The two official weeks of Boston Summer Restaurant Week 2007 have officially passed, and though I have two upcoming dinners at Union and Pigalle (which are extending their menus through the end of the month), I will now write some commentary on the three restaurant meals I had. I am pleased with myself for securing reservations at three of the very best restaurants in Boston.

The restaurants:
–L’Espalier
–Smith & Wollensky
–Excelsior

Since I started working in the luxury market, I’ve become a bit of a foodie from a distance — I’ve looked through so many menus in New York and elsewhere, and I feel like I’ve gotten a good feel for restaurants, between reading lots of different reviews and seeing people’s tastes, especially when I discuss restaurants with my clients.

Because of this, I’ve been trying to become more of a foodie. I already love and appreciate fantastic and innovative food. The only thing is that I can’t really afford to do it, and most of my friends can’t, either. I will settle for a meal at a really nice restaurant at least once every two months, even if it’s just for brunch or afternoon tea. I think I’ve been doing pretty well so far. In the past year, I’ve been to ten nice restaurants in Boston (at least on OpenTable).

Here’s the rundown:

Meal One: L’Espalier
Went for: Lunch
Went with: Sarah

–Appetizer: Chilled watermelon soup with creme fraiche
–Entree: Baked trout over chickpeas with asparagus
–Dessert: Small fig cake and small brownie with whipped cream

Food: 9/10

Each dish was delicious and quite innovative, with the exception of the dessert. The dessert didn’t seem very inspired. Otherwise, the watermelon soup was surprisingly savory, minty and the creme fraiche made it robust. The trout was AMAZING, and the chickpea and onion mixture had an almost cinnamony, nutmegy taste. The asparagus was nice and lemony. Everything was perfect. It was a shame that the dessert, while delicious, was a bit of a letdown after the meal.

Sarah had the trout as well, and she had a salad with strawberries and goat cheese for her appetizer. The goat cheese was incredible. Also, I loved the bread and butter so much that I had three pieces.

Service: 9/10

Our waiter was very attentive and wasn’t obtrusive. My only critique of him was that he seemed a bit robotic — he didn’t smile once. There is a very low staff-to-guest ratio, and when you walk in, dozens of people welcome you. It did, however, feel a bit unnerving when they did rounds in the tiny room. It didn’t seem necessary — it kind of reminded me of teachers’ aides walking around the cafeteria to keep an eye on us.

Atmosphere: 8/10

It’s hard to critique the atmosphere during lunch when normally the restaurant is for dinner only. It’s definitely a nighttime restaurant — hushed and quiet. L’Espalier is just about the fanciest restaurant in Boston, and Sarah and I felt like we were disturbing the perfect silence by speaking louder than a whisper. Because of that, I found the atmosphere kind of creepy. I’m sure it’s much better for dinner, however. The restaurant is situated in an old house, and it will be moving to one of the ritzy hotels next year. The restaurant is beautiful. Again, being in a small house, it felt more personal — like you were invited to dinner at someone’s house.

Meal 2: Smith & Wollensky
Went for: Dinner
Went with: Dad and Sarah

–Appetizer: Split pea soup
–Entree: Bacon-wrapped filet mignon
–Sides: Asparagus and whipped potatoes
–Dessert: Key lime pie

Food: 9/10

Everything was so good, I thought I would die. Especially the steaks — my god, that was the best steak I have ever had in the U.S.! (You just can’t compare it to the steaks in Bella Firenze. Steak is what Florentines DO. There’s no comparison.) The steak was absolutely perfect. I can’t even go into adequate detail — it was nirvana. The split pea soup was creamy and delicious, and the croutons became nice and soggy (in a good way), instead of not absorbing any liquid. The key lime pie was all right — it tasted good, but the filling was soupy, and the crust was quite hard. I just scooped up the filling with my fork.

Sarah had a gorgonzola-crusted filet and my dad had an Oscar style filet. They were delicious. Each of them got the creme brulee. I consider myself a bit of an aficionado when it comes to creme brulee, and I’ve eaten it in at least four different countries (U.S., Canada, France, Italy). It was quite good, but not outstanding.

Service: 7/10

Our waiter was all right. He was professional and courteous. However, he didn’t have the seamlessness about him that you would expect from a waiter in a fine dining restaurant. For those prices, I expect better than that. I was about at the same level as him when I worked at Joe’s, and Joe’s isn’t nearly as pricey as Smith & Wollensky.

