Friday, December 11, 2009

No. 9 Park, Boston

To say that I respect Chef Barbara Lynch is a vast understatement. A strong advocate of the use of fresh produce from local farms since before it was trendy, Chef Lynch has been an icon of what a great chef should be to me. So when my mother suggested toasting the Holiday Season by indulging in a decadent lunch at No. 9 Park, Chef Lynch's first restaurant, I jumped at the idea. No. 9 Park opened in 1998 to great acclaim by national magazines, and has since been known as one of the best restaurants in Boston. It has always held special acclaim in my eyes as well.
As a true treat we decided to go all out and have the full 6 course tasting menu. It began with a light salad showcasing beautiful Hawaiian Hearts of Palm, accented by segments of citrus fruit, upland, or American, cress, a creamy vinaigrette and lovely pieces of shaved truffle. Hearts of Palm are such a lovely vegetable, slightly sweet, almost creamy and they were so beautifully complimented with the tart citrus segments. The finishing touch of the beautiful shavings of truffle with their gorgeous earthiness was just perfect. A wonderful start to the meal.
Our second course was a simple preparation of seared Yellowfin Tuna. It was topped with ringlets of calamari, and then garnished with red pepper squares and beautiful black squid ink spotted the plate. The tuna was very nicely seared- just a perfect amount of cooked ring around the wonderful deep pink center. The calamari was tender and lovely, though just a bit over salted. The squid ink, which I cant say I have ever had the pleasure of trying before added this wonderful depth to the dish, and grounded the seafood very nicely. A delicious touch.
The third course was one of my favorites of the afternoon- smoked potato Agnolotti served with a truffle butter sauce, bay scallops and clams. From my first bite to the last, this dish was heaven. I adore clam chowder, and this had all of the wonderful flavors of that, without the heavy cream. The Agnolotti themselves were soft and perfectly cooked and their filling was this beautiful creamy puree of potatoes that had been smoked to such perfection that the wonderful thoughts of bacon filled it. The clams and the scallops were perfectly cooked and added to the textures and flavors of the dish. I just loved the idea that this dish was a perfectly constructed ode to the New England favorite, and gave such warmth in its ingestion. Delicious.
Lunch did not stop there, we elected to have the interim "rich" dish as it was referred to us- and both chose the prune stuffed gnocchi, which are often heralded as one of the best dishes that No. 9 Park serves. Their acclaim is well deserved. The gnocchi are served topped with seared foie gras, sprinkled with slivered almonds, and enhanced with just a bit of Vin Santo, the lovely, slightly sweet Italian dessert wine. What an amazing combination of flavors and textures! The gnocchi were perfectly prepared, slightly toothsome, giving away to their jam like filling of prunes. The filling had a very nice sweet flavor, true to a prune, which might have been almost too much sweet, if you didn't mix it with all of the other wonderful flavors. The foie gras was perfectly rich and buttery and its gorgeous texture was a wonderful offset for the sweet prune and Vin Santo. The almonds added just that perfect crunch in the dish, the addition that gave a wonderful jolt of texture.
Our last savory course was served as three perfectly cooked medium rare pieces of roasted sirloin, served atop a short rib ragu mixed with sauteed greens (chard and spinach as I could tell), and alongside was a small tower of polenta, topped with just a sliver of bone marrow. The sirloin was gorgeous. Fantastic flavor, perfectly seasoned, tender and moist meat. For a steak lover- it was perfection. The short rib ragu was far more fun than I had anticipated and I picked up notes of sweet caramelization in the meat which so nicely offset the hearty greens. Finally the polenta offered a nice background for the other vibrant flavors that appeared on the plate, re centering the palate for each bite. The only disappointment to this course was the marrow, which had unfortunately suffered a heavy hand of salt and its wonderful melt in your mouth buttery flavor was lost just a bit. However, this slight concern did not ruin this amazing course- the different levels of flavor and even the colors used made for a wonderful execution.
Our interlude before dessert was a lovely citrus salad, dressed with citrus juice. I preferred this as a palate cleanser far above the usual sorbet which I sometimes feel is too much, or more of an obvious solution. This tiny amount of tangerines, kaffir lime and lemon was elegant and beautiful to look at, and a perfect cleanser before the next course.
Dessert for me was Chocolate Gateau, a sliver of chocolate cake topped with a wonderful chocolate glaze, littered with toasted Hazelnuts, star anise glace and coffee beads. The flavor combinations were incredible, as were the texture combinations of the ice cream, cake and hazelnuts. It was a beautiful dessert. My mother elected to try one of their other desserts and settled on a fig cake at the recommendation of the manager. She had described it as a "Christmas in every bite", and we had to agree that she was absolutely correct. The warmth of the cake, with the variations of flavors and spices was just incredible and made you long to see a snow swirling around lit evergreens when you looked out the windows. It was just a wonderful, cozy dessert.
As I have been before, I am utterly delighted by No. 9 Park. The creativity in the kitchen is more than complimented by the courteous, professional and incredibly helpful staff. Each person that we came into contact with was wonderful and happy to respond to any question we had, or concern we expressed.
I, who gladly admit having a chef crush on Chef Lynch, was thrilled to see her in the dining room, even on just a random afternoon during an extremely busy season.
No. 9 Park remains one of my very favorite restaurants, in Boston and beyond.

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