Monday, August 18, 2008

What's the 411 on Tremont 647?

Tremont 647’s location may not come as a surprise to many Bostonians (that’s 647 Tremont Street in Boston’s hip, vibrant South End neighborhood, for those of you slow on the uptake), but its inventive, playful global cuisine, in which Asian, Latin, and Southern flavors collide, surely does not. Executive Chef/Owner Andy Husband’s eclectic establishment has been churning out tantalizing dishes for twelve years running, which means he must be doing something right. Local foodies have obviously wedded themselves to Husband’s cuisine. Would Paul’s Palate say ‘I do’ to his heralded menu or ask for an annulment?

Like most married couples, there are bound to be a couple of minor quibbles. Take, for instance, Tremont’s interior space, which allegedly, according to the restaurant’s website, comfortably seats 70. My wife and I meander past the bar, through a narrow entryway, and into a quaint, if not slightly claustrophobic main dining area which virtually sits atop the open kitchen. Given this seating arrangement, one can behold Chef Husbands’s dexterity as he provides direction and oversight to his culinary team. For sheer entertainment value, it’s great fun. If you’re seeking a private, intimate conversation with your loved one, however, I’d look elsewhere. The half dozen tables in this dining area also sit atop one another, congregating diners so closely together that I could almost reach across and share dinner with my neighbors. Ah, communal dining at its finest.

The unique selection of cocktails, however, offers a promising glimpse of what’s to come. My wife orders a refreshingly smooth Joy’s Pineapple Martini, in which house-infused pineapple vodka, Stoli Vanil, and pineapple juice are blended together. She’s relieved that her drink does not possess the typically syrupy texture that usually accompanies such a beverage. I’m feeling emboldened and try the Tremont Tang, which consists of house infused papaya vodka, fruit juices, and bubbles. While my wife’s face contorts upon tasting the orange-sugar coated rim (much too sweet, she murmurs), I find that the rim’s sweetness is beautifully balanced by the drink’s other ingredients. Sweet, for sure, but not overly so. The bubbles are also a nice, creative touch, lending consistency and lightness to what could have been a heavy drink.

For starters, we sample the Rare Tuna Nicoise 647, which is a fancy term for an impressively fancy dish. Take two pieces of thinly sliced, perfectly pinkish-colored tuna, encrusted with pastrami spices, and served alongside olive tapenade and egg salad. This trio of ingredients may sound slightly off-putting, but it somehow works. The olive tapenade atop the tuna makes for a potent taste of picante, whose heat is balanced out by the coolness of the egg salad. From there, we proceed with one of Chef Husband’s signature dishes – his Tibetan dumpling momos. What’s a momo, you ask? It’s a fried dumpling that sits atop a wonderfully spicy red sauce called sriracha, and which can subsequently be dipped in a cool soy-sake sauce.

Entrees are equally lip-smackingly good. My wife’s 647 Surf ’n Turf (OK, we get it, we’re eating at Tremont 647 – enough with the naming conventions!) consists of a perfectly cooked braised flank steak with moist lobster tails and shrimp. While the meat and seafood are the headliners of this dish, let’s not omit its amazing supporting cast of ingredients: the salsa roja adds much-needed bite to the dish (it remins me of a fine mojo sauce), while the silky, sweet glazed banana could have been served as a dessert all by itself. My Lobster Mac ’n Cheese is delightfully good, exponentially better than what mom used to make (sorry, mom), filled with an abundance of lobster and topped with Ritz cracker crumbs. What makes this dish so successful, and conversely, what other disastrous mac ’n cheese imitations lack, is its perfectly cooked noodles (neither too soggy nor crisp) and its spot-on amount of cheese (neither too gooey nor dry).

Desserts do not disappoint. I’m positively sure that my wife’s peach cobbler, sans Bourbon cream and hot caramel, would have greatly benefited from these two ingredients, but her dairy allergy prohibited her from including these. Even so, the warmed cobbler has me yearning for the fall season given its fresh, slightly tart taste. I venture to sample another of Chef Husband’s renowned desserts – his Andy’s Signature Banana Cream Pie. While the concoction doesn’t quite stack up to my all-time favorite banana cream pie (that distinction goes to Joan and Ed’s Deli in Natick, MA) given its surprising lack of density (banana filling-wise), it’s a pretty close second. Other pie lovers might have a greater appreciation for Husband’s lighter, flakier version, which is lightly drizzled with chocolate and caramel sauces and comes with a crackling-good piece of nut brittle.

Service, on the whole, is satisfactory. Although our waitress is knowledgeable of the menu and prompt, she does not go out of her way to make us feel wholly welcomed (for heaven’s sake, crack a joke or even a smile!). It doesn’t help matters that she fails to ask if we want any beverages with our desserts. This lack of focus in service, however, is quickly forgiven since the kitchen staff is nice enough to bring out our courses and explain them to us tableside.

Value, at least for this evening, is spectacular. We are fortunate enough to discover an establishment that actually offers its Restaurant Menu on Saturdays (most restaurants exclude this day). A 3-course gourmet meal for $33? OK, tack on the $14 valet parking fee associated with most South End dining destinations. But I dare you to find me a handful of other high-end restaurants at such a bargain (on most evenings, outside of Restaurant Week, appetizers range from $8-10, entrees in the low-to-mid-$20 range, and desserts at $6). No 911 calls here. Paul’s Palate has the 411 on Tremont 647: it’s one of the best restaurants the 02118 has to offer.