Monday, September 6, 2010

Epic Dinner at Restaurant Menton

I'm just emerging from the food and wine induced coma I have been in since departing Menton Restaurant last night (this morning?) at 1:15 a.m. and wanted to share the experience before a single detail becomes lost.  Things definitely got a little fuzzy towards the end of our meal, but I did my best to take good notes and I invite you to share our memorable evening's repast.  Hope you have some time - this is looonnngg.

We were in Boston for Labor Day weekend to celebrate our (sweet) 16th anniversary .  For those of you considering marriage in the future, I highly recommend planning your nuptials on a holiday weekend -it makes it much easier to get out of town to celebrate!  After seeing Menton named by Bon Appetit (Sept 2010) as one of the 10 best new restaurants in the country, we decided to make a reservation and prepared for an over the top dining adventure.  What we got was without a doubt one of the best meals we've ever had - absolutely on par with the French Laundry, Gramercy Tavern and The Modern.

Amuse Bouche
When I made the reservation using Open Table I mentioned that we were restaurant industry professionals celebrating an anniversary and asked for any possible professional courtesies in terms of a romantic table.  When we arrived for our 8 pm reservation we were immediately ushered to a fabulous corner table in the elegantly plush dining room.  Within moments we were presented with glasses of Aubrey Champagne and offered the evening's menu options.  We selected  the 7-Course Chef's Tasting Menu ($145) rather than the 4-Course Prix Fixe menu ($95) and settled in with the wine list, which Tom immediately fell in love with - Cat Silirie may be my newest rival for Tom's affection.  There was an absolute army of servers - or perhaps they're a cult.  They all seemed to be true believers in their mission and delivered service which was professional, warm and completely on mark.

Rock Crab Salad
Bluefin Tuna Tartare
We began with an Amuse Bouche of tuna served with pickled huckleberries, Asian pear and a candied flower and I literally felt my taste buds awaken - a fantastic start.  Tom selected a half bottle of Nigl Gruner Veltliner Privat", 2007, to get us through the preliminary courses and it was a wonderful accompaniment to the first three courses which were all fish focused.  The Rock Crab Salad was incredible -  flawlessly shelled crab amazingly bound by almonds, on a tart grapefruit gelee with a luscious layer of white sturgeon caviar - I mean, really, Barbara? The textures were so seemingly disparate and the flavors, which could easily be in conflict in a lesser chef's  hand, were so balanced and harmonious...phenomenal.  Wow - talk about an exemplary marriage! 

Served next was the Clean Seas' Bluefin Tuna Tartare with heirloom tomato, lemon cucumber and Greek yogurt.  The tuna was the perfect temperature - not cold, not warm, but an ideal place in between, and the flavor just exploded in my mouth.  There was a crisp wafer separating the fish from the vegetables, but I made it my goal in life to make forkfuls that combined all of the ingredients in a single bite.  The  cucumbers were pickled and the tomato was possibly the sweetest tomato I've had the pleasure of meeting.  There were also fennel flowers, which are the most delicate flowers to admire but possess an intense flavor that directly contradicts their appearance.  When this course was served to our neighboring table I overheard the diner ask "Did I just have fennel?," followed by a moan.  She was definitely having a culinary climax, shall we say.  It is that kind of food.

Maine Lobster
Next was a signature dish - Maine Lobster, pain perdu ("lost bread"), grilled local romaine and dill.  We've had poached lobster before, but this was ethereal - tender, sweet and succulent.  The pain perdu was topped with small pieces of cucumber and dill, while the romaine provided an earthy foundation to the dish.  Now, we all know that dill and cucumbers are friendly, but this dish proves they are in fact lovers - oh my god. At this point in the meal I realized that one of the four women at our neighboring table was chef-owner Barbara Lynch,  dropping colorful comments, as she enjoyed a meal with friends.  What most impressed me (aside from the fact that we had the best table in the room) were her interactions with her staff.  I've waited on many chef-owners over the years and it is unfortunately rare to see the "boss" relate to her staff in a mutually respectful manner, without pretension or hesitation.  The team who served Barbara Lynch completely convinced me that we were equally important in their eyes and there was none of the awful fawning over the owner that I have witnessed too often in other restaurants.  

Carnaroli Risotto
Our red wine was served, a 2006 Peay Pinot Noir "Pommarium," Sonoma Coast, which Tom thoughtfully selected, instead of a more bold Italian red which he knew would be too tannic for me to enjoy.  An aside - we were four courses in and  had not yet looked once for the conspicuously absent salt and pepper.  If you're going to season food this perfectly there's no reason to clutter the table with extraneous items.  We were presented with an unexpected pasta course next - Carnaroli Risotto with summer vegetables and lobster mushrooms.  It was a delightful preparation, the pasta perfectly al dente and the seasonal vegetables were showcased perfectly.  

