As I have previously mentioned, I have been reading The Last Days of Haute Cuisine by Patric Kuh for some time now- its one of those that I'm refusing to finish. Kuh's description of how restaurants began, and the image of privilege and wonder is one that has stuck with me. Restaurants today are a far cry from what they began as. Today it is not uncommon for Americans to eat out several times a week, and restaurants have catered to this. Now we have "neighborhood restaurants", kid friendly approaches to make it easier on parents, we hold "pub grub" to high standards because no longer do we go to a bar just to drink- we want a good meal out as well. But at the turn of the century, it was a very special occasion to eat out. Patrons dressed up in their best clothing, and relished every moment of the meal. Restaurant staff catered to every wish, and treated their guests as just that- guests. Wait staff was dressed to impress, and all was served with a flourish. There are not many places around any longer that have held on to this ideal. Many restaurants today encourage a "come as you are" dress code, and many have relaxed their staff uniforms as well. Black pants and a collared shirts still seem to be a staple, but gone are the tuxedos of a few decades ago. However, last Friday, I had the distinct pleasure of walking back in time for an evening, and dining in what I assume is one of the last of a dieing breed- a restaurant maintaining their stance that to dine out is a special occasion and they are going to treat it that way.
Anthony's Pier 4 on the waterfront, opened in 1963, is a long standing staple in Boston's cuisine. Recent reports have found that their quality of food has gone down hill, but they have maintained their place in haute cuisine and all that goes along with it. When we arrived we were greeted by several staff members, the men dressed in tuxedos and the ladies in black skirts and white collared shirts, well pressed. We were led to table with a gorgeous view of the harbor. From there, we were treated incredibly well. Each glass of wine, each course was served with a bit of a flourish, from the bread basket served with a generous plate of marinated mushrooms as well, to our entrees.
We started the meal with a plate of calamari for the table. The batter was light and crisp, and the pieces of calamari were large enough to stand up to the varied flavors of both the batter and the dipping sauces. Calamari is a dish, in my opinion, that is either served very well, or very badly. There doesn't appear to be an in between very often, this was served very well. Each of us then moved on to a cup of their clam chowder. Though I know that the proper way to make chowder is a thinner based mixture of milk and clam juice, I prefer the thicker staple that we are often served normally made with cream or some type of roux. Anthony's was the thinner variety, very smokey in taste, with a great many clams and potatoes. While not my favorite, it was delicious in its own right.
I selected grilled swordfish for my main dish, served with a baked potato and a Cesar salad. The salad was served first, well dressed, fresh lettuce, though I anticipated that. To be served anything less would have been a shock. The swordfish was beautifully grilled, and was served resting in a pool of tomato and olive buerre blanc. The sauce, sweet and salty at the same time from the mixture, was the perfect accompaniment allowing me to enjoy the full flavor of the fish, and breaking up the monotony in places as well. Though I was extremely jealous of the baked stuffed lobster that one of my dining companions ordered, and looked delicious, I was very satisfied with my dish.
They had an incredibly extensive dessert menu that I just wasn't able to indulge in, but all on it looked incredibly delicious. I can note though, that my cappuccino was very well made.
All in all, I was very impressed with Anthony's. Their attention to detail was flawless, down to a staff member carrying a basket of warm popovers around the dining room and filling each tables bread basket half way through their meal. I was there on a business meeting, and so we sat for quite some time at that table, others around us being turned three times, but not once did I feel rushed in the least. Our waiter seemed more than happy to allow us to sit, chat, conduct our meeting as needed, and take over his table for the night. He engaged with us when we asked questions, was very knowledgeable about the history of the restaurant, the area and the menu itself. Was the meal itself one of the best Ive ever had? No. The dishes were not particularly creative, nor were they presented with that artistic flair that Ive come to expect, but the aura that is Anthony's Pier 4 doesn't belong in that sense, it is in the tip of that hat that it gives to what dining out is really all about- making the guest feel special.