I highly recommend Sensing to anyone who likes a healthy dose of the absurd. From the seating by the hostess to the dessert menus, the extremely friendly (but extremely poorly trained) waitstaff and the long-on-promise, short-on-delivery kitchen at Sensing never miss an opportunity to violate every expectation you might have for dining in an establishment that is a recent recipient of AAA’s Four-Diamond rating. Our experience single-handedly rendered that distinction meaningless to me. Or, at the least, demonstrated the extent to which Guy Martin’s name rings out amongst the circles of people who dole out these awards. Speaking of Guy Martin’s name, I am confident he’d roll over in his bed at the Ritz if he were to eat at the current incarnation of his Boston namesake.
We arrived at 6pm for dinner expecting to find an empty dining room. We did. But that’s no big deal – the somewhat removed location, the not so great reviews, and what I imagine to be the difficulty of selling the $825,000 – $5 million units at the Battery Wharf have all contributed to the low foot-traffic. We were greeted and seated promptly by the friendly hostess, but given two different dinner menus. A problem which our equally friendly but equally confused waiter had to consult the kitchen to resolve. We immediately ordered the snacking platter which is either one each of 6 different amuse bouches, or 6 of one. To go with our snacks we decided to order a glass each of sparkling wine. Sensing’s wine list is unimpressive – neither varied nor interesting. With so few offerings, you would think the waitstaff would be able to say something coherent about each wine. Liz and I ordered 2 of the 3 possible glasses of sparkling wine – a prosecco and a scharffenberger – and were met with a blank stare and a request to point to what we wanted. This is not the waiter’s fault. To me, failures of knowledge like that demonstrate a restaurant’s rotting infrastructure and total managerial indifference. Whoever is steering the ship at Sensing has seriously failed in their responsibilities to train the waitstaff, and has their sights set on a Fall ’09 closing.
Things did not get any better when the food arrived:
From the bottom right going clockwise we have an oyster with shallots and vinegar (this was quite tasty), some kind of fried cheese with a tomato, a clam, a ball of cantaloupe with prosciutto and a wine jelly, a lobster roll, and in the middle a glass of tomato water. Apart from the oyster, all these were disappointing. The cheese was cold, the “sixty-second clam” earned its name for the amount of time it took to chew through it, the jelly with the cantaloupe and melon had an off-putting mealy texture, the lobster roll was fine, and the tomato water was overwhelmingly infused with vanilla foreshadowing a meal with flavor combinations that I think Devra Frist at the Globe accurately described as “strange, but not delightful”.
I enjoyed my salad, it was certainly the highlight of the night. The tuna was nicely cooked, the lemon dressing was subtle but tasty, and the flavor combination with the anchovy, quail eggs, and cucumber worked well. There’s nothing new about this dish, but it was still a solid version.
Liz’s tomato salad with basil ginger dressing and candied pine nuts didn’t impress. The tomatoes weren’t very good, and when you’re serving a dish this simple, they had better be.
At this point in the evening Liz and I decided to order a half bottle of red to go with our meat courses. As I perused the short list I came across an oddity: under the red wines they had listed a wine called Innocent Bystander, Moscato, 2008. A red moscato? Not listed under dessert or aperitif? I was curious. Maybe this wine list wasn’t so bad after all. I’d only seen a non-desserty moscato once, and certainly never a moscato that had qualities akin to a wine you might reasonably categorize as “red”. But I assumed it was there for good reason and decided to order it. Big mistake. What arrived was a very ordinary incarnation of sweet sparkling rose. Just the thing you want to go with steak and lamb. The waiter commented he had never seen a wine like this before. What I had never seen is a frickin’ sweet sparkling rose listed under red wines, at least not in a restaurant that gave a damn about the quality of its service.
Ordered it rare. It came medium well with pink ends.
Ordered it rare, 1/3 of it actually was (presumably, the 1/3 that was not sitting directly under a heat lamp for 10 minutes), the rest was medium well. And the chick pea fries were soggy, inedible cubes of warm flour. If you want a real chick pea fry go to Garden at the Cellar.
Along with our meat came this plate of mystery asparagus. We didn’t order it, and the waiters didn’t mention it when they brought it over.It was actually pretty good. Wish we knew what the heck it was.
Wanting to get the full Sensing experience, we decided to order a dessert. The waiter, again, brought two different menus, one brunch and one dessert. Upon joking to Liz that the Coast Guard Omelet looked really good, the moment got the best of us and we could not stop laughing at the absurdity of this dinner. The chuckles would have quickly turned into sobs if we thought about the money we were about to spend on it. We waited about 20 minutes for the waiter to return to take our order, ate a mediocre piece of cheesecake, and split.
I am viscerally repulsed that we spent $220 on this experience. This is not a matter of disliking the food. Any kitchen can have a bad night, or a bad table on a good night. But I get the feeling that the people in charge at Sensing know its not going to last and they just don’t care. Such horrible attention to detail shows a lack of pride that surely starts at the top and only then trickles down to the kitchen and waitstaff. If you find yourself near Battery Wharf you’d be better off buying a burger at the nearby Sail Loft and spending your remaining $210 on something other than lining an absentee chef’s pockets.