Menton: Reaching For the Stars (Michelin?) from Boston’s Fort Point
Menton’s team would be discovering and learning in only their third week of service, and we would be celebrating a full and exact 25 years of marriage; an intriguing juxtaposition of experience. Still, I decided to ring up Eli Feldman, Director of Operations at Barbara Lynch Gruppo, to squeeze into their newest project for our personally auspicious mid-April evening celebration. Menton appears to physically attach itself to Drink and Sportello like customized, Fort Point Lego pieces. The connection ends there though, since Menton is focused on something bigger than either, grander and more superb than any restaurant project I have ever tripped over in Boston.
There have been a couple of large personal milestones for me in the past year and a half; my 50th birthday and 25th wedding anniversary. At the half century mark, we celebrated in Hong Kong eating the most delicate, juicy, piping hot, soup riddled Xiao Long Bao I could find. Staying more local for the anniversary, I planned on heading to an old favorite until a last minute change in plans. It dawned on me that Jeffrey and Cheryl Katz, who have designed just about all of Barbara Lynch’s spaces and regularly contribute to our residential design and architecture magazine, New England Home, were rumored to have created a most respectable, glamor tinged, grand, and inviting dining room that begged for special occasions.
We arrived 15 minutes early and were escorted to the lounge to be greeted by General Manager Alec Riveros and Eli Feldman,and jump started our evening with a couple of glasses of the spectacularly delicious value Aubry Brut Premier Cru NV Champagne. It is a classy wine to match a lounge space that was anything but a bar, and more akin to an updated but familiar family waiting room in Buckingham Palace. Classic couches combined with modern austerity and warmth as we slipped into a deep exhale and our Champagne moment. Aubry is a “grower” Champagne (small production, same people farm and make the wine) and a Terry Theise Selection, hand picked by Cat Silirie for this impeccable list that is reason enough to visit Menton (countless pages of Burgundy, strength in most food friendly wine regions and varietals, short on Bordeaux). It is a spectacular value at around $40 retail, and it’s a classy, clean, well focused, and crisp bubbly with notes of orange rind, wheat, and chalk. It was a special kick off to the night and was accompanied by a platter of ethereally crisp and feather light potato crisps separately topped with either celeriac/honey, potato/ginger, or carrot/honey?ginger? purees.
We slipped into the dining room relaxed, both thinking that the designed space and wrinkle free reception had transported us back to New York or, maybe, Paris. Could this be Boston? It felt a little too grown up, very cutting edge, with a Continental elegance that is rarely apparent in New England. We ordered the tasting menu (the only other option you have is the four course menu) and made our way through it in just over four hours time.
-Bacalao SoupWhite Sturgeon Caviar, Chervil, Potato-Steamed Black BassFava Beans, Sumac, Morels-Roasted Maine LobsterCauliflower, Asian Pear, Herb Purée-Seared Foie Gras de CanardPoached Meyer Lemon, Date Jus, Fennel Pearls-Whole Roasted SquabPeas, Radishes, Pea Tendrils-Elysian Field Farm LambEggplant, Citrus, Black Garlic-Bitter Chocolate CrémeuxOlive Oil, Cocoa Nib
We launched the multi course extravaganza with a couple of pleasing glasses of a fat, mildly sweet, rich, and floral 08 Christoffel Urziger Wurzgarten Riesling and then mistakenly (should have went with the wine tasting to accompany the courses) stayed with the expressive, but not always paired appropriately , Hirsch 2007 San Andreas Pinot Noir, through the entire meal. It is a rich Pinot with touches of candy apple combining with earth, a middle of black cherry, some root beer on the nose, with medium to heavy young tannins. The Menton team asserts that Burgundy is the region of choice to accompany their food. I absolutely get that, with the earthy and bright flavors a clear pairing choice for most of the dishes. This California version was a fair compromise, but I think we could have had more perfect pairings with the right Burgundy. We were impressed with almost all of the dishes including the fish:
And the surprise course of classic Lynch styled risotto with quail eggs:
The evening rolled along with the swishy, non-intrusive dining room motion of the multiple-server-to-diner-ratio effect, managing endless plate and silver setting changes, signaling to diners and wait staff alike where each table stood in their epic food parade. The flavorful courses were mostly perfect, and those that were rooted in familiar genres and ingredients found in previous Lynch establishments seemed to rise above the rest. At least half the courses were perfectly and gracefully sauced tableside. Evidently, it is just too hard to sauce perfectly in the kitchen and have things arrive at the table as they were intended 75 feet across the room. It added to all the pomp and circumstance of the experience. We were treated royally all evening, and Eli managed to stop by frequently, sharing his down to earth freshness and candor to help break up some of the formality that seemed just a touch over the top, but a welcome change, for Boston.
Austrian glassware by Zalto served as a wonderful surprise and new discovery for me. Evidently, these wine glasses are 4X more expensive than the usual high end glassware more commonly found in fine dining arenas, and Menton had to have its dishwashers tuned down to accommodate the finer vessels. These glasses wowed me and showed the wines off really well. Their deployment was a positive punctuation to the fine service level and a good enough excuse, all by itself, to make a return visit.
On the other hand, a bad surprise occurred when a couple sat down on the banquette next to us, in the middle of our meal, and the aromas from what must have been a pint of cheap perfume ruined the wine and food until our senses could adjust. There should be laws against that, like anti- smoking laws, or maybe just a note of inclusion in the dress code. There was a group of men in the middle of the dining room without jackets and sporting tatoos, and while they did not fit the scene, they were far less offensive to my experience than the woman next to us a pretending to be a blooming botanical garden float in Boston’s St. Patrick Day parade.
There were a few small snafus in service, and that was to be expected three weeks in. But, when you shoot as high as Menton does, every crack shows a little more than usual. I suspect that these will get ironed out, like the 15 minutes between presenting the whole pheasant to the table and actually plating the course. Also, it felt like some of the wait staff have not yet grown into their dark, formal service uniforms. At moments they appeared to be role playing, and not really internalizing the experience of delivering service at this grand level. But alas, it is Boston and not New York or Paris. It is the tightrope that Menton walks. The restaurant is very, very special right now. It already lives at the extreme top of Boston’s dining scene. Whether it can become something of note on the world stage, and touch the stars they are aimed at from Boston’s Fort Point outpost, is a possibility that remains to be seen.