Hudson Valley Foie Gras
A thick slice of Seared Hudson Valley Foie Gras served on brioche with wild Maine blueberries, pickled blueberries, candied Meyer lemon and basil flower was next - and we agreed that if there were an apocalyptic event following this course, we would die happy.  We were poured glasses of NV Velenosi Lacrima di Morro d'Alba "Visciole," which is an Italian wine that has been flavored with sweet cherries.  Are you imagining the wild blueberries, the sweet cherries, the lemon, both sweet and tart , and the basil?  Yes, yes, yes.  This course required a restraint not prompted by other courses - I actually gave Tom my last bite (Happy Anniversary!) rather than risk becoming too full to continue.  Note to any potential executioners: If I were being led to the gallows - this would be what I would want to eat.

St. Canut Farm's Porcelet
Next up was St. Canut Farm's Porcelet - prepared three ways; pork loin, pork belly and panko encrusted, served with green tomato jam, fava beans and rapini.  The pork belly was incredibly light without the intrusion of smoke, while the loin was smooth with a slight saltiness which the server attributed to the youthfulness of the pig.  The panko added a wonderful textural contrast to the smoothness of the other preparations and the rapini and beans offered a wholesome simplicity to the entire dish. 

Strip Loin of Beef
Pt Farm was the purveyor of the Strip Loin of Beef served with carrot, Langue de Boeuf, sauce Perigeux.  What can I say  (other than apologize for the blurry image)? The Napa cabbage (on the left) was perfectly matched by the potato which was cooked just a half a step beyond crunchy to a done-ness that lent a new flavor to a familiar vegetable.  The dining room was becoming less populated and we began to chat with our neighboring table as we all became increasingly hypnotized by the food, the  wine, the soft, yet distinct music, the bathroom's fragranced absolute seduction was taking place.  This is what fine dining is all about and the un-frilled dining room managed to be feminine to an extreme without obvious artifice - I can't describe it any better than that.

Cheese, wonderful cheese
Oeufs a' la Niege
Naturally, we felt a tremendous need to indulge in some cheese from this beautiful array of artisanal choices - we selected a triple cream (Delice de Bourgogne, Burgundy), an assertive sheep's milk blue (Blu di Capra, Piedmont) and an aged Vermont goat cheese  (Manchester Consider Bardwell Farm) that transported me back to Tuscany.  The cheeses were served with a fig compote, delicate honey and sourdough crostini and we particularly enjoyed the honey with the triple cream and the figs with the blue cheese.  

We were served another unexpected course  - an intermezzo which was a play on Oeufs a' la Neige (or Eggs in the Snow).  Seriously, by this point I was so unbelievably over stimulated by food that my note-taking diminished...there was meringue, creme anglaise, caramelized sugar...I remember being surprised by the refreshing qualities of this simple palate cleanser and actually becoming excited for... another course!  Dessert.

Chocolate cake
Our final course, Chocolate Cake, vanilla glace, cherry, marcona almond was presented with thoughtfully personalized plates and accompanied by a delicious, softly sparkling Piedmont rose.  I hope you'll forgive my lapse in detail in light of the fact that our evening at Menton occupied a full five hours.  If I had to express my ultimate impression of this fantastic restaurant, I would have to say that I was completely blown away by the respect shown to each individual ingredient without an iota of preciousness present.  I can't wait to go back to Boston (never thought I'd say that) to experience Barbara Lynch's other restaurants.  I can't imagine an evening more perfect, nor a place I'd be more happy to spend an amount of money which hovers between a car payment and a mortgage payment.  Thank you, Chef Lynch's staff, Barbara, Terri , Annie and Kristin for an unforgettable celebration.


  1. Wow! Silvia, you have an amazing back up plan if you ever want to ditch the school stacks. Food writer! Please? You rock.

  2. Happy Sweet Anniversary!

    I am in love with your descriptions, especially the lobster. I've always wondered how *good* they could be in a multi-course meal, but wow... wow.

    Although I do have a question. Though my FOH days are long gone, how do you say you are industry to another restaurant? I am assuming it is relatively simple, but were it me, I would somehow make it complex.

    Thanks for taking us with you on your anniversary. Congrats to you and the Mr.

  3. Thank you, Rach - that is so sweet! I was really feeling it at this place, but think I would struggle with the mediocre restaurants.

    AJ - Thanks for the words - and try that lobster someday. I have no hesitation when making a reservation to try to make a connection with the reservationist. When Tom & I went to Tabla, I told the reservationist that we would be dining with them after a weekend of taking care of Valentine's Day guests and would appreciate being given a romantic table. They ended up also making their V day menu available to us.

    Open Table allows you to send a note with the reservation - let the place know how to make you happy in advance. Easy!

  4. I love Open Table for the fact that you can send those "special wishes" in advance. Of course it is up to the restaurant to make good on it (which ours did this year) but it is always worth getting it in writing vs. telling some harried individual on the phone. Happy Anniversary again you two!