Friday, December 28, 2007

The Mystique of Mistral

Would Mistral, located on Columbus Avenue in Boston’s chic South End district, live up to its lofty reputation as one of the city’s trendiest, tastiest, and most expensive dining destinations? That was the question du jour for this reviewer, who was calmly prepared to drop over $200 for a meal allegedly suited for a king (well, it better be). As part of a formidable culinary quintet under the aptly named Commonwealth Restaurant Group (which includes elite eateries Teatro, Sorellina, Mooo, and the newly added L’Andana in Burlington, MA), chef/owner Jamie Mammano’s Mistral has just concluded its first decade-long run in Boston. In light of its notoriously renowned exorbitant prices, Mistral’s longevity has often been attributed to Mammano’s ability to create consistently delectable French Mediterranean fare for a hip (and wealthy) clientele. The term Mistral signifies ‘a dry, cold northerly wind that blows in squalls toward the Mediterranean coast of southern France.’ Would Paul’s Palate be ‘blown’ away by Mistral’s grandeur or would he wish he hadn’t ‘blown’ away his well-earned money on his meal there?

Mistral’s ambience is indeed a beautiful, sweeping accomplishment to behold. You feel like hip royalty (think Sofia Coppola’s recent film version of Marie Antoinette) upon entering its doors. On Mistral’s website, its interior is described as heavily influenced by the ethereal landscape of Provence in southern France. From its hand-picked French pottery, high ceilings, and arch terra cotta floor to ceiling windows, this bistro masterfully meshes French tranquility and regality with Bostonian modernism and sophistication. Tall cypress trees provide a convenient, scenic partition between Mistral’s chic, expansive lounge/bar (seating 40 patrons) and its dramatic main dining area (seating 140). It doesn’t hurt matters that the building’s acoustics actually enable me to conduct a meaningful, even comprehensible conversation with my wife. Paul’s Palate even tries to discreetly determine if Mistral falls victim to the dreaded breadcrumb virus that periodically breaks out at some of the city’s other restaurants, but alas, there is not a morsel to be found in this pristine establishment.

Subtract the stuffiness and arrogance one might think universally accompanies this type of atmosphere, add a hint of casualness, and this is what makes Mistral so refreshingly inviting for first-timers such as myself. Everything about this restaurant implies, “Sure, you’ll be emptying out your wallet this evening, but we sincerely welcome you here and hope to see you again soon.”

Our server arrives, and he is genial, knowledgeable, witty, and attentive all at once, which is no small feat. He applauds our audacity to sample the most adventurous of appetizers from the menu. One such selection, a sushi tuna tartare with crispy wontons, is lusciously soft and packs a potent kick given its submersion in a zingy ginger and soy sauce (or perhaps this could be attributed to my consumption of a unique, but lively pear/ginger martini?). The other: seared foie gras with a confit of duck in brioche. The succulent meat of the duck is perfectly accentuated by a sweet-tangy tart Wisconsin cherry reduction, enough so that I found the brioche to be superfluous to the dish. So far, so good, and away on to the entrees we go.

Although I express some reluctance in ordering the half ‘whole roasted’ duck given my previous, albeit delicious, encounter with this pheasant in the form of the foie gras, our server assures me that the former dish is distinct enough to warrant a gander (no pun intended). Gobble, gobble, indeed: although this particular duck possesses the same moistness of its fowl predecessor, it contains a sprinkle of mild cranberry gastrique so as not to make the dish overpoweringly sweet. Its skin is buttery and smooth, atypical of the crunchy, tasteless covering that typically surrounds this type of bird. Underneath the duck lies a superlative wild mushroom risotto, undeniably the best Paul’s Palate has ever consumed. Unlike most risotto, which is pasty in texture and heavy on the stomach, this concoction is light, yet hearty, and plenty flavorful (the sweet mushrooms take center stage). I would have been more than content spending my entire evening wolfing down this miraculous side dish. Neither does my wife’s roasted rack of Colorado lamb disappoint. Three ‘ginormous’ (yes, they’re that large) are playfully presented atop - what else – that unforgettable mushroom risotto, and prove to be meaty, fatless, and perfectly cooked. Chef Mammano’s cuisine has thus far left a most positive imprint.

Desserts provide a saccharinely sensational conclusion to the evening. My wife’s eyeballs immediately shoot skyward upon delving into a rich, dense Belgian chocolate sorbet. Where else but here would such a rare sorbet be offered to the dairy-deficient masses? My warm apple tart with maple walnut ice cream, albeit simple in presentation, is the ultimate comfort food. The sweet and sour flavored theme that worked to perfection with the aforementioned foie gras reappears here with equally striking success.
Let me be frank: Paul’s Palate immensely enjoyed Mistral, enough so, perhaps, so as to place this esteemed establishment on his top five all-time favorites list. In fact, I can’t wait to go back there. Wait, let me re-phrase that: my empty wallet prohibits me from doing so. Let’s do the math: appetizers average $16-$18, entrees between $35-$40, and desserts at $10. Tack on a couple of cocktails ($12 apiece) and customary $15 valet parking, and your tab soars well north of $200. That’s a hefty price to pay for near perfection, to which Mistral comes awfully close. Looking for that romantic dining spot to celebrate a special occasion? Certainly. A return affair, however? Only if you’re buying, my dear friends. I believe Mastercard said it best: ‘the cost of a wonderfully prepared gourmet meal: $200; the mortified expression on your face having perused your ridiculously expensive bill: priceless.’

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Spanish Inquisition

When Paul’s Palate is invited to a cordial after-work Holiday party, he finds himself transformed into a latter-day Ebenezer Scrooge. “Bah hum-bug,” I say, to overrated holiday spirit and hopes for a bright new year. But when this invitation is accompanied by the words ‘…at one of Rhode Island’s nicest restaurants,’ well, his interest, and taste buds immediately awaken. The restaurant in question: Spain, a decorous outfit situated on busy Route 2 in Cranston, RI, whose ‘authentic’ Spanish cuisine supposedly has local food aficionados in the Ocean State swimming with praise. Would Paul’s Palate find himself swept along in this tide of superlatives or would he end up drowning in negativity?

As far as ambience goes, Spain has oodles of it, if not an excess of it. Despite being cramped in alongside bustling Route 2 and having a shockingly limited amount of parking for such a large establishment, it is evident that Spain desperately wants customers to feel as if they have been whisked away into the streets of Madrid. From its glamorous courtyard dining area, to a posh bar, to segmented rooms on a luxurious second floor, however, the term ‘authentic’ does not exactly spring to mind. Having traveled across this bucolic country several years ago, Paul’s Palate recalls how this region prides itself in its simplicity and graciousness (more on that later). Spain (the restaurant), however, seems to find itself caught in an identity crisis: from its marble tiles to its backlit bar to its ‘I’m cooler than you’ll ever be’ staff, this establishment speaks in a foreign tongue. Spain can’t decide if it’s better to dine in a tranquil Spanish garden or a more elaborate upscale, gourmet setting, so it bafflingly elects to be both.

