After having two bad experiences at L’Espalier, I had assumed I’d never go back, but Monday night I found myself there for L’Espalier’s weekly wine night. The other two bad experiences involved their parallel weekly cheese night in early 2007 and then a birthday tasting menu dinner in late 2007. I don’t remember anything about the food and wine at Cheese Night; all I remember is being forced to pretend to sing and Carlo leaning over and whispering, “Which of our tablemates is most likely to be a serial killer?” We couldn’t decide; it seemed that they all had potential. After having time to recover from that, Carlo and I decided to go there for a tasting menu for our shared birthday in December. We had just done the same at No. 9 Park two weeks earlier so it was hard not to compare. No. 9 had better food, better wine, and better service. We thought the food at L’Espalier was boring and dry, and to top it off our cheese plate, which they selected for us, to our chagrin, had been sitting so long that all of it had congealed to the plate and hardened.

So like I said, I was surprised to find myself back there. This time, it was for a work event. Despite my misgivings about L’Espalier it is not so bad that I would pass up a free visit. Plus, I knew I would know everyone at the table and they don’t sing on Wine Night, so it didn’t seem that it could be that bad. It wasn’t. It wasn’t that good either, but I had fun and didn’t pay for it so all was not lost. The $60 menu, which was called “Summer Sippers” was as follows:

2007 Fairhall Downs, Sauvingnon Blanc, Marlborough, NZ paired with Chilled Melon Soup with Duck Confit

2007 Gai’a, “14-18H”, Rose, Agiorgitiko, Greece paired with Squash tagliatelle salad with feta, almonds and tahini dressing

2006 Montinore, Pinot Noir, Williamette, Oregon paired with Raspberry barbequed chicken with collard greens and potato salad

2006 Burgaud, “Vieilles Vignes”, Morgon, Beaujoulais pair with L’Espalier’s cheese course: Manchego, Taleggio and Bayley Hazen Blue Cheese from Vermont

The best thing I can say about this menu is that the pairings were done well. All of the wine and food together were more than the sum of the parts. That said, the parts weren’t all that good. The Sauvignon Blanc was the best stand alone wine and it was nicely chilled and probably would be good with any sort of light food in the summer. Still, it was not very complex or interesting. It was a little grassy, a lot of tropical fruit and citrus, etc–everything you’d expect in a decent NZ Sauvignon Blanc. It went well with the soup, though the soup was just so-so. I don’t know why: the mix of the duck and the melon just didn’t work. It didn’t even look that good.

Next, we had the tagliatelle, which for the record, was not tagliatelle. It was shredded squash with a pretty good dressing. And as for the rose, it was like sickly sweet candy. And I’m not saying that because I’m a rose-hater. In fact, I tend to like roses and I’m always excited to try Greek wines. This just wasn’t good. Maybe it was meant for food and again, together the squash and wine were pretty good. I was still mad about the tagliatelle though. I thought I was getting pasta with squash, not squash unsuccessfully mimicking pasta.

Next, the barbequed chicken was good, moist, but maybe not something I’d expect to get at L’Espalier. I know they are trying to show they are versatile and can do barbeque just as well as they can do duck confit, but they didn’t really impress me. Throwing raspberry on barbeque doesn’t make it clever.  The wine was okay. I normally love Oregonian Pinots, but this one was just okay. I can’t really remember much about it, and my distaste for it might have been caused by having three wines in quick succession. Together though, the food and wine blended well.

Finally, the cheese was good. But I love cheese and I would think it was good in almost any form. The thing I didn’t like was that the portion sizes varied considerably. I probably only noticed this because mine was considerably smaller than everyone else’s, but whatever, it wasn’t fair. The Beaujoulais was like the perfect table wine: quaffable, nothing challenging or sharp. Pleasant plain red wine.

And finally, we had some petits fours to send us off, for those who didn’t stick around for dessert. I ate two chocolate ones. One was okay, a sort of tiramisu cake with a hint of raspberry. It was kind of soggy but tasted good. The mini chocolate cake I ate was dry and flavorless. I didn’t try the others, an orange thing and a madeleine, but one of my colleagues said jokingly that the orange thing ruined what had been a great night. So there you have it. L’Espalier is overrated despite their charming quintessential Boston townhouse location, which they are soon leaving for the “grander” Mandarin Oriental. Don’t waste your money. Go to No. 9 if you want to drop your paycheck on a fancy meal.

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