Carlo and I were lucky enough to receive as wedding presents several gift certificates to our favorite Boston fine dining establishment, No. 9 Park. Instead of making them last, we decided to go all out and have one big, but cheap, wine-paired tasting menu to celebrate President’s Day (thanks Abe!).
Carlo started out the celebration with a cocktail called the Dharma Bum, a new addition to No. 9’s superlative drinks menu. Carlo chose this drink not because he is a Jack Kerouac fan, but because he is a Lost fan with tunnel vision and thought this must be an homage to the Dharma Initiative. It wasn’t but it was a brilliant combination of rum, lime juice, and cardamom.
We made the mistake of checking out the sample tasting menu on No. 9’s website, and though we knew it was just a sample, we had high hopes of receiving a turnip veloute and escargot pot au feu with pork belly followed by liquid chocolate with pistachio pain perdu. Alas, as we well knew, the menu was different, though no less exciting:
Unfortunately, we have not gotten over our embarrassment of taking pictures in restaurants so you’re stuck with flashless photos from a cell phone. On the left is the crab salad and on the right is the cauliflower panna cotta, which was by the far the most interesting thing we ate all night. It looked like flan but tasted like fresh cauliflower. The dish was paired with NV Nino Franco Prosecco “Rustico”.
Carlo and I practically licked our plates at the end of this round. Those little black chunks are chewy bites of chorizo and the sauce, though not heavy, tasted like chorizo flavored butter…in other words, it was really good. The skin on the cod was crispy and delicious and the brandade tasted almost like mashed potatoes. This was paired with a 2007 Domaine de la Petite Cassagne Costieres de Nimes Rose. I am not afraid to admit that I like rose wines and this one was really delicious. It was almost like dry strawberry juice and, based on a little internet research, is pretty affordable at about $10/bottle.
Though it had a lot of potential, this was our least favorite dish. I don’t love leeks, and Carlo, of course, thought the pasta was cut unevenly and this affected the consistency of the texture throughout each agnolotto. We both cleaned our plates, so it obviously wasn’t offensive, just not as good as all the rest. It was paired with a 2005 Corte Sant’ Alda Soave “Vigne di Mezzane.”
At this point in the meal, guests can choose whether to add an additional supplement or to move on with the tasting menu. There are always two options, the one you see above and then some variation on foie gras. Considering we were there to celebrate, we decided to get one of each of the supplements. The prune stuffed gnocchi is No. 9 Park’s signature dish, always on the menu. I don’t like it. I find it to be too sweet and creamy for pasta. Carlo enjoys it so he got this one and I got the other. This was paired with a 2005 Bastianich Tocai “Plus.” It’s great to see Friulian wines on Boston menus, but it’s unfortunate that it’s usually a Bastianich of some variation. This is not a cheap wine ($50+ per bottle). The Bastianich’s are famous and can charge a premium for it, but there are many good Friulian options out there, tocai and others, at a quarter of the price.
Yum yum yum. I love foie gras in any form, especially when I’m paying for it with a gift certificate. This one was served over a grapefruit gel with a little pistachio cracker on the side. The grains of paradise were all piled into one little corner and were hard to spread around, making the seasoning too overpowering in that corner and underseasoned in the other corners. That said, the grapefruit/foie gras combination was delicious so I just cut the grains off and spread the grapefruit onto the terrine. It was served with a 2006 Domaine du Traginer Banyuls Blanc.
My memory starts to get a little foggy at this point in the evening. I remember really liking the sesame/honey paste. The duck was moist and fatty in a good way. The wine, a 2006 Heinrich Blaufrankisch from Austria, was everything a red wine should be, at least a red wine I want to drink. It was purpley red and tasted like dark cherries and wasn’t too tannic.
The tasting menu really starts to lose me at this point. I can down a dozen plates of pasta, but when I’m no longer hungry, red meat just doesn’t do it for me. I’m ready for cheese and chocolate. I still ate everything and enjoyed it, but I did not enjoy it as much as it probably deserved. It was served with the 2005 Chateau la Caminade Cahors, which was good but I was too in love with the previous wine to get excited about it.
I’d lie if I said I knew what cheese we ate. There was one that was really chalky and one that was really creamy and one that was dark blue…they were all really good and it’s fun that No. 9 let’s you try as many as you want. It was served with little toasts and golden raisins and grapes and honey.
This was our palate cleanser, which was tasty, but nothing exciting. The best part was that the apples were Honeycrisp, which are only available at the grocery store for a few months in the fall, but are categorically the best apples in the world (after English Russets).
Though we had really been looking forward to the pistachio pain perdu, this was a pretty good substitute. The cake was a hazelnut cream on top of a chocolate wafer. On the upper left is the chocolate ganache, which I could have eaten on its own, and then a little chewy sour marasca cherry, the original maraschino cherry (very different from the ones in the jar). This was served with an increasingly ubiquitous (as it should be) Brachetto d’Acqui.
All in all, our marathon meal was a fun way to celebrate President’s Day. It’s hard to justify spending this kind of money on a meal in any economic climate, least of all this one, but we were more than happy to do it with the gift certificate. And if you’re going to splurge on a fine dining experience in Boston, No. 9 is the place to do it.