While the food at Spain rates as certainly above average, the menu offerings do not yell out authentic Spanish fare. Spain half-heartedly gets things right with such side dishes as esparragos a la vinagreta (imported Spanish white asparagus topped with olive oil and shaved vinaigrette), grilled smoked chorizo (Spanish sausage), and gazpacho. Other dishes, however, are just plain insulting in terms of their categorization as Spanish fare: Picasso and Spain salads are nothing more than seasonal lettuce sprinkled with olive oil dressing and Gorgonzola cheese. And what gives with Spain’s insistence to stuff anything in everything with shrimp, scallops, and crabmeat, such as mushroom caps, and vieras rellenas (stuffed scallops)? Surely, Picasso (the late, great Spanish artist) would be rolling in his grave at such non-traditional nonsense. Other appetizers, such as calamari, jumbo shrimp cocktail, and clam casino are certainly not Spanish delicacies. Bring on some tapas, demands this confounded critic, but sadly, there are none of these tiny, tasty regional specialties to be had. To make matters worse, the white sangria, a mix of orange juice and white wine, lacks the customary zip that Paul’s Palate expects from this typically potent beverage.

The entrees, in all fairness, appear to be more successful in their attempt to re-create the Spanish fare I’ve come to know and love. Dishes such as veal Jerez (veal filets sauteed with asparagus, spinach, imported prosciutto, and provolone in a light Jerez sherry sauce), solomillo del cerdo (pork tenderloin with a port wine wild berry shitake mushroom sauce), camarones diablo (shrimp prepared in a Romano tomato with an herb spice sauce) and paella marinera (shellfish baked in saffron rice) all sound appetizing. Our server confidently recommends the veal Spain, which consists of a provimi veal loin chop with – you guessed it – lobster, crabmeat, smoked ham, Castilian cheese, and topped with a mushroom Malaga wine sauce. The impressive presentation of this dish is eye-popping, for sure, and the sheer enormity of the loin chop instantly brings this image to mind: Fred Flintstone’s car topping over upon ordering his gigantic order of brontosauras ribs. The meat is succulent enough, but would it hurt the chef to err on the side of simplicity, not excess? There’s too much filler in the meat. Paul’s Palate would be content with lobster, crabmeat, or ham with his veal, but digesting all three makes him nauseous.

Speaking of wave-inducing nausea, Paul’s Palate finds the much-heralded level of service at Spain intolerable. While it is universally acknowledged that Spain (the country) prides itself on conducting meals at a leisurely pace, Spain (the restaurant) serves its meals at that of a snail’s. Our main server appears to be indifferent, if not downright rude to our table. It seems as if an hour has passed by before he takes our order, and he abruptly delegates the remainder of the meal to a group of servers. While these waiters are more attentive to our needs, there is a lack of continuity to the meal that that detracts from what should be a memorable dining experience. While Paul’s Palate is delighted to bite into homemade banana bread pudding, topped with a creamy vanilla-raspberry sauce, as the evening’s finale, the damage has already been done and, I’m afraid, is irreparable.

Although value is considered more than fair, with appetizers averaging $9 and most entrees ranging between $15-$22, overall Spain rates poorly given its lack of (or, dare I say, warped sense of) authentic Spanish atmosphere and cuisine. A lackluster, pretentious level of service does not help matters. Where’s the 'amor (love),' you ask? Paul’s Palate recommends seeking it out in the real Spain, not at this imposter of a fine dining establishment.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Stella Finds Its Groove

Would Stella, a swanky new addition to the South End’s “restaurant row” situated on Washington Street, live up to its billing? After all, an inordinate amount of praise has been heaped upon this establishment, whose trendy ambience and Italian fare have allegedly made this one of Boston’s new dining hotspots. Would Paul’s Palate, like the late Marlon Brando in “A Streetcar Named Desire,” scream aloud Stella’s name in the form of superlatives or shame?

‘Chic’ is the first word that immediately comes to mind upon entering Stella’s pristine interior. Its main dining area is quite large (seats 60) and extends from front-to-back, and if you loop around by the busy kitchen, you’ll find a hidden treasure buried nearby: a smaller, more intimate private room (seats 50) directly overlooking both busy Washington Street and Stella’s seasonal terrazino (an outdoor patio which seats 50 more patrons!). Stella’s all-white interior, dimmed lighting, and illuminated bar create a sleek, modern vibe that is undeniably intoxicating. I half-heartedly expect some type of celebrity to walk into the room at any moment.

This is not to say that Stella’s atmosphere does not have its shortcomings. For one, Paul’s Palate nearly resorts to shouting in order to maintain any semblance of conversation given the poor acoustics, even in the private room. Despite Stella’s painstakingly complex interior design, the plastic wavy white chairs at our table are a fashion monstrosity, if not downright humorous. Lastly, we almost miss the restaurant itself given its lack of exterior lighting and signage. Noise factors aside, most of these minor flaws appear easily correctible.

Fortunately for us, my wife recognizes Stella’s Executive Chef, Robin King, as an acquaintance of hers. Mr. King is outgoing, energetic, and most importantly, both knowledgeable and passionate about the food he prepares. He later arrives at out table and shares with us his favorite dishes on the menu that evening.

The assortment of antipasti from which we choose is both unique and delicious. We begin with crispy fried artichoke hearts, which are playfully served on a narrow plate, and sit atop creamy, zesty country mustard remoulade. I would be more than happy to simply nibble on these tasty tidbits all evening long, but I remind myself that there is much more in store for the remainder of the meal. King also highly recommends the tuna tartare with fried eggs, to which Paul’s Palate responds with slight apprehension given his lack of exposure to raw tuna. One bite of this dish, however, and his tastebuds sing. This most certainly is a winning dish, and makes me want to run into the kitchen and thank Robin for his spot-on suggestion.

As if he were reading my mind, Mr. King brings out a couple of complimentary appetizers to our table. Of the two dishes, the grilled ‘pizze’ with Quattro funghi, shiitake mushrooms, crimini, oyster, and white truffle oil is my least favorite. It is surprisingly bland and lacks the crispness previously relayed to us by Robin. The marinated beet salad, however, served with goat cheese, champagne vinaigrette, and a crunchy crostini, is a marvel of a dish. This salad, along with the tuna tartare, is the last thing Paul’s Palate would ever consider ordering from the menu. Mr King and his diverse menu have miraculously, as the Monkees’ hit song goes, transformed me into a believer.

