My favorite restaurant in New England, hands down. Combines the perfect amount of newfangled cooking trends and experimentation with comfort food flavors in a casual and friendly atmosphere. This is the only local restaurant that is attempting to be in the same class as places like Alinea and French Laundry, and it helps that the chef, Rob Evans, used to work with Thomas Keller. As far as I’m concerned, Evans has already surpassed his former mentor, creating an establishment that serves high concept but totally accessible food in an environment that feels like your local bistro.  It’s (almost) priced that way as well. This is not the kind of place that you only go to on your birthday or anniversary. One look at their menus will reveal that, with all dishes under $25, you could easily spend  a lot more and eat a lot worse at any number of Boston restaurants. The variety of menu structures can also accommodate an assortment of appetites. From the traditional appetizer-entree folk, to the somewhat more adventurous who might like the nightly 6 course blind tasting, to the food frenzied who could take the necessary steps of reserving the 15 course Chef’s Menu well ahead of time and structure their vacations around availability. We, surprise surprise, fall into the latter category. A phone call 6 weeks before our visit got us a 6:30 table on a Saturday night for the Chef’s Menu. We were informed that it is typically not offered on Saturdays (I suppose because that’s the busiest night), but that the chef was willing to make an exception (Sidenote: Portland restaurants seem to have an annoying habit of not staffing a reservationist such that when you call to make a reservation you leave a message and wait a day to hear back. Come on, Portland. Shit.) One of the other perks to ordering this menu is that because it’s not highlighted on the website, there’s a one line note at the bottom of the blind tasting menu page, you will elicit a staggering amount of food envy, and since advance reservations are required, that warm self-satisfied feeling will last all meal as other stare on helplessly. The menu goes for $120 a head with $50 for wine pairings. Here’s what we had:

puffed lobster

puffed lobster

The waiter described this as lobster mixed with tapioca, frozen, then fried. Had the consistency of a rice cracker but with a potent lobster flavor.

fried pemaquid oyster, horseradish sauce

fried pemaquid oyster, horseradish sauce

pemaquid oyster, cocktail orb

pemaquid oyster, cocktail orb

We each had a different oyster preparation. Though these weren’t the best bites of the night, they exemplify the way Hugo’s takes classic flavor combo’s and dresses them up. Simultaneously comforting and cutting edge.

romaine hearts, white anchovy, bottarga, caesar dressing

romaine hearts, white anchovy, bottarga, caesar dressing

atlantic fluke crudo, petite panzanella, lemon olive oil, aleppo pepper

atlantic fluke crudo, petite panzanella, lemon olive oil, aleppo pepper

For the next course Liz had a deconstructed Caesar (she loved it -we had a similar dish our first time at Hugo’s) and mine was a wonderfully fresh piece of raw fluke over a savory  and rich panzanella.

smoked trout roe, potato cone

smoked trout roe, potato cone

smoked char jerky ala minute

smoked char jerky ala minute

Liz won out for the next course. I had a very nice smoked trout roe in a potato cone, with some kind of cream hidden in the cone (very similar to the amuse bouche at the French Laundry and Per Se) but Liz was presented with a smoking glass jar set in a cube of ice, containing a piece of smoked char. The waiter explained the technical merits of smoking the char within ice but I cant remember any of it. I’m just a sucker for smoke billowing off a plate, and it tasted great. Brought me back to the smoked fish we had in the Netherlands.

matsutake mushroom "noodles", matsutake consomme, autumn aroma

matsutake mushroom "noodles", matsutake consomme, autumn aroma

This dish came with a story. Apparently the chef and his wife, Nancy, who runs the front of the house amongst other things, had recently moved into a new home they had been working on for some time. This consomme was served surrounded by a bed of nettles, leaves, pines and other assorted shrubbery the chef had foraged from their property that morning, over which the waiter poured steaming hot water to give off a delightful Fall scent.

gently cooked casco bay cod, egg battered croutons, saffron-tabasco mayo, chorizo-mussel broth

gently cooked casco bay cod, egg battered croutons, saffron-tabasco mayo, chorizo-mussel broth

