Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Opulence on Full Display at Yvonne’s

Locke-Ober, we hardly knew ye. Following the lamented closing of Boston’s prestigious supper club after a 150-year stint, the restaurant received a glitzy renovation of the highest order, transforming into one of Boston’s premiere dining hot spots, Yvonne’s. In lieu of an exclusively male clientele which was the hallmark of its predecessor for many years, Yvonne’s – which opened in the fall of 2015 -  welcomes clientele (attractiveness seems to remain in vogue) of all ages, both men and women. If you’re looking for restraint, however, you’ll need to head elsewhere around Downtown Crossing (the more traditional Omni Parker House is nearby, after all, Boston cream pie and all). Although tucked away in a seemingly desolate alley on Winter Place, Yvonne’s is no secret to the public as evidenced by the velvet-roped long lines awaiting entry. It is an unabashedly messy, yet highly enjoyable confluence of many things that somehow manage to work in synch – from Executive Chef Juan Pedrosa’s jaw-dropping menu that boasts intercontinental cuisine to its raucous ambience that honors Locke-Ober’s illustrious past while forging ahead into the future. It’s unapologetically opulent, and don’t think for a second that its owners – who also run Newbury Street’s sexy, subterranean Spanish tapas spot, Lolita – are discouraging it. They’re embracing all that is boisterous.

                Immediately upon entering the establishment, you know you’re in for a special evening.  One is ushered into a small, enclosed room where a couple of hosts warmly greet you and then open another door into what essentially is a Rocky Horror time warp of sorts – 2016 meets 1850s. To the left, a library bar awaits, filled to the brim with a very large party of people. A narrow walkway ahead opens to another room that consists of a large bar to the left along with the main dining room. Leather sofas and banquettes adorn the room. Locke-Ober’s original architecture - mahogany wood walls and gold marble floors that once embodied the restaurant’s elegance and sophistication – has been meticulously maintained. There’s even a portrait of a woman mysteriously shrouded with a black cloak, which, according to our highly engaging server, was Locke-Ober’s annual tradition that Yvonne’s decides to honor should Yale defeat Harvard’s football team (which sadly occurred earlier that day). Like all good supper clubs, the dining experience transforms from dinner and drinks to sheer revelry. And true to form, Yvonne’s transforms itself into more of a nighclubby vibe as the evening proceeds. One will immediately notice the acoustics shift from challenging to near-deafening as 9 PM approaches on a busy Saturday evening, while the room temperature also inexplicably grew more intolerable as the evening wore on. But you’ll no doubt feel much cooler walking amongst the glamorous crowds.

                But beggars can’t be choosers, unless they choose from a massive amount of globe-trotting selections from the menu. Tapas/small plates? You bet. Feasts? Certainly. There are portions fit for both kings and paupers here. One thing is for sure, however - no matter the plate, you’ll be eating like royalty given chef Pedrosa’s adventurous menu that is altogether adventurous, approachable, complex, and well-executed. Let’s get one little pet peeve of mine out of the way, though: don’t confuse customers by breaking down menu selections into headers such as ‘Snacks’ and ‘Social Plates’ as they are barely indistinguishable from one another. Our server graciously prepares us for what’s in store for our party of four – a recommended 8-10 small plates that quickly come out of the kitchen. The restaurant, however, is more than accommodating in terms of allowing customers to more methodically order/pace those plates throughout the evening.

                Onto the food, the majority of which is marvelous, beginning with the perfect autumn bite – four light, airy apple cheddar fritters, resembling miniature scones, that are meticulously plated and seasoned with maple walnuts, sage aioli, and a welcomed, heaty kick of curry oil. They’re delightful. Also highly enjoyable are crispy tater cubes, and I’d eat Pedrosa’s innovative, addictive, deep-fried version for days on end if I could, the starch wedges painstakingly cooked over two days, and dusted with cumin, gouda, and accompanied by both a wonderful Joppiesaus (a Dutch-spiked aioli) and a unique beet-pickled egg. Garden hummus is also a table favorite, mixed with white beans, roasted squash, heirloom tomato, feta and crispy chickpeas, although I found the concoction to be a bit bland.

                Let’s just call a spade a spade: the stone fired pitas are glorified pizzas. However, I’ll take this version over most of the city’s best, particularly the Havana, a beatifically charred pie that riffs on the popular Cubano sandwich, consisting of roast pork, ham, cheese, pickles, and yet again, a wonderfully potent infusion of heat from chipotle oil. It’s a huge hit. Speaking of char, your aversion to brussel sprouts will be removed once you sample Yvonne’s stunning preparation of the typically bitter vegetable, which is sprightened by garlicky walnuts, feta and a delectable Mirasol pepper sauce that gives the sprouts a sweet, candied texture once they are fired up.

                “Tico” tuna crudo is a clean, generous offering of fish served alongside jalapeno vinaigrette, pickled mango, and black bean crema. An Asian-inpsired salad is also nicely prepared, with the exception of superfluous chunks of dry, bland fried tofu whose role as the crunchy counterpoint to the salad was already taken by peanuts. The lone misfire of the evening, on cost alone at a drastically overpriced $24, was the warm lobster toast. While the crustacean meat was fresh and well-seasoned with a unique trio of crushed avocado, shitake chips, and umami butter, it was wedged atop two tiny pieces of toast, minimizing the dish’s full effect. It was the one dish that cried out pretentiousness and on an evening in which there was thankfully very little.

                Yvonne’s also boasts a unique, extensive list of well-prepared, complex cocktails ($13-14) which range from seasonal (Pumpkin Spiced Mule, a playful riff on the Moscow Mule) to more sophisticated options (Slow Motion infuses bourbon, sherry, and amaro; the Enchanted Catnip is a sweet concoction of rum, tamarind, lime falernum and a burnt cherry lit ablaze for dramatic effect; the Grand Dame is a stiff, spicy, well-balanced, blend of tequila and ancho chile).

                Desserts are equally exceptional, including a moist cider cake sundae playfully served in a vertical glass cup as well as warmed sticky toffee housemade doughnuts alongside toffee ice cream.

                With the exception of a small lapse waiting for dessert, service was fantastic. Our waiter was polished, patient, and extremely knowledgeable of Yvonne’s extensive menu, no small feat.
                Restraint is clearly not Yvonne’s strongsuit. This supper club most certainly is, however, a messy masterpiece that illuminates Boston’s ever-evolving, exciting restaurant scene. And you know what? I much prefer a Jackson Pollock over a Renoir any day.

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