Pasta dishes are equally delectable. My hearty homemade spaghetti, although a simple dish, is perfectly cooked al dente, and possesses several layers of complexity in flavor, with its toasted garlic, olive oil, and parmesan ingredients. My wife’s orecchiette is also tasty, though a tad too spicy for my liking (King himself rates this dish an 8 out of 10 on the spicy scale), with its chile flakes interwoven with sausage and cured tomato. The couple seated across from us is also deeply appreciative of the quality of their meals. On one plate resides Stella homemade gnocchi, which is wonderfully light, packs a potent potato flavor, and is mixed with tomato, basil, and reggiano. On the other rests a succulent lamb shank surrounded by scrumptious mushroom risotto.

For dessert, the apple crostini comes in a light and fluffy pastry, but not surprisingly, the real stars are the apples, which are moist, warm, and lumpy. Might I add that this dish is accompanied by a steamy-sweet caramel sauce for dipping purposes? This sweet symphony proves so heavenly that Paul’s Palate actually passes on vanilla gelato that also accompanies this dessert.

Value-wise, Stella ranks as one of Paul’s Palate’s all-time favorites. There is simply a dearth of high-end gourmet restaurants that offer appetizers averaging $10 and entrees from $14-$26. Given the lack of weight removed from my wallet that night, I didn’t hesitate to surrender $16 for valet parking. Novelist Terry McMillan got it right after all: Stella most certainly has got her groove back, and Paul’s Palate finds this new culinary kid on the block groovy.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Getting Spoiled at L'Espalier

Had Marie Antoinette, the French queen renowned for her extravagant lifestyle centuries ago, survived the guillotine to see L’Espalier, would she flock to eat at this prestigious French dining establishment, which also has been known to demonstrate a flair for the dramatic? After all, Chef/Proprietor Frank McClelland’s restaurant is widely regarded as the most romantic hotspot in all of Boston which boasts arguably the finest modern French cuisine around. In the absence of a time machine in which Paul’s Palate could travel to Versailles and query the Queen directly, he took it upon himself to travel in the present time to Boston and investigate this matter further.

Nestled slightly off of tranquil Gloucester Street (parallel to more bustling Newbury Street) in Boston’s Back Bay, L’Espalier’s sophistication is instantly evident. Beyond a regal-looking iron-gate entrance resides a restored 1880 townhouse in which L’Espalier is embedded. The restaurant’s pristine main dining area overlooks Gloucester Street, and its taupe and cream colored walls and cathedral-like ceiling provide a spacious, yet intimate setting. Our affable and knowledgeable Maitre d’, Louis Risoli, escorts my wife and I to our table. L’Espalier’s atmosphere, similar to its dress code, can be downright haughty and intimidating, but only if you permit it: after all, while jackets and ties are the encouraged methods of attire for male patrons, they are not required. After glancing across the room, it appears that my culinary counterparts, sans jackets and ties, provide a refreshing glimpse into what L’Espalier ultimately can be: a refined, yet relaxed dining experience.

Our first course is nothing short of excellence. My wife dives into a crisp salad layered with a zesty vinaigrette dressing and crunchy, flavorful nuts. Our server also brings over a large bowl solely containing a tiny circular substance, which leads me to ponder whether or not L’Espalier has actually fallen into the age-old stereotype of ‘French fare equates to plate bare.’ Thankfully, however, he swiftly returns and theatrically pours hot, steaming orange squash soup into the bowl. That aforementioned, questionable circular substance proves to be candied pumpkin, an innovative ingredient that meshes wonderfully with the squash and infuses additional flavor into this light, delightful concoction. Oh, and lest I forget to add that the homemade bread, particularly that of the fig and black olive varieties, is simply divine.

Our entrees also rate strongly, if slightly less so. My wife’s pan-roasted halibut is served in preserved lemon vinaigrette alongside tasty couscous. While the fish is light and buttery, the side order of couscous is almost an afterthought given its disappointing scarcity on the plate. My confit rabbit leg is cooked to perfection, which is no small feat, but once again, the meat on the leg is a bit lacking. The accompanying mashed potato-like polenta and brussel sprouts seem an odd pairing with rabbit at face value, but they surprisingly pull the dish together quite nicely.

Dessert is pure bliss. The chocolate decadence cake is artistically presented in a rectangular plate, alongside luscious blackberries and raspberries, wild strawberry anglaise, and a dollop of ethereal, uniquely flavored orange blossom ice cream.

As is to be expected in such an extravagant setting, service is superior. Although I would not characterize our server as being overly friendly, one cannot underscore the importance of the relaxed pacing he brought to the meal. Shouldn’t a meal ultimately resemble the contemplative nature one takes when sampling a fine wine, whereby conversation is reduced to a minimum so that the aromas and tastes may be more fully appreciated?

In terms of value, patrons may simply decide that traveling to France may prove more economical that venturing out to Gloucester Street. We were fortunate enough to sample the 3-course prix fixe lunch menu, which comes reasonably priced at $24 per person. Come dinner time, however, these prices soar to $75. For more ravenous (and wealthier) customers, a 7-course degustation tasting can be had for $94, and the chef’s tasting for a whopping $175. Tack on an additional $16 for valet parking (evenings only) given the congested traffic in the area and that Parisian trip might not sound so crazy after all.

Marie Antoinette was once rumored to have exclaimed, “Let them eat cake,” in reference to her unsympathetic stance on the decaying state of France’s impoverished citizens. The bottom line is this: Paul’s Palate happily ate his cake and more at L’Espalier, but could very easily have joined the ranks of the impoverished in the process. Make no mistake: he thoroughly enjoyed his dining experience there. Memorable? Yes. Unforgettable? Let’s just say that it did not make Paul’s Palate forget Paris.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Lineage is a Tradition Worth Keeping

Given that this ravenous reviewer intends to take his mother out for an unforgettable birthday dinner, and spend it alongside his spouse, his brother, and his brother’s wife, what finer and more fitting way then but to spend it at Lineage, a Brookline-based eatery that celebrates family heritage? After all, Jeremy and Lisa Sewall form a potent husband-and-wife tandem whose concept of “Lineage” spawns from the former’s very own (for instance, one fascinating tidbit is that one of his predecessors served as Brookline’s first Town Clerk and even lent the name of his family’s “Brooklin” lands to this very community). Will Lineage ultimately continue Mr. Sewall’s longstanding family tradition of perfection or will Paul’s Palate recommend that this establishment be removed from the family tree?

Lineage’s interior is sleek, yet warm, and deceptively large. To our left, we discover an airy dining area, and straight ahead, a greenish, modestly-lit bar where several lively patrons are seated. We select a more slightly intimate room to our right, which includes plush carpeting and a soothing maritime painting sprawled against its back wall. Our jovial hostess greets us and directs us to our table.

What our server lacks in vivacity and menu mastery, she accounts for in both courtesy and attentiveness. Her first cocktail recommendation is a Brazilian rum that is supposed to be sweet but resembles nothing more than a bland mojito. The refreshingly sweet Lineage Lemonade, however, is a real crowd pleaser: refreshing, sweet, and playfully presented in the form of a “black and tan” (in this case, red and yellow).

