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Toque of New York / Boston
It A Matter of Tasting
By Linda Kavanagh

One of the many things I love about being a food writer is the opportunity to taste such a wide variety of dishes. To break it down even further, I enjoy experiencing various ingredients, preparations, presentations, and combinations. I especially relish the sights, sounds, and personalities of the numerous restaurants I discover. As I bring along my trusty companions to explore these restaurants, my usual plan of attack is to ask the chef and the waiter if it’s possible to have a tasting menu – a cross section of what’s on the regular menu. This way I can get a good overview of the menu without overeating, and more importantly, wasting any food. I also appreciate when the restaurant is able to pair the perfect wine with each course. Most places are more than happy to oblige. On my most recent restaurant visits to some new and exciting eateries, they more than obliged me – they surprised me. The following restaurants are a taste of what’s proving to be the dining style of choice. Tasting menus are on the rise. No longer just for food writers, these fabulous food and wine samplings are being offered in some of the most amazing new restaurants by some of the most innovative chefs.

Taste, the brainchild of New York City food guru Eli Zabar, has given birth to a self-serve café by day and wine bar by night, adjacent to Eli’s Manhattan gourmet market. Chef Scott Bieber creates flavor-driven New American menus that change frequently and incorporate Eli’s world of the finest and freshest produce, seafood, and meat available to him. A small plate menu offers dinners a chance to experience many different flavors and pair them with a rotating selection of 30 wines served in both tasting servings and by the glass. Roasted spicy mussels with Italian sausage, pizzetta with red onion, figs and blue cheese, swordfish pillard with salas verde, and even Eli’s toasted cheese and tomato sandwich come with intriguing wine recommendations. The ever-changing dinner menu highlights the best market fresh items such as wild salmon with roasted root vegetables, Stone Church Farm poussin with soft polenta and collard greens, and roasted whole branzine with asparagus and grapefruit tapenade. A cheese cart of twenty or so perfectly ripened cheeses is also a real treat for those experimenting with the many wines by the glass. Winemaker dinners and other special wine-focused events are part of what makes this restaurant a special experience.

W.I.N.E., Eli’s wine shop, can be seen through the bar’s glass back wall.
You try – you can buy!

1413 3rd Avenue at 80th Street, New York


Chef Daniel Bruce of the Boston Harbor Hotel has recently launched his own signature restaurant at the hotel called Meritage. The new restaurant, overlooking a spectacular view of Boston Harbor from Rowes Wharf, showcases Bruce’s extraordinary dedication to fresh ingredients, thoughtfully prepared to complement the characteristics of wines. Meritage’s dishes are created matching food to wine, in a progression of flavors from lightest to heaviest, as recommended by Chef Bruce. We left things up to our waiter on this particular night. We began with “sparklers” paired with sturgeon caviar over melted leeks and frothed crème fraiche. Our “light white” wine was matched with a braised skate wing with crisp lotus root chips and carrot ginger broth. Then came grilled sea scallops with black truffles and porcini mushrooms with a more “full-bodied white.” Our “fruity red” was experienced with a duet of pastrami cured and buttermilk-fried leg of Sonoma squab with shallot confit. A “spicy/earthy red” was just delicious with black pepper crusted seared rare yellowfin tuna with a zinfandel butter. Finally, the “robust red” wine was teamed with a hearty dish of cabernet slow braised boneless short ribs with parsnip and rosemary spoonbread. Need I say more? Cheeses and sweets also come in tasting plates and all plates are offered in small and large. The price points are high, but taking into consideration the charming dining room, waterfront view, superior service, and the flawlessness of the meal, it’s well worth it.

Boston Harbor Hotel

70 Rowes Wharf, Boston

Serafina Sandro

For the past seven years restaurateurs Vittorio Assaf and Fabio Granato have been serving up their brand of Northern Italian cuisine to native New Yorkers and curious tourists in their various “Serafina” eateries. With three successful restaurants to date, the duo recently opened Serafina Sandro with celebrated chef Sandro Fioriti. This midtown gem is an intimate, authentic Roman trattoria offering dinners the most delicious and reasonably priced meal in the city. Sandro is a real character. His waitstaff follows his lead as he personally prepares each dish to order. While the menu outlines antipasti, insalate, primi piatta, and secondi piatta dishes, best to just let Sandro prepare what he’s recently had imported and what the season governs. Family style dining is recommended here so go with a group who is prepared to “dig in” and be surprised. Highlights include fabulous imported specialties such as first press olive oil over Italian wild hickory and anchovies, Italian smoked tuna with thinly sliced artichokes, and special reserve prosciutto with house made mozzarella and roasted tri-color peppers. Roast suckling pig was on every table that particular afternoon, dusted with aromatic fennel flour straight from Abruzia. Pastas are perfectly chewy. Bucatini with pancetta, tomatoes, cherry peppers and onions, as well as the garganelli with imported Italian hillside tomatoes and basil are perfection. The wine list is strictly comprised of Antinori Family wines. Nothing wrong with that in my book!

