Wednesday, July 12, 2006

No. 9 Park

Jonathan is moving away from Boston proper. Luckily, he will still be close enough to pad the Tavern’s profit margin every weekend. We are terribly sad to see him go (it will all be worth it once he gets his prescription pad!). A nice dinner and an occasion to do dress up was the perfect way to send Jonathan off to the dark side (med school) in style. Being the Barbara Lynch devotee that I am, the decision to go to No. 9 Park was an easy one (fair warning kids – settle in because this is going to be a long post).

In my mind, restaurants of a certain caliber have to walk the line between posh and snooty. The distinction is a fine one but makes a world of difference in the dining experience. Snooty restaurants are easy to describe – nothing is done to make you feel welcome and/or good enough to be there and the food is too architectural and too involved - I don’t like my food to be cleverer than I am. I have been to a number of such restaurants but because I am a gracious person (occasionally), they shall remain unnamed.

Posh restaurants are a different creature entirely. Subtelty is key here. The servers are warm, not averse to conversation, and are eager to describe not only the composition of the dishes but also their origin and method of their preparation. A posh space is inviting and not stuffy but is clearly a step above the routine dining room. One can feel relaxed and included in such a room while eating creative and well-prepared food. No. 9 Park is happily such a creature.

No. 9 Park is Barbara Lynch’s flagship restaurant, located in a beautiful Beacon Hill brownstone off the Common. The dining room is sparse enough to avoid sensory overload yet sufficiently decorated to ensure warmth. The khaki-colored walls were lined with large black and white photographs with large flower arrangements underneath. The pleasant and very knowledgeable servers were attentive but never hovered (hovering servers are another unmistakable characteristic of snooty restaurants).

As is the norm for someone of my caliber of dork, I had decided what I would have for dinner a week before getting there – prune stuffed gnocchi with seared foie gras and Vin Santo glaze and day boat scallops with sorrel puree and sea urchin. It turns out that the prune-stuffed gnocchi are the house specialty, as we were informed by our super friendly (and not at all snooty) server. The gnocchi dough is rolled out flat and the prune stuffing is spread on top. Circles of dough are then cut out and folded onto themselves, forming not the typical gnocchi shape, but something resembling free-form ravioli or agnolotti. The sauce was a foie gras and butter emulsion with a hit of Vin Santo. Wow. I patted myself on the back for this selection. The dough was light and soft and coated the tongue. The prune stuffing was smooth, thick, and sweet – a wonderful complement to the seared foie gras. Along with a great 2000 Bordeaux, the house special gnocchi were a near perfect way to start the meal.

The next course were the day boat scallops. “Day boat” means that the scallops were caught and brought to shore the same day and were not treated with preservative agents (such as bleach) to extend their life, as is (disturbingly) common practice. [Lesson here – don’t trust a sparkling white scallop.]

It may be difficult to tell from the picture, but these scallops were gigantic. The painfully fresh, gigantor scallops were caramelized on the outside and perfectly rare on the inside. They were served with a sorrel puree and turnips. Sorrel is a tart green that brings back all sorts of memories for me – the stuff grows wild outside of Moscow and is the base for a cold summer soup that my grandmother used to make. The bright tartness of the sorrel played off the muted creaminess of the scallops. Perfect.

Oh and then the dessert. I had espresso creamsicle with beignets, almond praline, and sweet milk ice cream. The chocolate covered creamsicle (complete with popsicle stick) was more like a frozen milky espresso than ice cream - not too sweet and with a potent coffee flavor. The beignets (resting on cacao nibs) were, and I quote a dining companion, “The best donut I have ever had.” That’s as accurate a description as anyone could give. They were warm and airy, not too sweet and not too greasy… It was like the beignets had found the correct-sized bed in the bears’ house – a happily perfect fit in both taste and texture.
I could go on - we all know I could go on. But I will exercise self control and wrap this up with some pictures of what Jonathan and Lisa had that night. I won’t go into descriptions because that could take another week to write and I have only three days to put together a poster for the meeting. No fun.

Cinnamon-scented braised short ribs with oven dried muscat grapes and fingerling potatoes.

Rack of wild boar with carrots, blackberries, and Indonesian long pepper.

Fleur de Marie with berry coulis and lemon verbena ice cream.

Oh, and in case anyone is wondering, I already know what I will get the next time I am there – roasted squab with morels. I so hope it stays on the menu for a little while longer!


P.S. The picture of Barbara Lynch was, sadly, not taken by me but was instead stolen from her website.

1 comment:

Jonathan said...

What a great dinner. Great food and great company. Look forward to more like this. Why didn't I get into a Boston school?