Monday, April 22, 2013

No. 9 Knocks it Out of the ‘Park’

It’s Barbara Lynch’s world, and we foodies are just fortunate to be living in it. Lynch has gained well-deserved fame and countless accolades (annual appearances on Boston Magazine’s 50 Best Restaurants, the esteemed Relais & Chateaux status for Menton, AAA Four Diamond ratings, a James Beard award recipient, just to name a few) for her French-Italian inspired cuisine that can be sampled all over Beantown, from South End’s B&G Oysters and The Butcher Shop to Fort Point’s Sportello and adjacent cocktail haven, Drink. And lest we forget the aforementioned Menton, Lynch’s ode to opulent fine dining in Fort Point where price tags exceed well north of $100 for a 3-course prix fixe menu. But in the midst of Lynch’s empire expansion, let’s not forget where all of the acclaim stems from. No. 9 Park, located at the hilly peak of Park Street, a stone’s throw away from the State House, is Lynch’s flagship restaurant/crown jewel that fifteen years after its heralded opening (longevity that represents an eternity for most restaurants nowadays), still manages to pack in avid diners and amaze with its exceptional cuisine and service.

No. 9 Park’s ambience oozes elegance. For starters, witness the entrance door’s silver-plated No. 9 door handle. A lively bar area resides at the front, while more formal dining rooms are tucked away at the rear and right side (the latter with large windows that provide splendid view of Park Street) of the restaurant. Taupe-colored walls and antique chandeliers adorn the establishment, as do wealthy, well-coifed patrons decked out in their finest blazers and dresses, as if out of a GQ catalog, chatting up themes around politics, academia, and finance. Such an extravagant setting calls for an exorbitant hit on your wallet. A three course prix fixes menu costs $69, while a Chef’s Tasting consisting of 7 courses runs $112, and an additional wine pairing with the latter is $74.

The entire table samples Lynch’s world-renowned appetizer, a quintet of prune-stuffed gnocchi. While the gnocchi dough itself was a tad dry for my liking, I applaud Lynch for her innovation and technique in embedding wine-sweet prunes within the pasta. Although the dish is simply plated, it’s complex in flavor, as evidenced by the sweetness of the prunes balanced by the salty, buttery richness of three rosy-pink pieces of foie gras and vin santo glaze. This dish merits all of the praise it has garnered over the years. Globe artichoke veloute is the perfect seasonal green soup playfully poured into a plate and served with focaccia, pecorino caggiano, and boquerones (a Spanish delicacy with anchovies) that mesh well together.

Entrees are equally impressive. While portion sizes are average at best – make no mistake, there will be no doggy bags to take home here – they are extremely savory. One taste of my friend’s Colorado lamb quickly leaves him reluctant to share, and it’s easy to ascertain why. Succulent pink slices of meat are taken from the lamb loin and braised shank, and are nicely glazed with a unique pea green and pistachio pesto and paired with polenta. A Duet of Rohan Duck had me singing the bird’s praises. While its presentation was nothing flashy (scattershot plating is a common trend at No. 9, while Lynch focuses more on executing technique and flavors), the crispy leg confit and breast were not only perfectly cooked medium rare, but ingeniously paired with miniature canele, a French pastry with a soft and tender center and a thick, caramelized crust. The contrast in textures and the sweet-saltiness of flavors make this a most memorable dish. Had crispy pork belly, served alongside littleneck clams and drizzled with a chorizo vinaigrette – in all of its fatty goodness – not followed the savory gnocchi dish preceding it, my wife would have enjoyed it even more.

Desserts were simply divine and highly innovative. Given my wife’s dairy allergy, the more-than-accomodating kitchen whipped up a delicious off-the-menu vegan chocolate cake, topped with raspberry sorbet and walnuts. Chocolate cremeux was a confection akin to a deconstructed S’more, with coffee, graham cracker, sticky burnt marshmallows, dense chocolate, and basil ice cream. It’s complex and homey all at once, and it’s sinfully good, better than any campfire version you’ll ever try.

Well-crafted cocktails ($13-16) are balanced and equally complex, including the bittersweet No. 10, comprised of Tangueray gin, Campari, and grapefruit and another that consists of a refreshing springtime combination of sparkling wine, rum, and honey.

No. 9 Park is also the rare special occasion restaurant that makes diners feel, well…special. This is in large part to the attentive, doting service that makes this sophisticated establishment feel so surprisingly unpretentious. While a well-groomed gentleman who took our menu questions while our waitress was occupied was a bit superfluous – particularly because he faltered when confirming that a couple of dishes didn’t contain dairy when they in fact did – it was still a thoughtful gesture, one of several throughout the course of the evening. Other nice touches included a pair of complimentary non-alcoholic sparkling sodas infused with elderflower for the ladies at our table who had refrained from drinking alcohol. Water glasses and bread plates were continuously filled and timed to perfection. A dining companion’s gnocchi was even placed under a silver platter to keep the dish warm while he used the restroom. Our waitress, who knew the menu inside and out, and was warm, informative, and patient, brought over a pair of wine samples when deciding which to pair with my duck. “This is the most exciting part of the dinner for me!” she beamed.

As we departed, our waitress flagged us down, thanked us for dining with them, and hoped we’d enjoyed our experience. And what an experience it was. On a scale of 1 to 10 on Paul’s Palate, No. 9 Park, with no shortage of irony, earns a solid 9.

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