L’Espalier – Boston

May 31, 2007

As our time in Boston winds down, Karyn and I have created a list of the Boston restaurants that we have always wanted to go to but haven’t made it to yet. On top of that list was L’Espalier, with its renowned tasting menu. And so on May 19, 2007 we went there for dinner.

While perusing the menu online we noticed two tasting menus, the Spring Menu ($94) and the Chef’s Tasting Journey ($175). Since the Chef’s Tasting did not have a separate section explaining the additional cost for wine (the Spring Menu did) I assumed that the priced included the wine, sadly this was a costly rookie mistake that I should have realized. When the bill arrived I found out the vintner’s wine pairing for the Journey menu was an additional $125. While the pairing was expensive it was wonderful, containing a wide selection of interesting, high-quality wines. 

copy-of-img_0036jpg-2.jpgKaryn and I were greeted at the door by a friendly hostess who introduced us to the maitre d’hôtel. We were seated against a sidewall with a view out of the bay windows overlooking Commonwealth Avenue. The table was small and intimate with one yellow tulip in a simple glass vase. After we were settled a waitress asked if we would like an aperitif; we took her recommendation, a rosé champagne that was very good. As an hors d’oeuvre we were served a smoked salmon Napoleon. 

As Karyn and I were the second couple in the restaurant, we noticed that there was no music, which made the silences when neither table was talking a tad strange. As other people arrived, we noticed an unusual occurrence in the United States, everyone was very well dressed; there wasn’t a single man without a jacket & tie and the women were dressed in the finest of clothes.  

As an amuse bouche, we were brought smoked squid over couscous; some vinaigrette had also been drizzled on the plate. 



The first course was brought to the table in what looked like two Chinese soup spoons; one spoon contained a yellowfin tuna carpaccio with uni, daikon, and green almond and the other a plump wellfleet oyster with lemon curd. The wine to pair with the dish was Whitehaven Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand. As you can imagine, the oyster and lemon curd went very well together but the tuna carpaccio went all wrong. The bitter green almond and rich uni did nothing for the carpaccio and did not go well with the wine. A better pairing would have been to serve the tuna with a tropical fruit coulee which would have brought out the sweet richness of the tuna and played off the lush flavors of the Whitehaven.



Next was lobster that had been poached in butter, roasted tomatillos and eggplant topped with Sevruga caviar. The wine that was paired with it was a Sylvaner from Alsace. I had never had Sylvaner and found it very soft and a bit too subtle for my taste or the dish it was paired with. 

Next was poached sturgeon with white Sevruga caviar and chanterelle mushrooms. This dish was paired with a White Burgundy from Macon Cruzille that was particularly complex and minerally.



My favorite dish of the night, as well as the most interesting wine, came next. Foie gras and cocoa is not a combination I have had before but now is one that I intend to have anytime I see it on a menu. The seared foie was laid on top of a sable of cocoa that was just sweet enough to bring out the chocolaty flavor but still remain a bit bitter. The richness of the liver and the bitter sweetness of the chocolate really went well together, quite innovative. A small mound of rhubarb made another interesting combination with the foie gras and cocoa. The wine was another daring combination, a Greek wine, a 2004 Grand Cru Muscat from the island of Samos, the only wine from outside of France to have a French appellation. The flavor was sauternes-like but with a bit more acidity. 



The next dish was a duck confit served with perfectly made tagliatelle in a duck broth; it was very complex. Truffles were layered into the pasta adding to this dish’s already earthy tones. Paired with this was a 1999 Grand Cru Burgundy from Gambal. I enjoyed the wine greatly, but thought it could have used some more backbone and earthiness to stand up to the food; perhaps a Cote Rôtie or Hermitage would have been better. 



Next was a loin of lamb and a rosemary polenta with a Saint Joseph syrah. 



The last meat dish was a large lamb chop with lamb offal on the side. At this point Karyn and I were so full of wine and food we were trying to power through the remaining dishes. The chop was definitely too big for an 8th course. The wine was a Stuhlmuller Cabernet from Alexander Valley that was big and spicy, just the way I like wine with seared meat.  



A selection of fine cheeses was served with a Tawny port from Australia, with the cheeses we were given a sheet of paper that described each cheese in detail and had the price per pound if we wanted to purchase some of the cheese to take home. The selling of cheese was handled delicately and didn’t feel awkward at all. The port had deep prune and raison tones, but still retained a bit of brightness that allowed it to go with the remaining dessert dishes.  

copy-of-img_0037jpg-1.jpgThe first dessert was a lemon-vanilla curd with blueberries and mint.  



The final dessert was my favorite: a chocolate brownie and raspberries with a very strong stripe of raspberry puree underneath; a strawberry sorbet with fresh strawberries; vanilla whipped cream and caramel.  

The meal was hands down the best (and the most expensive) I have ever had in the US. The service was perfect. Karyn and I asked many questions about ingredients and every member of the staff knew exactly what the ingredients were and some background about them. The entire staff also seemed to be trained on each wine, which we found particularly impressive. 

If Karyn and I were going to L’Espalier again, we would do the seasonal tasting as opposed to the Chef’s Journey, but if you are only going to go to L’Espalier once, and have a huge appetite for food and wine, the big menu is an amazing experience.


Contributed by Blair

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