Serafina Sandro
38 58th Street between Park and Madison, New York


What do you make of a restaurant that tags itself as “sexy food, mini cuisine?” Saint is just that. A hybrid of a chic downtown boutique nightery and sophisticated lounge/restaurant that offers an eclectic array of tapas style dishes created by acclaimed Chef Rene Michelena (Food & Wine Best New Chef 1998). Michelena was born in the Philippines and grew up in Manila, which is evident in his Mediterranean and Asian influenced cuisine. While Saint’s space takes on an almost underground aura with such rooms named as The Bordello and The Threshold, the menu is not as covert. Unconventional seating in the form of lounge chairs, sofas, ottomans, and cocktail tables are clustered about. Various taste sensations cover these tables on any given night with Michelna’s two and three tiered plate holders. “Chilled” items include Thai beef tartar, zucchini and crab meatballs, and spicy tuna maki roll. “Warmer” plates such as sweet pea and mint ravioli, veal potstickers, and lemony chicken and beet fries, begin to take on a full meal effect, bite-by-bite. “Hot and Heavy” dishes are a must share, as they all tend to be exactly that. Grilled monkfish medallions, macaroni and cheese with truffle butter, and bbq pork tenderloin and oyster mushroom skewers are all delicious and decadent. “Communal” offerings include mini sampling menus, artisanal cheese selections, and various caviar services (including champagne pairings). Creative cocktails and mainstream wines abound, the music is just as intoxicating, but the food is the real showstopper here.

90 Exeter Street, Boston

Fleur de Sel

Seasonal tasting menus only make sense. I’ve often wondered (and marveled) how some restaurants keep up their extensive menu as the season’s change. Relationships with various purveyors, near and far, are obviously key, but does that mean the consumer ends up paying more for off-season items? Wouldn’t it just be easier to offer dinners what is available without raising the price points just to keep to the printed menu? Chef/Owner Cyril Renaud of Fleur de Sel (flower of salt) offers seasonal tasting menus at his modern French bistro in the Flatiron district of New York. A six-course tasting menu can be paired with wine for a reasonable up-charge. Our warm summer evening dinner consisted of blue point oysters with shallot-tomato mignonette, goat cheese and artichoke ravioli with American caviar, Florida shrimp swimming in a lobster bisque-like reduction with mussels, and almond crusted soft shell crab with wild ramps and spiced port wine sauce. We then had a choice of potato-crusted wild grouper or Mississippi Farm quail with morel sauce and seared foie gras. For dessert fresh banana mousse with crème de café and chocolate dentelle prepared by Pastry Chef Yvan Lemoine, had us planning our next seasonal visit!

Fleur de Sel
5 East 20th Street, New York


The Hotel Marlowe, a contemporary/17th century colonial styled boutique hotel in Cambridge is the home of Bambara, an American Brasserie created by Executive Chef Thomas Berry. Berry, best known for his years as sous chef for Ming Tsai’s popular Blue Ginger restaurant, embraces all that is American with a strong influence on New England fare. The menu is perfect for grazing. Berry has a simple approach to food – and to his menu. “Crispy” dishes include clam rolls with tartar sauce, Maine crab cake, and brie and wild mushroom dumplings. Some “fancy” items are tuna tartar served with salmon carpaccio and avocado with spicy aioli and a grilled quail with truffle white bean puree. “Leafy” salads are simply sinful: Caesar salad “cocktail” with shrimp toasts and a frisee salad with duck confit and foie gras drizzle throws thoughts of low-cal out the window! “Soupy” concoctions are tomato bisque with mini grilled cheese, sweet potato and chipolte soup, and steamed PEI mussels with smoked bacon, escarole and tomatoes. “Munchy” creations include black pepper chicken wings, focaccia sandwiches, and pommes frites with two-peppercorn aioli. “Mainly” dishes are ample size portions of braised lamb shank, Dijon grilled hanger steak, and crab-crusted Pacific halibut. The dining room is inviting with jewel-like colors, cushy booth seating, a grand open kitchen, handcrafted light fixtures and magnificent floor to ceiling windows. Anything goes at this casual, sometimes dressy, contemporary brassiere.

25 Edwin Land Blvd, Hotel Marlowe, Cambridge




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