Great textures in this dish. Crispy crouton, flaky cod, chewy mussels.

green apple snow

green apple snow

Palate cleanser. They needed to make sure your mouth was ready for the party that was about to bust out with the next dish.

gedalias farm goat ravioli, fried halloumi, raisin puree

gedalias farm goat ravioli, fried halloumi, raisin puree

Good lord this was amazing. The raviolo was filled with a rich braised goat and the crispy fried cheese and sweet raisin puree was a perfect contrast. I saw this on the regular menu as well so if it’s there, get it, and reap the delicious rewards.

bresaola, shaved fennel, beet

bresaola, shaved fennel, beet

beef fat belgium fry, beef tartare, quail egg

beef fat belgium fry, beef tartare, quail egg

This time my dish won. The thick, crispy fried potato topped with beef tartare and sunny side up egg was the perfect bite.

sweet and sicy sweetbreads, basmati rica cakes, peanut, bok choy, cilantro

sweet and sicy sweetbreads, basmati rice cakes, peanut, bok choy, cilantro

Of all the great food we had, this was my favorite. And again, it was a traditional flavor combination but prepared with a twist. The rice cake was like the world’s best tater tot, and the sweetbread gave the asian flavors a texture contrast that a more traditional meat can’t offer. It was perfect. I ate mine and Liz’s. Very quickly.

"beef ribs", rib eye, short rib, potato puree, multiple= “beef ribs”, rib eye, short rib, potato puree, multiple preparations of onion

The hits just kept on coming with the two preparations of beef along with potato and onion accompaniments. Fried onion, onion puree, onion pearls, grilled onion. The short rib had been pulled and then pressed to form a cube of tender beef heaven, and the potato puree with the pool of gravy was buttery magic.

tarentaise, spring brook farm, reading vt. port poached pear, toasted vanilla walnuts, baguette chips

tarentaise, spring brook farm, reading vt. port poached pear, toasted vanilla walnuts, baguette chips

Even the pear on the cheese plate brought it. Port poached to perfection.

Maine blueberry sorbet, short bread crumble, ginger, honey mead sabayon

Maine blueberry sorbet, short bread crumble, ginger, honey mead sabayon

The first dessert was a nice preamble to the second and third. Started off on the lighter, fruitier side.

"crispy cream" braised apple, date, long pepper

"crispy cream" braised apple, date, long pepper

The crispy cream here was a fried custard  and along with the braised apple it made this dish-licking good.

"Peanut butter cup" warm bittersweet chocolate pudding cake, salted peanut ice cream, peanut butter powder

"Peanut butter cup" warm bittersweet chocolate pudding cake, salted peanut ice cream, peanut butter powder

But this was even better. The salt, the ice cream, the creamy cake that was buried underneath, all contributed to a perfect ender. Might be a bit rich for some after a big meal, but not this guy. I finished Liz’s as well.

There were no flaws in this meal. Usually when we get a tasting menu there is a dish or two that we didn’t love or, perhaps, didn’t even like. But for the second time at Hugo’s the Chef’s Menu has impressed top to bottom. I don’t think there is another restaurant in New England that could pull that off. If you live in Boston, take the ferry, the train, or just drive the 1:45 to Portland and see what it’s all about for yourself.