For appetizers, our server encourages us to sample the luscious halibut tacos, a unique dish whose buttery, moist fish is the most mouth-watering I’ve had in recent memory. The only shortcoming here is that only four are plated. This reviewer is prepared to jump out of his seat and seek out Mr. Sewall to ascertain if this particular family recipe is for sale. Not to be outdone, however, is the homemade tomato soup served with truffle oil and crisp beignets. The soup is light, yet hearty, sooths one’s stomach, and is the perfect lead-in to our main courses.

My spouse’s pork is both succulent and meaty, accompanied by savory roasted figs, fingerling potatoes, and spinach. The remainder of our table gnaws on savory steak layered with bleu cheese and mashed potatoes. I must admit, however, that my homemade potato gnocchi dish reigns supreme. In stark contrast to most gnocchi dishes which are typically served Italian style (on the heavier side with tomato sauce), the Sewalls bravely render this delicacy as if it has emerged straight from their own personal garden. Sweet corn and vibrantly colored lobster mushrooms adorn this light, yet delectable dish.

The dessert debate begins and abruptly ends with Lineage’s signature dish, its butterscotch pudding. Once again, the Sewalls break slightly from tradition by replacing the prototypically gooey-textured concoction with a pasty, Mazapan-like sweet substance, which is drizzled with both Chantilly cream and caramelized pecans. This dish would convert the most skeptical of pudding phobes, myself included.

In terms of its location, Lineage can be viewed as either a blessing or a curse. For atmosphere alone, the restaurant resides on bustling Harvard Street just outside of college-friendly Coolidge Corner. Parking spaces, however, are scarce in this vicinity, so be prepared to walk. I, however, would gladly venture across all of Boston just to get a taste of what the Sewalls have cooked up. After all, their menu is reasonably priced compared to their urban bretheren (appetizers average $12, entrees come in around $24, and desserts at $8). Lineage ultimately upholds two key traditions: first, maintaining Mr. Sewall’s upstanding family reputation within the Brookline community, and most importantly, appealing to Paul’s Palate’s taste buds.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

A Blessed "Union"

While the South End’s lack of parking spaces may create headaches for visitors, its abundance of fine eating establishments often alleviates the pain. One such establishment, Union Bar and Grille - which recently appeared on Boston Magazine’s list of the city’s top 25 restaurants – allegedly offers fare that rivals some of the hub’s finest. Will Paul’s Palate ultimately agree or shall he pack some extra Excedrin just in case?

Restaurant week has arrived, and Union opens its doors, offering a three-course prix fixe menu for roughly $20. Given that type of value, my wife I express utter shock upon entering the restaurant, which is presently devoid of customers. We turn our attention to Union’s aesthetic interior, which with its black leather upholstery and wooden floors creates a simple yet elegant tone that miraculously works. The front-to-back bar is separated from the intimate dining area, which appears to accommodate approximately seventy patrons.

Our genial, courteous, and knowledgeable server arrives and confidently recommends the grapefruit martini, unquestionably his favorite amongst the cocktail selection. To my chagrin, his suggestion is spot-on, as this concoction is just sweet, sour, and subtle enough to elevate it to sublime status. Nor do the appetizers miss a beat, My wife orders the chilled cantaloupe wrapped in juicy mounds of prosciutto, alongside an arugula salad infused with a sweet citrus vinaigrette. My “Bloody Mary” gazpacho would make ravenous Spaniards proud with its light and ethereal blend of cucumber, red onion and grilled shrimp, and horseradish sourcream.

Entrees are equally delectable. My wife runs out of superlatives for her pan-roasted salmon “BLT,” a playful take on the customary sandwich, which is robust in both size and flavor. The salmon filet is perfectly cooked and is paired with warmed bread, applewood bacon, heir loom tomatoes, and herb mayonnaise. The side of buttery, crispy homemade potato chips doesn’t hurt, either. I, meanwhile, am reluctant to share a taste of my cornmeal dusted “fried clam roll,” creatively served over a crostini-like bread and accompanied by house made pickles, cole slaw, and a zesty chipotle tartar sauce.

For dessert, I once again query our server for his insight. Yet again, he does not flinch when encouraging me to try the ice cream sandwich, which consists of a mouth-watering mix of house made vanilla ice cream lodged between two gooey, warmed, moist double chocolate chip cookies and is splashed with milk chocolate fudge. Needless to say, this decadent dish is a winner and should be considered mandatory tasting for any diligent student enrolled in course Chocolate 101. My wife’s strawberry shortcake is also indulgent, lumping together a moist, yet light homemade brown sugar biscuit with fresh strawberries and whipped cream.

Prior to our departure, I ask our wonderful server if Union actually intends on expanding its hours of operation to include lunch. He responds that Union uses Restaurant Week as an experiment to assess if it is worthwhile remaining open for this midday meal. With both his belly stuffed with fine food and his mouth with strong praise, Paul’s Palate can barely muster enough energy to convince Union Bar and Grille that its potential lunchtime endeavor would suit him just fine.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Alta Strada Reaches New Culinary Heights

An excursion to Alta Strada, a chic, new Italian dining establishment located slightly off of Rte 16 in Wellesley (off of Rte 135, to be exact), proves painstakingly cumbersome. The restaurant’s website is currently under construction, and its occupants appear incapable of providing directions that make any sense. This minute detail leaves this ravenous reviewer debating whether all the fuss over chef/owner Michael Schlow’s expansion into the suburbs is indeed warranted.

Following our half-hour detour, my wife and I meander into a moderately-sized, pristine, brightly-lit room, its walls splashed with vibrant yellow, green, and orange tones. The wooden tables and floors, in addition to interlaced brick walls, create a rustic ambience that meshes well with the otherwise modern décor of the room. On a Monday afternoon, patrons continue to filter in and the atmosphere is lively. It appears that Alta Strada is no longer a secret dining spot.

Our server arrives, instantly apologetic about the confusion over the erroneous directions they have provided. In a surprisingly genuine gesture, she offers us a complimentary side comprised of crisp crostini layered with homemade, red-pepper laced ricotta cheese. Not only are we deeply appreciative of the gesture, but we are left in awe over the superior quality of the ricotta itself, which is refreshingly light. We also munch on an additional crostini dish, this time smothered with fig jam and accompanied by thinly sliced, imported Italian prosciutto. This one is a legitimate show stopper: plainly put, this reviewer would gleefully lose his way on several more occasions if only for a taste of this supreme sampler. Resistance to the silky sweetness of the fig jam alongside the oh-so-fresh prosciutto is futile. Suddenly, this reviewer reaches an epiphany that this dish epitomizes the overall fare at Alta Strada: simplicity, freshness, and perfection over complexity and panache.

