight and the enthusiasm of the staff. Fingers crossed folks, fingers crossed.

                                      Few thoughts to close this thread, in short form.

                                      Wines can be tasty, yet boring in the context of a restaurant meal. I'd pound (and have) a bottle of Guigal CdR any day at home while whipping up a batch of lamb shanks. When I go out, I hope for a surprise (used to taste 700 wines a month as a wine buyer in Napa, so yeah, I'm a little jaded).

                                      As far as the "formal" dining vs, more "casual" dining conundrum being a generational issue, well, I think not. My Dad loathes suit and tie restaurants. I, on the other hand, like to wear a suit and tie and participate in the interactive theater of "fine" dining. To each their own. I am obviously happy if the quality of food goes up if more and more people become discerning about what they eat. But there will never be a substitute for more formal establishments, IMHO. I've been gate crashing them since I was in my early twenties. But I am not that much older than MKF in the scheme of things, certainly not of another generation. I just went to see my best friends speed-metal band last night for Chissakes, and I was wearing a black blazer at that event, too.

                                      You are all wonderful and I'll let you know how things went.


                                      1. RE: Shad roe, looking on the web the festivals begin in mid April down south and extend through May on the Hudson.




                                        1. I know this is late but the last time I ate at Menton, I found 3 of the dishes in the tasting menu to be so salty as to be inedible. I have never had a bad experience at L'espalier.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: demonachizer

                                            man o man, for that $, i sure hope you sent them back. I'm a firm believer that returning inedible food is a very good thing: helps the kitchen improve, and helps the next diners. But yes, it can certainly be awkward for the diner.