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In de middle of nowhere

In de middle of nowhere

The best places to eat seem to be the restaurants that are just starting to gain attention. The hyped and the celebrated might sit on their laurels a bit, but a place like In de Wulf, with a young talented chef and one michelin star, has everything to prove and it shows. This was my favorite meal of our trip. The food itself compared with both Hof Van Cleve (I actually preferred it here to Hof Van Cleve) and Oud Sluis, but the atmosphere won me over. This is a food retreat. The restaurant is in a revamped farmhouse which also houses 10 guest rooms – it’sdifficult to find, tucked away in the rolling hills of southern Belgium (very close to the border of France) and there is nothing to do here but lounge around the grounds, take walks or bike rides through the countryside, and eat excellent food. What more could you want? Maybe, maybe, a TV in the room (there are none). But there is free wireless for the technology-dependent.  Our reservation was at 7 so we descended the staircase at the appropriate time and were greeted by the concierge who invited us to have a seat in the lounge  for a drink- a lovely room with a view into the kitchen, low wood tables and comfy chairs and sofas.  A waiter came by shortly after and took our drink orders, suggesting their special aperitif, their version of a Picon,which was outstanding. Then, to our surprise, a waitress began bringing out assorted amuse bouches. It was a great experience to be lounging on couches with our drinks and snacking on these tasty bites. A smart way to build excitement for the meal while creating a relaxed environment. Here is what we got:

whole whelks, whelk mayonnaise

Never had a whelk before our trip but they are popular in the Benelux. Clam like, but thicker. And this was no Hellman’s mayo, not greasy at all and about as refreshing as any kind of mayonnaise can be.

picon

This was their version of a picon, a classic French aperitif that is usually made with wine. This version was a mixture of gin, vodka, manderine napoleon, and lemon and lime juice, over crushed ice with a mint foam. It is now my favorite drink. I’ve tried to have several bartenders in Boston recreate it but no luck so far. I will keep trying. And trying. Until I die of liver failure.

pork two ways

pork two ways

On the left we have a pig’s trotter cracker with mimolette and on the right a pork rind crisp with honeyvinegar. There was so much piggy flavor even in the thin veneer of trotter on the cracker.

marinated sardine, green apple, North Sea crab, sorrel

The Belgians know what to do with fish, and the chef here is no different. Throw some peculiar incarnation of green apple on it and call it a night. Very good.

marinated mackerel, herb pastille

The sorbet-like pastille was a nice contrast with the chewy fish and the crispy chip. At this point we were escorted into the main dining room for the last amuse bouche…

vegetables, herbs and flowers, Keiemtaler cheese

This dish can’t be pulled off unless everything on the plate is the highest quality. Luckily they plucked all this from their garden and the cheese was from a local valley. Light, airy, crusty bread with butter and salted rendered pork fat.

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razor clam, cucumber, seaweed

I love razor clams. They have the texture of squid, very chewy but a much stronger fishy flavor. Many of the dishes at In de Wulf were nothing more than perfectly cooked fresh fish with light and interesting vegetable accompaniments.

egg yolk, chorizo chip, in pork broth
peas, rucola, egg yolk, and broth of lard

This dish was almost perfect. The only problem was the gooey yolk mixing with the broth. The resulting texture was a bit off-putting but it didn’t matter cause it tasted so damn good.

North Sea crab, courgette "Zwartemolen", tagetes

Another great example of an incredibly fresh fish dish with smart complimentary flavors.

Ray, cauliflower, hazelnut butter, capers of elderberry, jus of ray

The fish and the accompaniments began to get richer as the courses passed.

lobster and mashed potatoes
Eastern sheldt lobster, buttermilk mashed potatoes

Hands down the best dish of our vacation. This is the kind of cooking that more fine dining restaurants should start doing. Focus all the energy and creativity and technique into creating dishes with fewer dimensions, each of which blows your effin’ mind. My socks were on fire this was so good.

Eastern sheldt eel, green celery, jus of eel and honeymead

The procession of increasingly rich fish dishes continued with the fatty, oily, eel. This was probably our least favorite dish of the night, but only because we were already kind of eeled out from the Netherlands. The celery cut the fat nicely, though.

sweetbreads
sweetbreads, pickled vegetables

Lamb was originally on the menu but the waiter informed us that the chef was not happy with the quality of the meat delivered that day. Fair enough. We were happy to eat sweetbreads which were perfectly cooked and went well with the pickled vegetables. The only problem here was that pickled vegetables will seriously affect the taste of your wine. To the point where it might be a bad idea to include them in a dish.

pigeon
Pigeon from Steenvorde, red beet, jus of cherries

The Belgian pigeon party continued at In de Wulf – hopefully they’re not getting these suckers off the churches in Brussels. Perfectly cooked and seasoned. This marked the end of the main courses and we (surprise surprise) opted for the cheese before dessert. The cheeses came with an assortment of delightful fruit relishes and jams.

cheese accompaniments
cheese accompaniments

And then began the desserts. Thankfully, all these desserts were of the fruity and refreshing sort. Nothing heavy.