We proceed to our pasta entrees, for which chef Schlow is renowned. My wife orders a shrimp dish, which is accompanied by a spicy sauce and homemade spaghetti. The sauce, while pungent, is not overpowering, and carries just the right amount of kick. The generously-sized shrimp are moist, while the pasta is fresh and perfectly cooked al dente. My gnocci dish is equally divine, and I would be content simply gnawing on the plate’s other ingredients, which consist of a scrumptious symphony of tomato sauce, Italian hot sausage, and peas.

Without hesitation, our waitress recommends a homemade fruit torte for dessert, and are we ever glad that she does. This delectable concoction is served warm and moist, light yet rich, and its flaky crust and sweet berry filling are mouth-wateringly good. I must restrain myself from asking our server for additional fig jam from our earler crostini dish. What a perfect conclusion to a perfect meal that would be.

Service is top-notch. Our waitress is pleasant and extremely knowledgeable about the menu items and their ingredients. She is confident, and most importantly, accurate about her food recommendations. She is also attentive to my wife’s dairy allergy, ensuring that the kitchen prepares dishes accordingly.

Must this reviewer place a price on food that is of the utmost quality? Appetizers average between $12-14, pasta entrees around $16-17, and desserts at $7. Let me be the first of many to applaud Mr. Schlow for foregoing the flash of his more famous city eateries (i.e. Great Bay and Radius) and sticking to an age-old culinary formula: simplicity + freshness = delightful dining. Paul’s Palate has never claimed to be a mathematician, but he knows this equation inside and out, and Alta Strada passes this taste test with flying colors.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

This Mockingbird sings

Slightly obscured from Route 18’s path in East Bridgewater, this passerby may easily have missed the Mockingbird Restaurant and Martini Lounge. In fact, upon entering into this fairly upscale establishment’s parking lot, customers can just as easily and mistakenly enter the gravel driveway of a nearby house to the right. This house is awkwardly situated given its proximity to the restaurant, and is on full display from the restaurant’s dining area window. Urban planning gaffes aside, does the Mockingbird make Paul’s Palate sing?

Although visibility is minimal in the entryway, my wife and I are brought into a larger, brighter room that emits a trendy confidence with its contemporary greenish colors, cushy couches, radiant lighting, and cathedral ceilings. The dining area is pristine, not a crumb in sight. We are immediately at ease, introduced to our attentive, courteous, if not slightly loquacious server.

From there, we let the martini marathon begin. This martini bar carries an astronomical assortment of eighty alternatives from which to choose. The Key Lime martini with a graham cracker-laced rim is simply sublime, while the Patriot (Blue Raspberry vodka, Chambord, sour mix, and Sprite) is equally refreshing. The lone disappointment of the bunch is the Aqua Marine (Hpnotiq with crème de banana and pineapple juice), which leaves a strange, sour aftertaste on the palate.

Merry from our martinis, we proceed to our appetizers, which prove to be by and large satisfactory. Although the beef barley is not as hearty as one would hope, the salad is crisp and light, layered with a zesty chardonnay dressing. The bacon-wrapped scallops are a winning dish, served moist, warm, light, and most importantly, scrumptious in a blackberry emulsion.

Entrees are generous in terms of both portion size and taste appeal. The duck is prepared just right (medium rare) and its accompanying pomegranate reduction is pure heaven – neither too sweet nor syrupy. This dish also scores high marks for its unique rice presentation, which is stacked high in a circular fashion. This reviewer, however, questions the logic - or lack thereof - behind including a bland side of spinach with such a rich dish. The roasted veal tenderloin is equally tender and also perfectly cooked, though once again, the pasta seems an oddity here. Minor complaints aside (get it?), the meats in these dishes are the stars and they shine brightly.

Dessert comes in the form of a decadent fallen chocolate torte that effortlessly falls into our mouths. This concoction is moist, warm, and laced with a gooey hot fudge sauce and vanilla ice cream. Dare I say that this chocolate lover’s dream is one of the finest I’ve devoured in quite some time?

Value-wise, Mockingbird cannot be beaten. Martinis and appetizers average out around $7 apiece, while entrees come in at $16. For sheer comfort and quality, that sure beats doling out at least twice that amount for a comparable meal in the city. The Mockingbird leaves Paul’s Palate singing a glorious new tune, and he believes it’s destined to be a hit.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Loco is crazy good!

Venturing into Loco, a quaint, little tapas and wine bar situated directly off of busy Route 138 in South Easton, MA, Paul’s Palate initially feared the worst. Only because on an evening in which torrential downpours and blackened skies dominated the landscape, this superstitious soul felt that the hostile weather pattern presented an ominous sign in terms of an enjoyable dining experience. Would this reviewer ultimately go “loco (spanish term for crazy)” over Loco or would he be left uttering the phrase “Nunca Mas (never again)?”

Fortunately, my deepest fears are immediately allayed upon arrival. Loco’s unique atmosphere can be attributed to its blend of warmth and intimacy. With its pristine interior, walls splattered in dark red hues, a copper bar, dimmed lighting, authentic Spanish songs playing aloud, and a relatively smaller-sized, cozy dining area, Loco exudes a hip, romantic vibe without being overtly pretentious. Its atmosphere is only enhanced by the attentiveness and friendliness of the wait staff, all of whom make diners feel welcomed and right at home. Our server is particularly good this evening, proving accurate in her culinary recommendations and her casual manner. This evening, the Executive Chef even goes out of her way, jovially making tableside rounds to ensure that her customers are content. Meanwhile, Loco’s co-owner is in the kitchen whipping up an array of potentially delectable dishes that make me reminisce about the Spanish cuisine I adored several years ago during my year spent abroad in Seville, Spain. Would Loco’s cuisine live up to such lofty expectations?

Cocktails are memorable, though we do get off to a rather auspicious start. The Manhattan, with its combination of whisky and Spanish sherry, sounds promising, but an excess of the former makes for an unbearably strong beverage. My wife cannot even bring her lips to the glass, overwhelmed by the intense aromas of the whisky. With the sincerest of apologies from our server, the Manhattan is swiftly taken away, and I proceed to order a much more enjoyable mojito, a cool, crisp mix of Spanish rum doused with fresh mint. My spouse’s Key Lime martini comes highly recommended, and for good reason. This concoction is sweet, light, and not too heavy on the stomach, a fate that befalls many dessert cocktails in other establishments. The home-made sangria falls a bit flat given its surprising lack of sweetness, leaving a pungent aftertaste.

As a mini-starter (“pinchos”), we share pan de tomaquet (catalan garlic and tomato rubbed bread), a zesty dish that leaves us wondering why we nibbled on the complimentary bread from Iggy’s in Cambridge - as good as it was - in the first place. From there, we proceed to sip on a light, refreshing bowl of gazpacho a la barceloneta (gazpacho of Barcelona) as our tapa fria (cold tapa), which is a delightful orange-colored soup that proves not too creamy and packs a peppery punch.

