Restaurant Week Boston: An Edible Experiment

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Posted March 29, 2013 by Scott Kearnan in Downtown Boston
Umbria Risotto

You can tell a lot about a place by how well it treats customers during Restaurant Week Boston.

You see, here’s a dirty little secret I’ve learned from my industry friends: On their list of favorite things, Restaurant Week crowds rank slightly above a plague of locusts.

There’s no doubt about it, Restaurant Week is a fantastic way for food lovers to sample spots at a discount and decide which restaurants deserve a repeat visit. But there is stereotype in the industry, fair or not, that Restaurant Week diners are one-time-only customers—the type who come for a quick deal but won’t be converted into the faithful, full-price-paying regulars who are responsible for keeping most places afloat. So, sometimes places skimp on the service or pay a little less attention to the plates.

If you have a mediocre experience during Restaurant Week Boston, it still may be worth trying the place again when they’re not slammed with suburbanites. (“I’ll have the seafood stew. Oh, but I’m pescetarian. Can you accommodate?”) But if you have an especially good experience during Restaurant Week Boston . . . woah. It’s probably even better when the kitchen and staff is at its most focused.

As a bit of an edible experiment, I tried lunch and dinner at two separate spots during Restaurant Week Boston—one where I’ve never dined before and another where I hadn’t been in a while. The results are below:

Lunch at Umbria Prime

Before eating at this Financial District steakhouse, I knew it mainly because of its owner. Frank De Pasquale is the man behind restaurants such as Bricco and Mare and nightlife venues such as Ocean Club at Marina Bay. It’s a pretty handsome place, full of dark woods and white tablecloths, and I could imagine a certain contingent of my Italian family feeling at home here. (There would be wine and cheek-pinching.) But during the midweek lunch hour, it was mostly made up of mixed-age colleagues from different corporations. At the table behind me, an older woman complained about her sassy au pair, while her younger coworker enthusiastically waxed on about her still-recent semester abroad. Oh, the circle of life.

Delish tomato soup from Umbria Prime

Take a look at the delish tomato soup from Umbria Prime. What do you see? Photo Credit: Scott Kearnan

I decided to go light for lunch, ordering the tomato soup and risotto off the Restaurant Week menu. The soup was pretty delish, and—bonus!—it came with a drizzle of Rorschach test. Check it out! Tell me what you see, then compare your results to the key:

Orchid = You delicate flower, you.

Open mouth = You are hungry, jealous.

Butterfly = Positive change coming your way.

A Ring, followed by static = You will die in seven days. Dun-dun-dun.

But seriously, really tasty. The risotto was good too: a little sticky (like I like it) with bites of spicy Italian sausage and tinged with an edgy note of Gorgonzola. There were flakes of crunchy radicchio I could have done without, but hey, texture.

I polished lunch off with a couple cannolis and—ba-da-bing, ba-da-boom—my virgin voyage to Umbria Prime was complete. I left with a full belly, appreciation for excellent service, and a mental note to check the place out again—especially at night, when the upstairs area turns into a bumping nightclub that attracts big-name DJs. Hey, dancing off the calories beats doing another mile on the gym treadmill.

Dinner at Radius

Radius is the flagship restaurant of chef Michael Schlow’s culinary empire, which now includes Via Matta, Tico, and Barrio Cantina. He’s also commanding the kitchen at the new restaurant-meets-live-music venue The Sinclair in Cambridge, where I happened to grab dinner last weekend. It was delicious—probably one of my favorite Schlow menus in a long time—so I was excited to head back to Radius, where it had been quite a while since my last visit. The memory of that meal was good, if not glowing, but Radius is consistently considered one of the top restaurants in the city and earns national accolades. The bar is high.

Reached! The option of a five-course tasting with wine pairing seemed like the best way to sample a range of selections. I started with ahi tuna sashimi on avocado marble, with a slightly sweet pineapple cashew butter. Light and refined. Next up: insanely delicious cavatelli topped with Pecorino cheese, the mound of pasta hiding a treasure of succulent lamb shoulder so soft it melted in my mouth like butta.

Then came a gorgeously plated duo of duck, my favorite poultry meat. The rillette in particular was outstanding, complemented by sweet-heat of green garlic. The fourth time was the charm: perfectly cooked beef with red wine reduction (medium rare—but closer to rare, like it should be, says this caveman). And though I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, there was no doubt as to the deliciousness of the chocolate sabayon—a rich and creamy slice of heaven topped with almond brittle. The service was impeccable, and the wine pairings perfect. My favorite: Chateau Margaux bourgogne, representing one of oldest and most esteemed wine estates of Bordeaux.

Schlow may have branched out into several other spots, but it was great to see his flagship restaurant sailing full-steam ahead. Aside from, ahem, enhancing the circumference of my tummy, Radius was the perfect way to end Restaurant Week. It really brought things (yeah, I’m going there) full circle.

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