Raspberry, fresh cheese, star anise, chervil, kriek beer

Oddly phallic.

rice pudding, marigold, honey

This picture sucks but there was steam from liquid nitrogen pouring off this dish. It was an interesting take on rice pudding, almost had the consistency of a crumbled rice cake.

Sorrel, lemon balm, mint, green strawberry

The meal ended with some tasty chocolate bites, and then we headed back up to our cozy room to indulge our food comas. I fully expect In de Wulf to start getting more and more attention over the next couple of years and strongly recommend a trip before that happens. If not, the chef will start writing books, only sporadically visit the kitchen and begin marketing a line of frozen lobster and potato dinners. Hurry.

Ranked  #29 on the San Pellegrino list of the top 50 restaurants in the world, Oud Sluis is set in the small town of Sluis which is just over the Belgian border in Netherlands. Sluis is no country town. We had biked there from Bruges the day before our reservation (a beautiful 1hr bike ride along canals and through several other small towns- including Damme, where Liz is convinced Jean Claude Van Damme must be from) and found that the few small streets were lined with fairly pricey international brands. Seems like a vacation town for wealthy Germans and assorted Scandinavian travelers. Oud Sluis reflected this sensibility by being far more modern than we expected. We were prepared for a converted farmhouse with antique furnishing but were met with minimalist decor and trendy fixtures. The food also had this vibe, with the dishes being much more inventive and daring then Hof Van Cleve.  Not only did the kitchen seem like it was pushing the envelope a bit more, but they were having fun with the experience (as exemplified by the iFoie – the piece of foie gras layered with green apple in the shape of the Apple logo). Of course, that would all be worthless if the food didn’t taste good, but every flavor on the plate stood out. Even the iFoie, which could have easily been a kitschy flavorless catastrophe, was delicious.

That said, our experience here ended in tragedy: we were incapable of finishing our meal. We had a 7pm reservation and had to cut our dinner short at 12:45. Yes, that’s right, we threw in the towel and left after almost 6 hours. 2/3 of the way through the dessert courses and before any petits fours and assorted chocolates, coffee, or after dinner drinks. For the most part service was fantastic, but after the main courses finished and it was time for cheese and then dessert, we were more or less abandoned for two intervals of 30-45 minutes. Hard to know what happened but I’m guessing that at the time we were to have dessert there were several other tables that were approaching this stage in the meal and the kitchen may have decided that it made more sense to put us all on the same schedule.  Unfortunately for us the others had arrived far later than us and there was a significant lag between our paces, such that we had to wait a very long time for our cheese and then a very long time for our first dessert. Or maybe they just forgot about us. As much as Liz likes talking to me, if it’s 11:30 and she’s just eaten a 10 course meal and drank a lot of wine, sitting in a comfy chair for half hour will put her right to sleep. Once the desserts came I made an effort to push things along, but it was too late. We asked for the check and headed home.

Service foibles aside, we loved the food and the setting so we are willing to give their mistakes a pass. Below you will find pictures of the meal but, unfortunately, in our haste to leave the restaurant we left our menus behind. I’ll refrain from any descriptions so as not to butcher what they actually are. I will note the standouts, though:

amuse bouche #1

amuse bouche #2

The third amuse bouche was a beer macaroon with some kind of fish tartare. It dissolved almost immediately after touching your tongue but left a sweet and bitter flavor that absorbed into the fish. Very, very good.

crab?

clams with fried cous cous?

The crispy texture of the fried cous cous went perfectly with the big slimy, chewy clams.

??

The contrast in textures was taken to a new level with this dish with the pop rocks. They snap, crackled and popped alongside the chewy baby shrimp, the creamy mayo, and the icy sorbet.

too good to wait

You know a dish is good when I don’t remember to take the picture before eating it.

