Savory Morsels

The Culinary Adventures of a California Girl

Saturday, May 13, 2006

***May 13: No. 9 Park***

No. 9 Park
9 Park Street
Boston, MA
Every time I planned a trip to Boston, No. 9 Park would be near the top of my possible restaurant list. And yet, somehow, I never managed to actually go there until last weekend. After making my reservation exactly 28 days in advance and spending a good deal of time deciding what I was going to order (with the help of the online menu and chowhound advice), I was eager to finally get to dine at this well respected and established restaurant. Often that kind of anticipation only gets my hopes up too high and the restaurant unable to meet my silly expectation ends up disappointing me (e.g. Café Gray). So I went to No. 9 Park both excited and trying to be cautious.
The first thing I noticed when we walked in the front door (or more exactly ran to get in from the rain!) was the stark contrast between tonight’s muted grey décor and the go-go dancers and chandeliers at 28 Degrees the night before. Obviously, No. 9 Park was going to be an entirely different experience – but that’s exactly what we wanted. I had requested a window table and since one wasn’t available the very friendly host let us know that one table was on dessert and if we wanted to wait at the bar it should only be about 20 min. We decided wait, partially because I wanted that table and partially because I wanted a chance to check out the busy, but fairly reserved, bar scene.
A little more than 20 min later, we were escorted to our table and introduced to our waiter for the night. One thing I have to say right away about No. 9 is that they have the service thing down pat! Seriously, the host, the bartenders, our waiter, and everyone else who helped clear the table or direct us to the bathroom, were exceedingly helpful and warm. The front of house employees really made our dinner an enjoyable experience and I would definitely give them a 10 on service. I’m slightly biased, but we’ll get to that later. . .
After quickly ordering (as I mentioned before – I was well prepared), it didn’t take long for me to realize that the back of house staff deserved praise as well. I’ll admit that I was at first slightly disappointed that no amuse bouche was served and that the bread was room temperature. But, as soon as my prune stuffed gnocchi with fois gras appeared, my disappointment vanished. First, I have to admit that I am a Chez Panisse devoté and California foodie through and through. I focus on quality of ingredients, I don’t like overly complicated dishes, and I don’t appreciate Chefs who try to be innovative by pairing flavors that just don’t belong together. But somehow, Barbara Lynch has managed to create a dish that is unusual and unique and at the same time still fresh, clean, and simple. The gnocchi was artfully presented with six little dumplings in row that were stuffed with sweet prune puree and topped with little bits of salty fois gras. The sweet and salty and doughy all came together in a surprisingly appealing and altogether delicious manner. In fact I was so pleased with my dish that it was only when I remembered that I wanted to try my friend’s duet of crab that I regretfully offered her one of my gnocchi (which she intelligently accepted).
I was not quite as impressed with her duet of crab. For one thing her dish, and for that matter both of our mains, wasn’t plated in a way that I appreciated too much. The large, oversized white plate with square piles of food is pretty much over done in my opinion and I think No. 9 should be inventive enough to come up with a more attractive way to display their food. Still, the taste is what matters, and both of the preparations of crab (tempura soft shell and a little crab salad) were quite good. I think I would have been very pleased with the crab if I had ordered it and had missed out on the gnocchi. But, I had the advantage of chowhound advice, and in comparison the crab (while delicious!) just didn’t seem quite as special. I am also almost always prone to believing I ordered the better dish, I’m not too sure what that says about me =)
Although the main courses were also really tasty and I was impressed with the chef’s abilities, overall I preferred our appetizers. I had the halibut with scalloped potatoes and my friend had the lamb (once again prepared two ways). I’m not sure if it was the plating of the food, my high standards, my California bias, or that gnocchi I still wanted more of, but I wasn’t blown away by either dish. I have no idea why I am complaining though; my halibut was perfectly cooked (pan fried with a wonderful crispy top) and there was nothing wrong with the potatoes. I think maybe I just wanted more vegetables. Something crunchy and fresh tasting would have added to the dish (there were three stalks of cooked asparagus but they seemed to be more decorative) and maybe a little more spice as well. Or maybe just some more color- the white plate, white halibut, and white potatoes were a bit too bland for me. My friend’s lamb came in a braised pile on top of a cooked onion (a little dry for both of our tastes) and little slices of lamb loin. The loin was exactly medium rare (just as ordered!), delicious, and by far the better executed preparation of the two. However, aesthetically, the two piles of brown lamb and the sweet potatoes croquette (that was fantastic btw, but basically looked brown) didn’t do much for me either, I really would have appreciated some green! While this reflection might sound critical, it’s important to note that I honestly greatly enjoyed both mains and we pretty much ate every last drop of food on our plates. I was far, far away from anything close to disapproving of No. 9’s cuisine!
Upon receiving the dessert menu I learned that my carefully planned out meal was foiled because the black pepper cheese cake was not listed! Secretly, I was relieved. I really didn’t want the cheese cake but the same people who suggested the gnocchi had recommended it, so I thought I should trust their judgment. Instead, I happily turned to the advice of our waiter. And wow, I made the right decision. My friend ordered the trio of sorbets all of which were quite good, but nothing near the amazingness that was my mille-feuille. Between thin layers of flakey pastry was piled delightfully rich, fluffy milk chocolate mousse – this alone would have been a delectable dessert. However, No. 9 managed to make it even better though with the addition of a small pile of espresso gelee, another small pile of foamed milk, and a delicious scoop of what I think was coffee ice cream.

This sort of deconstructed cappuccino added an extra special element to the desert without venturing outside of the flavor theme or disrupting the perfect texture of the combination of the mille-feuille and mousse. I couldn’t have been happier with my dessert. My dad would also be pleased to hear that my actual (non-deconstructed) cappuccino was expertly made – the foam looked exactly like he always said it should creamy and smooth with a little swirl of espresso – and provided a wonderful end to my meal.
Or at least I thought it was the end of my meal. Much to my delight, and heavily influencing my perfect 10 service rating, our waiter remembered that my friend had casually mentioned we were celebrating my birthday. In honor of our celebration he presented me with a plate of petti fours (meringues, chocolate cookies, and quince paste) with “Happy Birthday” written across the top of the plate in chocolate sauce and a candle in one of the cookies. Anyone who knows me can tell you that I LOVE celebrating my birthday and everything associated with my birthday and tend to try to make it into the biggest, longest ordeal I possibly can. The unexpected birthday gesture was an easy way to win me over. These people understood me. I am definitely happy that I finally made it to No. 9 Park and I will return soon. I’ve already let my favorite dinner companion know that we have to try this restaurant and we are ordering the tasting menu. I can only hope that when I return No. 9 will have maintained its high level of service and culinary performance and just maybe will have developed a new plating technique!


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