Monday, March 30, 2009

In The Kingdom Of Gourmandia: Part VII

The final stop on my Restaurant Week adventure was quite the exclamation point. I had landed 8:30 dinner reservations on a Friday at Top of the Hub.

When I first came to Boston, I'd heard about this place. All mention of it was put forth either with great reverence -- it was occasionally posited as the best restaurant in Boston -- or that damning definitive descriptive, "overrated." It now occurs to me that none of those people knew anything about food, or even anything about anything at all. It took me three years to actually visit it for the first time, taken there by a friend for my twenty-first birthday for a pair of martinis and a split dessert.

I didn't really get that far with assessing the place at the time; the view was lovely, but how much of a read can you get on any place's cuisine when you're fighting for bites of a shared dessert with a girl who can't stop lamenting the psychiatric shortcomings of her corporate executive boyfriend no one's ever seen?

Needless to say, I needed another trip to make a formed opinion, and last Friday was the night to do it.

A caveat reared its ugly head on Friday morning, as my intended company for the evening scratched himself from the lineup, citing a head cold of the fast and furious variety. In a bizarre twist of fate, I had an incredibly difficult time filling the spot; everyone had plans, or was also sick, or could neither afford it nor bring themselves to let me treat them. It was just baffling; dinner with me is so nice!

Shortly before I had to leave work, my friend Chris agreed to go.

Had he not, I had pretty much resolved that I would put forth a solo effort, get drunk, eat for two, and make a scene.

But, alas, I had company, so it was business as usual. My ears must've popped at least three times during the elevator ride up to the fifty-second floor; I really must get more accustomed to changes in elevation. When we arrived, though fairly early, our table was almost ready.

Weeks ago, when I made the reservations in the first place, I'd actually filled out the "special requests" input box with a bid for window seating along the northeast-facing side of the building. I figure everyone asks for a window seat, and anyone smart enough to factor in the logistics of what faces what would request the northeast side, but I also figured that there is no harm in asking for what you want nonetheless; the worst anyone can say is a simple "no."

And so it was that our table for two was in the exact center of the northeast-facing side of the building, immediately pressed against the windows, and there was a view, and yay, for this was good:

Forgive the cell phone quality of the photo; the view still rules.

Even if the food was terrible, the sights were enough to bring a tear to the eye of someone with even the slightest Yurtle the Turtle complex.

I ordered the tuna tartare to start, which came blended with avocado and paired with small portions of pickled ginger and seaweed, plus a sticky, sweet teriyaki-ish soy sauce and some spicy mayo for smothering. It was a good way to start things off, but there's little to be said for the preparation, because the only skill in preparing raw fish is in its portioning, pairing and arrangement. Ain't nobody cook nothin' yet.

The foie gras that followed -- I'm a sucker for ordering foie gras... it's like creme brulee in that it's a fantastic litmus test for a kitchen's skills -- came with warm pineapple and some sort of granola-like brick. I forget what the menu said, and don't much care. I nearly lost my fork prying into the damn thing and though it wins obligatory points for originality, there's something to be said for not fixing what isn't broken. I would've traded in my pineapple and grainy brittle for just one nicely toasted triangle of brioche, especially considering how runny the foie gras was. Kudos to Le Petit Robert; they do it better.

By the time the main course was set to arrive, I was done trifling with cocktails and had summoned a bottle of Veuve from what wasn't exactly a comprehensive champagne selection in comparison with my expectations. The server opened the bottle flawlessly, but upon tilting it to pour, let well more than a taste's worth out onto the table, and, after having presented to Chris for approval rather than me -- it is my understanding that traditional wine panache calls for presentation to the individual who'd ordered the wine -- he poured him the taste as well.

All I will say is that it is difficult to mistake one of us for the other.

For my entree I had decided to go for the jugular and order the "market price" two-pound lobster. And so continued my difficulty with lobster; I thought that by ordering the menu item entitled "Native 2 lb. Lobster," described as having a crabmeat stuffing, that I would finally get a solid dose of the elusive -- even when named -- crustacean. When they brought my lobster to me, however, I could not help but notice that he was missing his fucking claws. What do I have to do to get a decent portion of lobster in goddamn fucking Boston? Who do I have to blow? This is the motherfucking center of New England, and I can't get the claws on my lobster fifty-two stories up in the heart of town?

Even more annoying: the lobster that I did get was absolutely delicious, including the crabmeat stuffing which replaced the bluish-green visceral tissue of the lobster -- considered by some to be a delicacy -- which I was happy to go without. The meal was, admittedly, so good that it was difficult to be disappointed about a clawless lobster, even though, across the table, Chris was doing mighty justice to his lobster macaroni and cheese which contained, suspiciously, claw meat.

For dessert, the creme brulee. It was completely up to par with expectations; no complaints whatsoever there. Consistently flame-licked on top so nothing was too burned or left untouched, with the custard beneath remaining smooth and creamy without even a hint of graininess. Very good.

Overall, the Top of the Hub does things pretty well, though they miss the little touches here and there that would otherwise put them over the top in offering an experience of unquestionable class an opulence. The servers should probably double-check to make sure their guests are done with a dish before removing it from the table, especially with the appetizers in their limited portions, and not spilling any bit of a bottle of champagne for which the restaurant rate is more than 125% of the market price would probably be advisable. Nonetheless, with so much else going for it, the fact I could order lobster by itself, receive it without the claws and still come away feeling summarily satisfied speaks volumes of the complete experience.

Would do again, at some point.

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