Same thing happened with this langoustine.

We were skeptical at first, but now this has become the desktop background for my macbook. It just tasted so damn good.

The Belgian and Dutch must love pigeon. It was on nearly every menu at the nice restaurants we went to.

then we waited...

then we waited...

....and waited...

....and waited...

...and waited.

...and waited.

Finally the cheese came. At around 11:30.

And the first dessert at around 12:15…

It’s a shame we missed the last dessert because the first two delivered in both form and flavor. Very attractive presentations and with strong but not heavy tastes. Overall the food here ranks close to the best we’ve had at any of the restaurants on the San Pellegrino list. Not quite as creative as Alinea, L’Astrance, or Fat Duck and not quite as tasty and fun as St John or Calandre.

If you go, be sure to stay in the restaurant’s hotel. They rent three rooms out of a beautiful home a mile outside of town, and provide complimentary shuttle service to and from the restuarant. Called Chico Y Luna, each room has a backyard overlooking  a cow pasture. Beware, if you are not up by 6:30 these cows will wake you up. Mooing at the tops of their lungs approximately 20 feet away from your back door. Screaming, really. That said, it was truly beautiful and the breakfast was as creative and tasty as the dinner.

Welcome to French Laundry. May we hang your soiled-from-anticipation pants up to dry in the garden?

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Liz and I went out to Napa Valley with Liz’s brother and sister-in-law this past weekend to drink some wine and eat some food. We secured a reservation for 4 exactly 2 months ago from  Saturday, May 16th. If you google “french laundry reservation” you will be met with a slew of websites and blog posts devoted to the difficulties inherent in getting a reservation. First of all, you need to call at 10am pacific time (when the restaurant opens) exactly two months before the day that you would like to go. The websites will tell you that even doing this probably won’t be enough as the line will be busy. Some suggest you need to go there in person. There is even a service for which you can pay to have a particular individual get the reservation for you! Such is the desire and perceived difficulty of getting a seat at what is widely considered the best restaurant in the country. I say “perceived” because I am not so sure how much to buy into this.  Liz and I started calling with two phones the moment the clock struck 10am, got through after about a minute,  and had the option of several seatings. I feel like if you do that and you have a window of a couple of days that you are willing to go, you should have no problem. Especially now since it’s star is starting to fade a bit and other US restaurants are considered as good if not better.

To the meal. Everything was delicious, with the standouts being the Oysters and Pearls (Liz said it was her all time favorite bite of food), the Butter-Poached Lobster, the Black Bass, and the Yogurt Sherbet. The service was amazing – the courses were paced well, and our server was fun and informative. The environment in the restaurant was a little stuffy. No music playing so it was a little awkward at first with lots of tables whispering. But it loosened up after a while, presumably as a function of drunkenness. There were two menu options, the Chef’s Tasting or the vegetarian tasting. The waiter strongly urged us to go with the Chef’s Tasting absent any strict vegetarians, and I think that’s a wise move. For the same price ($240) you better have some strong philosophical aversion to meat to go with the vegetarian menu. The menu was 9 courses with four of those courses having two options to choose from. The Foie Gras and the Kuroge Beef courses carried supplemental charges.

salmon tartare

Amuse bouche of salmon tartare with some kind of whipped cheese hiding in the nether-regions of a chive cornet.

Oysters and Pearls“Oysters and Pearls”:  Sabayon of pearl tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and California Sturgeon Caviar

hearts of peach saladSalad of Hawaiian Hearts of Peach Palm: French Laundry Garden Radish, Cucumber, Perilla and Navel Orange

foie grasMoulard Duck Foie Gras in Terrine: Green Grapes, Cutting Celery, Compressed Endive and Black Truffle

black bassSauteed Fillet of Atlantic Black Bass: Garlic Scapes, Carrots, Artichokes and Barigoule Emulsion

tuna tartareTartare of Japanese Bluefin Tuna: Beech Mushrooms, Gengko Nuts, Broccollini and Bonito