The seamlessness was there between the hosts downstairs and upstairs, and the back-end waitress was great (mostly for putting up with my dad’s antics. He was so excited to be there, he was like a little boy on Christmas morning). We were left on our own most of the time, and it never felt like the waitstaff intruded.

Atmosphere: 8/10

The restaurant is in the Castle in the Back Bay, which is pretty cool in itself. The interior covers several floors, and my friend Jess told me not to sit on the first floor. We sat on the second floor. The interior is decorated in an old American style — just like Joe’s, only slightly more upscale. We were seated in a little round dining room. The thing is, it’s a steakhouse — the atmosphere can’t compare with a fine dining restaurant. For a steakhouse, I give it a high rating.

Meal Three: Excelsior
Went for: Dinner
Went with: Andy

–Appetizer: Asparagus vichyssoise with scallops
–Entree: Pork schnitzel with potatoes
–Dessert: Chocolate AMAZING LITTLE THING (can’t remember exactly what it was)

Food: 9/10

The asparagus vichyssoise was beyond amazing. It was fantastic. I couldn’t imagine a better accompaniment than the scallops. I was so sad to be scraping the bottom of my bowl after a few minutes. I’m almost inspired to look up a recipe for it, though I know mine wouldn’t be nearly as good! To be honest, I found the entree choices less than inspiring. I was expecting something more than pork schnitzel or baked haddock, though both were delicious. Neither were innovative. The desserts, however, were unbelievable. I can’t describe the texture of my chocolate amazing little thing — it looked like fudge, but it was softer than silk, yet glistening with moisture (in a good way).

Andy got the baked haddock for his entree, which was pretty good. He got panna cotta with blueberry consomme for his dessert, and it was wonderful, different and delicious.

We both did the half-glass wine pairing. Neither Andy nor I thought the first wine matched the vichyssoise well, though the second and third wines matched very well. It was a great way to have the wine experience — half glasses were perfect. (Any more than that and we likely would have ended up making a scene, Per Se-style.)

Service: 10/10

Now, THIS was a restaurant that got the service right. Everyone was courteous, polite and moved seamlessly. I couldn’t tell you what my waiter looked like — he just swept in with a smile and was gone the moment he became extraneous. He was quite pleasant for the few moments that he was there. All of the movements were fluid and must have been calculated. Everything was timed perfectly, and we didn’t feel rushed or bad for lingering. (I was expecting to get my check dropped with dessert, but that didn’t happen at all.)

Atmosphere: 9/10

The atmosphere is a 9 only because I wasn’t blown away or shocked in any way. That being said, the atmosphere was fantastic. One very cool thing is the wine elevator. The glass elevator goes up a few stories and is surrounded by hundreds if not thousands of wine bottles — Excelsior is known for being one of the top Boston restaurants for wine enthusiasts.

The restaurant is dark and seems to be equally classic and modern. Some tables have a great view of the Public Garden. You can tell that it’s a really nice place, but it doesn’t have a pretentiousness about it. I think that may have been one of the problems with L’Espalier — it felt like I was intruding, and I felt like nobody in the room really fit. After all, everyone was dressed up in the middle of the day! At Excelsior, however, I felt like it was perfectly appropriate that I was eating there. It felt very comfortable.

The circumstances under which I would return (assuming I have enough funds to have a nice meal for any time other than Restaurant Week):

I would go to L’Espalier for a very romantic evening, or to celebrate something special. I would go all out and do a tasting menu, letting Frank McLelland do what he does best. I would only want to take people who are both serious about food and open-minded when it comes to cuisine. I would only want to go with a few people — four at most.

I told my dad and sister that I would take them back to Smith & Wollensky to celebrate my book deal, whenever in my life that ends up happening. It would be a great place for my crazy family, friends or a big group. Getting wild and crazy wouldn’t be taboo the way it would be at the other restaurants.

I would go to Excelsior anytime! It’s a very good choice for someone who doesn’t know exactly where to go, because I can see it fitting well for several different scenarios. Of course, I would want to go with a fellow foodie and especially someone who enjoys good wine.

Here are the remaining places where I would like to go most. Let me know if you’ve got some money to burn and you’d like to join me.

–The Beehive (so hot right now)
–Mare
–Sibling Rivalry
–Sandrine’s
–Pho Republique
–Gargoyles on the Square (in my neighborhood!)
–Sabur (also in my neighborhood!)
–Tremont 647 (for the pajama brunch especially)
–Hammersley’s Bistro

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