In lieu of entrees (platos principales), many of which appear tempting (such as the paella and rioja braised beef short ribs), we decide to experiment with several smaller hot tapa (tapas calientes) dishes. The first and most intriguing of these that arrive are the mojito marinated chicken and beef skewers with grilled lime. While the presentation is a plus given that the dish is accompanied by a mojito shooter and the skewers are served in triangular fashion, the meat itself is disappointing, particularly the chicken, which is prepared on the dry side. Next come the seared diver scallops with spiced grapefruit relish. Although the relish tag proves slightly misleading in that it is comes in the form of a juice, this dish wins us over, as the scallops are succulent and perfectly cooked, absorbing the tangy bitterness of the grapefruit. The tortilla espanol (Spanish egg and potato omelet with romesco sauce) is equally enjoyable, and its accompanying spicy romesco sauce make this dish sizzle. Lastly, the duo of pork dish, which includes rioja braised bbq pork and seared tenderloin, is tasty, though my spouse and I unanimously prefer the former, wishing we could consume just the tangy, moist pork alone.

To finish, we split a heavenly trio of warmed churros, a Spanish dessert (postre) consisting of dough, subsequently dipped in chocolate ice cream with flecks of cocoa. These doughy delights are some of the best I’ve tasted, including those from Seville. A healthy infusion of café con leche (Spanish coffee and espresso blend with steamed milk) washes away all traces of the churros, and my spouse and I are ultimately content with the conclusion of what has to be considered by and large a successful dining experience.

Value rates well for Loco. From a price perspective, small tapa dishes range from $3-6, while the majority of hot and cold tapa plates run from $5-10. Main entrees fluctuate from $15-29. And of course, one cannot put a price on the quality of authentic Spanish cuisine. This reviewer certainly hopes that surrounding towns rapidly catch wind of this eclectic eatery. Might Paul’s Palate return for an encore? I’d be “loco” not to.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Aquitaine Bis is a slight miss

This secret reviewer rightfully holds lofty expectations for Aquitaine Bis, sister restaurant to its beloved flagship establishment in Boston’s South End. Located in a small plaza off of busy Route 9 in Chestnut Hill, Paul’s Palate wonders if the buzz over this bistro is warranted. Besides, its previous occupant, Bella Luna, was a staple of fine dining for years in this community. Would Paul’s Palate find a worthy heir apparent in Aquitaine Bis?

Arriving a few minutes early, my wife and I meander to the bar area, where we dejectedly learn that no martini menus exist. I request an espresso martini, which is rich in taste, not too thick, and does not possess a surplus of vodka, which often ruins this mixed drink. My spouse orders a margherita, whose potent tequila flavor emerges without being overly sweet. Along the way, we soak in the restaurant’s intimate, if not somewhat gloomy atmosphere, which includes dimmed lighting and dark leather seating. We are informed that our table is now ready and we quickly proceed to our seats, hunger pangs and all.

We are bewildered to learn from our server that my wife cannot delve into any of the appetizers due to each item containing dairy products. This is particularly troubling because this reviewer has called ahead of time and is told that the kitchen can in fact accommodate patrons who have this particular allergy. Even more exasperating is the fact that our server brings us what appears to be a zesty plate of sage gnocci dusted with cheese. We ultimately decide upon the escargots de bourguignonne with garlic and herb butter and brioche toast, and the snails’ buttery squirminess assuages whatever frustrations we have about the aforementioned culinary faux pas.

We carnivorously devour the flesh from our meaty entrees, mine being the highly regarded steak frites. The thinly cut steak strips are perfectly cooked, succulent and sweet, given that they are drizzled with meat juice and perigord black truffle vinaigrette. The accompanying watercress shallot salad is rather bland in comparison, and seems to be the dish’s lone oddity. The dish’s other side, however, the slightly salty, crispy frites (special take on french fries), proves to be more memorable. In lieu of the ketchup bottle, this reviewer contently dips his fried friends into the meat’s juices. My wife’s veal osso bucco is equally delectable, falling right off the bone and melting into the mouth, though she cannot resist taking sporadic bites of the irresistibly scrumptious steak dish that rests across the table.

Dessert, however, is an utter disaster. The warm chocolate pudding cake is overcooked, the cake dried out and the hot pudding center itself evaporated. For a bistro that prides itself on simplistic takes on elegant dishes, how, pray tell, do they manage to botch such a simple concoction as warmed chocolate cake?

Dining at Aquitaine proves to be a rather expensive proposition for my money’s worth. Although the quality of the fare is above-average, it is not strong enough to sustain a hefty price tag ranging between $26-$34 per entrée. Also a factor: medium-sized portions that leave us licking our plates and yearning for one or two additional bites of each dish. Does Paul’s Palate enjoy an evening at Aquitaine? Sure, but you certainly won’t see this caped critic doing somersaults to return there any time soon.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Steak and cheese? Puh-leeze. Try the Parish Cafe...

Sandwiches do not typically evoke much excitement from this reviewer given the unwarranted mass appeal of retail chains that include D’Angelos, Quiznos, and Subway. One surprising alternative, however, the Parish Café, resides in Boston. Situated directly on bustling Boylston Street, this establishment elevates sandwiches to an art form by consulting with several local culinary giants - including Radius chef/owner Michael Schlow and Blue Ginger’s celebrity chef/owner Ming Tsai – who provide their own unique variations on the often substandard sandwich. Did this experimentation ultimately appeal to Paul’s Palate or would I simply be left craving a measly steak and cheese sub at D’Angelos?

Although the café’s dining area is somewhat crammed and one must nearly resort to shouting in order to be heard, the atmosphere is rather relaxed once we settle in to our table. Given the busy environment of the restaurant, the wait staff is friendly, albeit interchangeable. While these comings and goings smoothly keep our meal moving at a pleasant pace, they do diminish our overall satisfaction level with service. There is something to be said for developing a rapport with one, and not several, attentive servers.

Our meal begins with one of the most memorable appetizers I can recall tasting. We munch away on the heralded roasted reggae wings, which come marinated in a potent blend of Jamaican jerk spices, fresh citrus and soy. The amount meat on these wings is generous and extremely succulent. As an added bonus, the wings are accompanied by a heavenly concoction of banana-mango chutney. This reviewer could have gnawed on several of these wings and simply called it a day. As the waiter removes this savory dish, we begrudgingly proceed to our entrees.

The sandwiches, however, prove equally delectable, and are simply awe-inspiring given their boldness and combination of flavors. My companion, who is a regular inhabitant here, resorts to what she identifies as “old reliable,” otherwise known as the Zuni Roll. This sandwich, enmeshed in a warmed flour tortilla, contains smoked turkey, bacon, scallions, dill havarti cheese, and cranberry-chipotle sauce, and is as good as it sounds. The turkey is moist and virtually melts in one’s mouth. In an adventurous mood, I decide to order the Schlesinger, aptly named for East Coast Grille’s chef/owner, Chris. This sandwich consists of warm banana-nut bread, smoked ham, Monterey jack cheese, mango chutney, and pickled ginger red cabbage. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t initially feel queasy, if not intrigued by this perplexing combination of ingredients. The result, however, is pure magic. This innovative item is one of the most mouth-watering meals I’ve enjoyed feasting upon, and I suddenly have the urge to walk over to Mr. Schlesinger’s establishment and shake his hand in admiration.