lobster knuckleSweet Butter-Poached Maine Lobster “Mitts”: Potato “Mille Feuille”, Golden Corn, Fava Beans, and Pickled Ramps

pork bellyFricassee of Salmon Creek Farms Pork Belly: “Garnitures de Petit Pois a la Francaise”

kuroge beefSirloin of Kuroge Beef from Shiga: White Asparagus, Pine Nuts, Tulare Cherries, Mizuna and Ginger Sauce

cheeseManchester: Cauliflower, Pumpkin Seeds, Zante Currants and Parsley Shoots

yogurt sorbetAndante Dairy Yogurt Sherbet: Oatmeal “Sable” and Royal Blenheim Apricot

chocolate“Gateau au Chocolat Avec Bavarois Praline”: Caramelized Gros Michel Bananas and Hazelnut Sorbet

parfait“Parfait au Cintron”: Candied Lemon, Biscotti Tuile and Lemon Snow

So, what do I think? French Laundry is definitely one of the best restaurants we’ve been to, probably top 5. Was it worth the price? No, I don’t think so. Not considering what you could get elsewhere for the same price or less. Eating there reminded me of what Ezra Klein wrote about Per Se over at the IFA. “It wasn’t going far enough. It wasn’t inventing anything, or surprising you.” There were no duds at French Laundry. Every dish was delicious and beautiful. But there were no jaw-dropping moments either, except of course when the bill showed up. There was nothing playful about the experience. No whimsy. And dammit, if I’m going to plan a trip around a restaurant and pay that much to eat there, I want some f’ing whimsy. The difference between an incredibly fresh ingredient prepared perfectly and a really incredibly fresh ingredient prepared super-duper perfectly does not merit tacking hundreds of dollars onto the bill. There are other places I could go. Eating the Tour at Alinea in Chicago is like French Laundry meets Cirque du Soleil. And cheaper.

That said, it was a great experience. Yountville and the surrounding wine country is a beautiful setting and must be taken into account if you like to travel for restaurants. While Alinea is a better restuarant, I’d rather take a trip to Napa than Chicago.

French Laundry on Urbanspoon

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:

Peekytoe Crab Salad, pickled Island Creek oyster, cauliflower panna cotta, creme fraiche

Peekytoe Crab Salad, pickled Island Creek oyster, cauliflower panna cotta, creme fraiche

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”.

Local Codfish, brandade, chorizo, cabbage

Local Codfish, brandade, chorizo, cabbage

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.

Grilled Leek Agnolotti, Bouchot mussels, razor clams, saffron

Grilled Leek Agnolotti, Bouchot mussels, razor clams, saffron

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.”

Prune Stuffed Gnocchi, seared foie gras, toasted almonds, Vin Santo

Prune Stuffed Gnocchi, seared foie gras, toasted almonds, Vin Santo

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.

Terrine of Foie Gras, pistachio, grapefruit, grains of paradise

Terrine of Foie Gras, pistachio, grapefruit, grains of paradise

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.

Roasted Duck Breast, baby turnips, sesame, honey

Roasted Duck Breast, baby turnips, sesame, honey

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.

Prime Sirloin, short rib ragu, vegetable blanquette, Perigord truffle

Prime Sirloin, short rib ragu, vegetable blanquette, Perigord truffle

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.

Cheese

Cheese

Cheese Accompaniments

Cheese Accompaniments

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.

Grapefruit, ginger, apple

Grapefruit, ginger, apple

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).

Chocolate & Hazelnut Gateau, chocolate ganache, marasca cherries

Chocolate & Hazelnut Gateau, chocolate ganache, marasca cherries

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.
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Shelburne Farms and I go way back. I had my first “fine dining” meal there in 1997 when I visited my brother at the University of Vermont, where we both went to college. In 1999, I spent the nights before I moved into my freshman year dorm room at the inn at Shelburne Farms. And I continued to enjoy the restaurant each time my parents came to visit.

