Boston has several truly notable "fine dining" restaurants within our city limits. These are places that elevate any occasion to "special". They are places where you roll out your best clothing to go. They are places where every detail is taken care of. Bostonians often award top place in this category to L'Espalier, located in the heart of Boston's Back Bay neighborhood. Centering their offering on New England cuisine mixed with the classic French flair, they are widely acclaimed as "perfect" in their culinary execution and "spot on" with their hospitality. Despite my obsession with food, I have failed to enjoy a meal here, until, last night. Each month L'Espalier selects an evening to showcase a certain type of cheese, and incorporates it into three courses, complete with wine accompaniment, for a "prix fixe" price. When I saw that last nights offering was centered around Burrata (a type of mozzarella cheese containing an external shell of mozzarella with a softer center comprised of mozzarella and cream), I knew that it was the night I should first dine at L'Espalier.
Entering L'Espalier we were immediately greeted by their entry way staff, the name of the reservation requested, and the elevator to bring us to the dining room level signaled for. As we stepped off the elevator, our coats were whisked away, and we were immediately led to our waiting table. No need for us to identify ourselves again, the staff had been told who was arriving and where they should be seated. With the rest of the Cheese Tuesday guests we were sat in the Crystal room, a modern, clean space with glass walls displaying the restaurants extensive wine collection. My excitement was palpable as I sat waiting for our evening to begin.
Soon enough we were poured our first glass of wine, a 2008 Triennes, "Sainte Fleur", Viogner, Vin de Pays du Var- simple white, crisp to the scent and to the palate with a simple aftertaste. This was paired with our first course of roasted beets, arugula, and stracciatella. We were lucky enough to have the cheese maker, Lourdes Smith from Fiore di Nonno, with us at the dinner both regaling us with stories about her family cheese making history as well as demonstrating the art of cheese making. She explained to us that Stracciatella is actually just the "inners" of the Burrata- the creamy center made from mixing Mozzarella with cream. I had a difficult time choosing if I ought to be listening to Lourdes, or diving into the dish in front me, however once I chose to sample the salad, there was no going back. The greens had been enhanced with a creamy dressing, with very strong notes of onion. At first bite the flavor of the onion seemed almost too strong, but as second, third, fourth bites were taken, it became addictive. It paired very nicely with the peppery arugula, and was a wonderful burst of flavor contrasting the earthy end of summer beets. The star of this dish, of course, was the Stracciatella, coating the palate with its richness, and mellowing the onion and pepper flavors. This was a perfect start to the meal.
Just as I finished my first glass of wine, a second was poured, a match for our second course. This was a 2009 Crios de Susana Balbo Rose of Malbec, from Mendoza. Sommelier Kate Moore described this wine as a Rose made solely from the Malbec grapes, without any type of blending, and a greatly abbreviated aging process. Rose in color but with a mellower, richer flavor than most, this Rose provided a perfect compliment to our next course. The plates which arrived in front of us provided a wonderful contrast of color- the bright orange pink of smoked salmon, topped with the white cream color of a marscapone burrata, and dotted with capers, nasturtiums, ans micro greens. The salmon, smokey and slightly salty showed the beauty of the rich, dense marscapone burrata. I was delighted that the marscapone maintained its incredible natural flavor. The final element, the nasturtiums and the greens were delicate and yet packed a punch of earthy of flavor when combined with the other components.
Our third pour was a 2007 Il Secondo di Pacina from Tuscany, a Sangiovese with background note of oak, and gentle yet full on the palate. This was served with what turned out to be my favorite presentation of the evening, chicken wrapped in Prosciutto, placed on a bed of creamy polenta and kale, enhanced with a serving of fig burrata. I am not sure if there is a more perfect combination of flavors than this dish. The chicken, tender and moist, cooked to perfection, and flavor enhanced with smoky Prosciutto, dotted with a bit of the sweet and fruity fig burrata was perfection on a fork. The kale, a strong green, was cooked into submission, tender to the fork, and a pleasure to enjoy, especially with a forkful of creamy polenta. As delicious as each component was, the fig burrata was the flavor I kept returning to, lightly sweet, and densely creamy.
Our final course, (though the site had outlined three courses we were served four) was paired with a pouring of 2009 Scagliola, Primo Bacio, Moscato d'Asti- a sweet somewhat fizzy wine. I have enjoyed a glass or two of Moscato previously and know that it is a lovely sipping dessert wine, but find it too sweet to enjoy on its own. I was excited to explore it with the chosen final cheese course, a chili and lavender honey burrataburrata, again and as expected, was the pinnacle of this dish. Lightly scented with the soothing and perfumy flavor of lavender, and enhances with the natural sweetness of honey. I was only able to detect faint signs of the chili in my portion, however although the flavor was so subtle it was not missed overall. The creamy and dense cheese, with it's more savory accompaniments provided a perfect vehicle to carry the sweet dessert wine.
I have always wondered about L'Espalier-wondered if they could really live up to the buzz that swarms around their name. Too often when something, anything really, is raved about to such a degree, I am usually disappointed when I experience it for myself. I am ecstatic to say that L'Espalier lived up to my expectations, both in culinary prowess and in service. The flavors of each dish were layered with precision, each leading to the next, and bring my taste buds on a journey of each. I enjoyed each member of the staff I met, from the lovely team of greeters at the door who joked with me about the perils of heels, to the Sommelier who described each wine personally, and with passion.
I look forward to future visits at L'Espalier, and their unique way to turn an ordinary Tuesday into an extraordinary evening.