The homemade white chocolate brioche bread pudding brings the meal to a successful conclusion. This dessert is served warm and is sufficiently moist to boot. Fortunately, it does not suffer the fates of similar plates, which include excess heat, syrup and whipped cream, and which are frequently on the heavier side.

Value is just right based upon the flavorful fare to be had. Appetizers range from $8-$12, while sandwiches fluctuate from $12-$15. Not bad, considering this patron would find himself in the poorhouse dining at one of the Parish Cafe’s all-star consultant chef’s main establishments (such as the aforementioned Radius and Blue Ginger). I apologize in advance, D’Angelos, but I believe I’m going to pass on that steak and cheese sub for now. Paul’s Palate can’t bear to take another bite.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Tamboo should not be considered taboo

Having received first-hand accounts filled with praise for Tamboo Bistro, located on Main Street in Brockton, MA, one wonders if this city’s downtown area, notorious for its lack of culinary flair, is undergoing an upscale transformation. Tamboo, after all, signifies the rhythm of life, and its owners hope to emulate this by serving an eclectic array of both New American and Haitian fare. In the infamous words of Gloria Estefan (and who could omit the accompanying Miami Sound Machine), is Tamboo’s “rhythm going to get me” or will it disappointingly fall flat according to Paul’s Palate?

Location-wise, Tamboo resides at the beginning of Main Street, which resembles a ghost town mid-week, with its empty sidewalks and emptier nearby buildings that remain vacant. Clearly, this is not as bustling an area as initially thought. The restaurant is shockingly devoid of customers upon our arrival, thereby enabling us to meander to the bar area and admire the sleek décor. Clearly, owner Chrismin Charlot has infused a great deal of money renovating this space. From its space-lit entry, to its ultra-modern, hip interior - which includes stylish tables, funky walls, Haitian artwork, mood lighting, and a futuristic bar/lounge area – one feels transported several years ahead in time, if not at least into one of the classy, sophisticated dining scenes found in Boston. The establishment is spotless with the exception of small morsels that stand out on its carpeted entryway.

At the bar, we ogle a wide-ranging variety of cocktails, which are even broken out into categories such as a Sexy list (don’t ask me, just try them). After sipping on delectable pear and mango martinis, mango mojitos (served in bended glasses), and pomegranate margaritas, we make our way to our table, anxious to consume our meals.

Our server, albeit quiet in nature, is pleasant, attentive, and courteous. He provides accurate recommendations in regard to the menu, which include zesty appetizers. The fried calamari possess a nice, squishy texture and mesh well with fiery red peppers. The Haitian fried meatballs with dipping sauce are a legitimate winner. With a lightly crunchy exterior and juicy, spicy interior, I could pop hundreds more of these into my mouth if only I had an expanded stomach capacity to do so. The only lackluster appetizer is the rum-roasted chicken wings, which come highly recommended by our server. Although meaty and flavorful, they more closely resemble buffalo wings than rum-soaked ones.

As with our drinks, we face a difficult task of choosing between a jaw-dropping number of entrees. Fortunately, they are flawlessly presented, large in portion size, and delectable upon arrival. Spicy aromas emanate from uniquely-shaped plates. Juicy goat meet happily swims in a slightly spicy, zesty creole sauce with peppers. A whole red snapper is equally divine, served with onions, peppers, and herbs. Island shrimp sizzled with peppers stands out, however, as the most memorable entrée of the evening with its winning, adventurous combination of ingredients that include brown sugar, cumin, and chili powder.

For dessert, the Raspberry Mont Blanc, a scrumptious concoction of white chocolate mousse, kirsh-soaked raspberries, is playfully presented in a white and red pyramid shell. Light, subtle, and not painfully sweet, I would travel to Egypt and back for another taste of this heavenly, innovative pyramid-like pastry.

It is this reviewer’s hope that Tamboo establishes its own rhythm in terms of attracting a consistent clientele. Certainly, its value cannot be beaten. Where else can fine dining be enjoyed at $15 to $20 per entrée? Hopefully, the mid-week visit and empty tables were not indicative of the fanfare surrounding this welcomed addition to the Brockton community. Otherwise, Paul’s Palate will sadly need to find its rhythm elsewhere.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Oak Room leaves hollow feeling

Upon entering the highly touted Oak Room restaurant, nestled away in Boston’s equally luxurious Fairmont Copley Hotel, the scene resembles that from one of the classic James Bond films, in which the suave, debonair 007 (Sean Connery, for my taste) enters an exorbitantly expensive dining establishment and calmly asks for his customary martini, shaken not stirred. The Oak Room, not surprisingly, offers such a cocktail called the 007. This secret agent, er, reviewer went undercover to assess if this dining experience would leave me saying Never Say Never Again (that would translate to a compliment given the double entendre) or have me playing the part of the evil Dr. No. In other words, did the Oak Room meet Paul’s Palate?

On atmosphere alone, the Oak Room scores high marks for grandeur and decadence. One can clearly ascertain from where the restaurant obtains its name, as oak panels encompass the entire room. The mounted, stuffed deer on the walls, mile-high cathedral ceilings, and illustrious chandeliers provide a peculiar, yet casual ballroom/country-club like setting. Waiters are decked out in tuxedoes, and customers should plan on dressing accordingly for this fancy affair (i.e. it is recommended that men wear jackets). The dining area is pristine, not a crumb to be found. One major cause for irritation, however: why does the Oak Room insist that customers depart from the dining area only to utilize the hotel’s washrooms, which are surprisingly filthy?

Service is near pitch perfect. Our waiter is friendly, attentive, and infinitely astute about the menu, confidently providing recommendations throughout the evening. One such notable suggestion of which this reviewer is particularly fond includes a 2004 Louis Martini Cabernet, which is perhaps the most smooth, subtle, luscious wine I have tasted in quite some time. This glass is not overpowering like most Cabernets, and perfectly compliments the steak dish I have ordered. The wine, however, is unfortunately the highlight of the evening.

Appetizers are disappointingly bland. Calamari came out lukewarm, containing too much batter and zero “zing.” Another side dish of potatoes and onion rings also comes out on the colder side, similarly lacking in flavor. Asparagus tips are also maddeningly lukewarm, and on the brittle side in terms of texture. On a more positive note, sesame crackers, crispy mini bagels, and spicy olives laid out tableside tide us over until the main entrees. As an aside, while the wine recommendation is spot-on, the pomegranate and cucumber mojitos we ingest are mediocre at best, lacking the sweet potency of the pomegranate altogether.