Shelburne Farms is much more than a restaurant and hotel. It’s a 1400-acre working farm, museum, and “education center”, all perched right on the edge of Lake Champlain. When I was a regular patron of the restaurant, there was a disconnect between the restaurant and the rest of the property. The farm is a great, though historically underused, resource for produce, livestock, and cheese.  But the restaurant was a very ordinary brand of fine dining.  A few years ago, when Chef Rick Gencarelli took over the kitchen at Shelburne Farms, he brought with him an appreciation for eating local. He also made the food better and more interesting. So when my brother announced he was moving to the New Frontier after 12 years in Burlington, Vermont, Carlo and I decided to visit him one last time and to go there for a farewell dinner. We had a great meal. Unfortunately it was in August, right around the time we fell off the blogging wagon. We took a lot of pictures so we decided to post them, but I think it’s a little late to critique the food.  I’ll just say that it’s very good, and if you’re looking for a place to go this summer (they are only open April to October), spend a weekend in Burlington and pay a visit to Shelburne Farms. Make sure to go early; part of the experience is wandering around the grounds before you eat.

Shelburne Farms' Cheddar For Pre-prandial Snacking

Shelburne Farms' Cheddar For Pre-prandial Snacking

Carlo's Beet Sangria

Carlo's Beet Sangria

The First In A Series Of Amuses Bouches Small Plates

The First In A Series Of Amuses Bouches Small Plates

Eggs And Bacon

Eggs And Bacon

Savory French Toast

Savory French Toast

Falafel

Falafel

Cold Beet Soup

Cold Beet Soup

Crispy Pig Salad

Crispy Pig Salad

Housemade Charcuterie And Pickles

Housemade Charcuterie And Pickles

Fried Oysters On Crispy Pork Belly

Fried Oysters On Crispy Pork Belly

Handmade Pasta Bolognese

Handmade Pasta Bolognese

Ricotta Gnocchi

Ricotta Gnocchi

Vermont Pig With Cattle Beans And Peaches

Vermont Pig With Cattle Beans And Peaches

Shelburne Farms Lamb With Smoked Eggplant And Yogurt

Shelburne Farms Lamb With Smoked Eggplant And Yogurt

Dessert (I don't remember what this is)

Dessert (I don't remember what this is)

Little Mousse Cup With Macarons

Little Mousse Cup With Macarons

Chamonix is a beautiful skiing/hiking town set at the foot of Mont Blanc near the Italian and Swiss border. For four nights we stayed at the Hameau Albert, an old lodge that was converted into a luxury hotel and is also home to a very good restaurant: Hameau Albert 1er. They had several tasting menus to choose from – because we’re slovenly hogs, we went for the biggest:

The meal was excellent with the standout being the sweetbreads. Nuts and carrots seem like an odd combination but the flavors worked very nicely and the different textures pushed it over the top. The meal came paired with two types of champagne (Esprit du Giraud Rose; Charles Mignon Brut Grande Riserve), a tasty red (Chambolle Musigny ’02 Les Veroilles) and then for the dessert courses a Quinta Infantado Tawny Port. It was a great experience, perhaps a little bit too long (7:00 – 11:30 from start to finish), but worth the mediocre night’s sleep and champagne hangover in the morning.

Sidenote: You may have noticed the picture of Liz above. This is, in fact, not a picture of Liz but rather my attempt to capture the vested nincompoop over Liz’s left shoulder. He was there with his parents, and if i heard correctly they were a Norwegian family on vacation. I could not take my eyes off this Nordic twit for at least half the meal. He reminded me immediately of Hans from Tom Hanks’ finest film, the Burbs, with only slightly less pronounced chops – Liz agreed. But it wasn’t the curious resemblance that caught my eye, but rather his incredibly obnoxious chew. Like a cow grazing in pasture, Hans chewed his food with a nonchalance and obliviousness that mesmerized me. Each open-mouthed chomp stretched his lips to the limit before slowly resetting for another saliva drenched smack. Liz claimed she couldn’t hear him, which drove me even further up the wall.