Thursday, February 5, 2009

Adieu Excelsior

In the past week, I have lost two things. Two things which were incredibly dear to me, only one of which was replaceable. My debit card vanished, seemingly into thin air, during a week in which I had just sent out rent as well as another check for a substantial sum. I don't panic often; few things legitimately throw me off. But before I actually got through to a representative from my bank on the phone, I was nervous. As it turns out, my fund had not been touched, and my checks had cleared without a hitch. A new ATM card is supposedly already en route. Instant relief.

The other loss, however, is absolutely irreplaceable. And, as I am an awful human being, causes me more actual grief than when I hear about people I don't know dying. My favorite restaurant, Excelsior, closed.

Getting dressed up and going out for fine wining and fine dining is one of my favorite things. I cannot help it; I just love it. And Excelsior was always my favorite; it was just right. In recalling a recent trip there, I wrote this past August:

"Excelsior is the kind of place the pulls out all the stops. Situated in a prime location on Boylston, the ground level is limited to their bar menu, with only handful of tables and leather seats harbored in a dark room of raspberry chocolate invitation. Having given my name, the three of us were escorted to the metal-trimmed glass elevator, a sort of Wonkavator for adults. The elevator has but two options for floors, one and two, though it actually escorts you through second floor -- at which you are treated to a three-hundred-sixty-degree view of their wine keep -- before arriving at the third floor, still surrounded by wine selections on three sides, where the other door opens and the host is expecting you.

From there, we were escorted through the main restaurant space to our table by the window overlooking the Boston Public Garden, with clear view of the pond and bridge. For this alone, going to Excelsior makes me feel like a king, minorly indulging my Yertle the Turtle complex -- by which I feel like master of all I survey -- and if their menu offered peanut butter and grape jelly on Wonderbread white with the crusts cut off, it wouldn't really change a thing.

The view is beautiful. The wait staff is refined and handsome. The patrons are sharp and luxurious. Life is good at Excelsior, before one has even ordered."

You get the idea.

This morning, in making dinner plans for Sunday with Erika, I decided to see if OpenTable lists the restaurant we're planning to hit up. Alas, no luck; no points. But while I was at their site, I decided to poke around and check out the menus of the newer restaurants. And they didn't quite pique my interest. And then it occ
urred to me that Excelsior had probably put up a new menu since their New Year's Eve dinner, which I unfortunately did not attend. So I pull up the website, and notice that there are no links for menus, or directions, or... anything at all.

Just some brief "Thanks for the memories" blurb from the owner, informing roving gourmands like myself that they had closed, promising to reopen as a different restaurant providing a more casual dining experience.

But I don't want a more casual dining experience. I want Excelsior.

And really, reopening as a different restaurant sacrifices such a fantastic name. Excelsior is the kind of name you give to an estate. Or a powerful vehicle. Or a magical crystal. One comedian, I vaguely recall, suggested it replace the word "vagina," as a means of empowering women.

How had they closed without my knowing? Where were the warnings? Did I skip over the wrong part of one of the foodie newsletters I get? I did a quick search for some sort of news on when this had occurred, only to discover that it had happened yesterday. Had I known they were closing, I'd have gone just one last time. I was supposed to go in December, when they participated in OpenTable's "Restaurant Stimulus Week," which was essentially an impromptu Restaurant Week with a pre-fixe menu for participating establishments. But the now-ex-boyfriend was uninspired by the menu, and so we didn't go.

My last meal at Excelsior, it turns out, was the dinner outing for my twenty-third birthday. The details, recounted, are worth remembering:

"Roast leg of lamb with Vermont goat cheese, ratatouille, and Israeli couscous. I lucked out in my rare-as-possible order, as the lamb was practically still twitching. But I also had an end-piece that clearly had been sitting on the bottom, so even the most cooked of the three quarter-inch-thick slices was tender and juicy. The couscous were firm to the point of almost being grainy, and slightly dashed with olive oil and sage. They blended into the chevre flawlessly, and the vegetable portions from the ratatouille polished off a quartet of textures while the ratatouille juice and lamb drippings made each bite incredibly moist. Truthfully, I'm not sure what the point of Irsaeli couscous is, as they were tasty but in no way significantly stood out from any other couscous I've had. It was one of the best dishes I've had in a very long time, rivaled perhaps only by the lobster schnitzel offering that's a regular staple of their winter menu."
The lobster schnitzel mentioned was their signature dish. It was a flattened, breaded lobster tail drizzled in creamless yam lobster bisque, accompanied by a generous amount of lump claw meat stacked on a custard of cave-aged gruyere cheese resting atop gently pickled green heirloom tomato slivers. It was, as an old acquaintance of mine would have put it, "the true definition of oral sex."

They also made one of my favorite cocktails -- Bailey's and Frangelico on the rocks -- perfectly.


From what I can gather from the news bits on Excelsior's closing, the tough economic times are to blame. And so it comes to pass that, for the first time, in the strangest and most unexpected of ways, I can actually feel the sting of recession. In my mouth.

My courses of action are clear. Step one will involve mourning. Mourning will involve drinking.

Step two is to voraciously search out new love during the winter edition of Restaurant Week.

On a completely unrelated note, there ought to be a way to tell Pandora "I don't really want jazz right now. Keep the jazz in there, but when I hit next, and there's another jazz song, and then I quickly hit next again, and there's another jazz song... yeah, take a hint. I just need some time and space. From jazz. I'll call you. No, yeah, it's cool. I'll call."

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