This being a steakhouse and all, meat assumedly will be the standout course of the evening. Are we ever mistaken: a bone-in ribeye, a notoriously juicy and moist cut of meat, is a tad overcooked and unacceptably fatty. Fortunately, the aforementioned Cabernet offsets this major culinary faux pas.

Given that we are celebrating a landmark birthday with family members, we proceed to devour slices of birthday cake that are garnished with a luscious kiwi and strawberry sauce. Our cinnamon-infused cappuccinos are the best I can recall in recent memory, but I remain baffled and frustrated as to why the drinks have taken center stage over the meals this evening.

In terms of value, the Oak Room rates poorly. While portions are moderate, the quality of the dishes ranges from mediocre to poor. For my money’s worth, this secret agent would rather splurge at Morton’s Steakhouse, or even Vintage, out in West Roxbury. Dr. No has re-emerged from his evil lair, and his earth-shattering verdict is in: the Oak Room does not meet Paul’s Palate.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Coriander Review

On a brisk, pre-Valentine’s Day evening, my wife and I venture out to Coriander Bistro for a hopefully heartwarming experience. According to several close acquaintances of ours, Coriander, located in the quaint suburb of Sharon, Massachusetts, happens to be one the South Shore’s – if not the state’s – trendiest, upscale restaurants. It has also apparently infused a much needed element of hipness to the town center’s rather blasé setting since its inception several years ago. But did this lauded establishment meet Paul’s Palate?

From the outset, Coriander’s atmosphere is simply intoxicating. Upon entering, we are instantly greeted by Coriander’s co-owner, Jill Crawley. She is genuinely warm and welcoming, possessing neither the stuffiness nor the feigned graciousness that some of the elite Boston-based restaurants cannot seem to avoid. From its exterior, Coriander’s physical space does not appear suited to serve a large number of clientele. The pristine, wooden interior, however, with its Cathedral-like ceilings, creates a magnificent illusory effect that makes the room appear more expansive than it actually is. The dimmed track lighting is just right, adding to the overall romantic, intimate ambience. From the instantly-viewable kitchen emanate aromas which only arouse our interest and stoke our appetites.

The service itself is nothing short of perfection, and elevates what could have been a merely good dining experience into a most memorable one. Our server is personable, attentive, polished, and extremely knowledgeable about the menu, not only making pinpoint recommendations, but also taking my wife’s dairy allergies into account, which is not a given at upscale restaurants. While we remain seated for two hours, our meals are served at a leisurely pace that enables us to comfortably ingest our potent martinis (the pomegranate, in particular), dishes, and the enjoyable atmosphere itself.

Appetizers leave us salivating and anxiously awaiting our entrees. For starters, our server provides us with a pre-appetizer treat – or more aptly – a tease. As a courtesy of the chef, we sip on a particularly scrumptious, somewhat spicy spoonful of ginger carrot soup. From there, the handcrafted gnocci’s slightly rubbery texture meshes wonderfully with a unique blend of light, savory tomato broth and sliky-soft chunks of braised ribs, and this is unequivocally the standout dish of the evening. My wife’s wild mushroom tartlet with boar sausage is perfectly warmed and not overly flaxy, a tendency inferior concoctions tend to have.

Entrees are almost equally divine and portions more than generous. I would have preferred my Long Island Duck “Two Ways” served as only “One Way.” While the meat on the bone is moist, the task of actually getting to it proves to be difficult. The skin is unbearably buttery, and prohibits full enjoyment in conjunction with the meat itself. The other half of the duck is entirely off the bone, and cooked perfectly medium rare. The accompanying spatzle and asparagus tips are simple and fun, and do not overpower the duck itself. My wife’s succulent thick cut pork chop, however, is the far superior dish, with its blend of artichokes, pickled shallots, roasted potatoes, and garlic sauce.

We finish with a dessert that comes highly touted by our server, and it would be an understatement if we said she is spot-on with her suggestion. A raspberry lindsor torte served warm with graham cracker ice cream melts in the mouth. I am left licking my fork and craving more of this delectable dish.

Value is reasonable, but in the eyes of the beholder. Prices are moderately high, and on par with upscale Boston eateries, less the city’s exorbitant valet parking fees. The quality of the fare, however, does not suffer given the shift to a suburban setting. For convenience alone, diners can experience a gourmet meal here without the additional stresses of traffic and parking, which are no doubt burdensome and can diminish any Boston fine dining experience. While I am a bit flustered that the 3-course, $30 Prix Fixe currently posted on Coriander’s website is no longer available (we are told that this was only a summer option), this slight faux pas does not ruin a perfect evening.

Only two tables are seated when we arrive at Coriander, but not one is empty upon our departure, and it is understandable to see why. Coriander’s allure is its ability to bring gourmet food out to the suburbs without the pretentiousness. With its refreshingly chic menu and convenient location in Sharon center, it is no wonder why this hotspot has deservedly earned rave reviews. A little birdie recently chirped into my ear that Coriander may be up for sale. Let us hope that my feathered friend was misinformed, as this fine establishment unquestionably meets Paul’s Palate.

Monday, January 22, 2007

I bid you adieu...

Welcome, everyone! I am a first time blogger (that term strikes me as weird, if not downright creepy, but never mind that). You see, several months ago, my wife and I struck up a meaningful conversation about the professional career paths we've chosen (she, an accounant, and myself, a physician contractor), and whether these occupations were what we were truly meant to do in life, if we were in fact in love with our work or simply "in like" with it, if you will. Please be assured that I am content in my current profession, but have always seemed to enjoy writing. Always an avid reader and having written several arts reviews for my college school newspaper, my passion for writing came to an emphatic close back in the late 90's prior to my entering the workforce. I recently decided that I wanted to re-kindle that hobby, and this seemed to me the perfect avenue to do so.

My love of food goes without saying. I frequently enjoy restaurant-hopping with my wife, as we are always experimenting by trying new, hip (what did you expect, decrepit and lame?) restaurants and various cuisines. And if it's desert you're looking for, labeling me a "Choco-holic" would be putting things mildly. Therefore, it is my hope that this blog site will ideally serve as a forum dedicated to restaurant reviews, be it from me as the second-coming of the Phantom Gourmet (Don't worry, they won't recognize me as I'll be dressed incognito! Besides, the Andelmens have nothing on me!) or from you, my dedicated readers, as I am open to hearing any suggestions, or warnings, for local restaurants in the Boston/South Shore area.

Speaking of upcoming reviews, my Valentine's Day treat to all of you will be a heart-shaped critique of my dining experience at what I've heard is one of THE most chic, sophisticated eateries in the South Shore. The scene is Sharon Center and the place is known as Coriander. Allegedly a gourmet experience in a suburb setting not to be missed. But will it meet Paul's Palate? To be continued...