Monday, June 6, 2011

Eastern Standard Kitchen, Boston MA

When I arrived in Boston my Monday lunch had originally been unscheduled; on one hand I figured I’d be getting a bit worn down by the conference by that point but at the same time I did not want to marry myself to anything specific in the event that I was least that was the plan until I ate at Island Creek Oyster Bar two days prior and walked by their sister restaurant Eastern Standard en route to Fenway the same day. Having already heard about Eastern Standard from locals and duly impressed by Owner/Chef (and L’Espalier trained) Jeremy Sewall’s approach at ICOB I checked out the menu and called to make reservations along with a “if possible” request that would turn out to be quite possible.

With the best lectures of the day largely pooled in the morning hours and Eastern Standard featuring lunch, dinner, and “mid-day” seatings (and menus) I scheduled my reservation at the very end of lunch and arriving at 2:20 I was right on time. With the restaurant 95% empty save for a couple at the bar and a few folks on the patio when I arrived I was greeted first by a pair of hostesses (who would actually be interviewing new wait staff during my visit) and told I could sit anywhere I liked. Opting for a table near the patio but protected from the sun I was seated at a nice marble two-top table with vintage leather chairs and next visited by Ksenia, my omnipresent server, who would present the lunch menu and descriptions of the daily specials, charcuterie, and soup.

Wanting to sample broadly from the eclectic menu and having already confirmed that my special request from the dinner menu could be accommodated at lunch I sat and decided for a few moments and after being told the stuffed dates were sold out my order was placed, water was filled, and I was left to soak in the nostalgic feel of the room and music while I waited watching folks walk by on Commonwealth. With Dean Martin overhead and a red vinyl couch and pictures of Marilyn Monroe to my right it would not be long before Ksenia would appear at my table with my first bites of Eastern Standard’s cuisine – a small plate with five half slices of Whole Wheat Sourdough and smooth unsalted butter. With fond memories still lingering of the impressive bread and butter at Island Creek I will merely note that this bread was a bit of a letdown only for that reason, otherwise it was serviceable table bread served warm and baked in house.

Opting for three appetizers as opposed to an appetizer and a main course my first dish to arrive from the kitchen was my request from the dinner menu and delivered hot with golden brioche “match sticks” Pan Seared Hudson Valley Foie Gras with Rhubarb and Fennel Cream was a very good preparation with sweet and savory holding one another in check while also each complimenting the delicate liver in entirely different ways. Ample in portion and equally in flavor I’ll note that while I personally would have benefitted from more of the golden brioche this is a minor quibble I have pretty much everywhere except places where it is replaced anew during the course of the dish.....and even then I really can’t say no to more brioche.

With the foie gras as good as hoped it would be a bit of a delay, perhaps 25 minutes of reading my conference books, before my second and third plates would arrive – one excellent, one not so much. Beginning first with the daily charcuterie plate with mustard, cornichons, and pickled onions the days selections on the bargain $14 board would be Coppa, Salami, Prosciutto, Duck Rillets, Lamb terrine with mint, and Veal tongue – all excellent examples, but particularly the rillets and the veal tongue which were both a bold balance of spices, salinity, and texture.

Having noted my disappointment with the accompanying dish I will note a caveat in that when I mentioned the issue – namely overcooked egg and undercooked sweetbreads – it was replaced immediately and not only was an apology offered, but the dish was comped as well…but unfortunately it still was not all that good. Titled Frisee aux Lardons with Hazelnuts, Sweetbreads, and Poached Egg this salad certainly had all the makings of a great dish, but unfortunately the gaminess of the sweetbreads when combined with too heavy a hand with the vinaigrette led to something muddled, heavy, and simply lacking the balance I’d hoped.

With my primary target of the afternoon being a dessert (even more so than the Foie Gras) my order was placed without need for a menu and when delivered I knew immediately that this would be one of the highlights of the trip. Described as “Butterscotch Bread Pudding with Praline Ice Cream and Salted Caramel” and delivered as a steaming hot square absolutely smothered with liquid caramel the only way to sum up this dish is with the Def Leppard lyric – “I’m hot, sticky sweet.” With the pudding thick and creamy, the caramel salty and smooth, and the ice cream retaining its temperature by clever placement atop a thick praline this was everything a pan-style bread pudding should be and one of the best I’ve ever tasted.

With caramel, foie gras, egg, pork, and sweetbreads now competing for stomach space my server arrived once again to ask me if there was anything else I’d like and joking that a nap would be nice I was cleverly oriented to the fact that Eastern Standard was attached to a hotel (something I’d have never guessed as it certainly does not feel like a “hotel restaurant”) and with the bill paid I thanked the team and made my way outdoors for a nice walk to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts to see the Chihuly exhibit. With my last dinner of the trip still to come I can without a doubt say that for a place marketing itself as a “kitchen” or “bar,” the food and service that Eastern Standard is offering is certainly more befitting of a proper restaurant and one well worth a visit for those traveling to Boston – especially for dessert.

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