Tuesday, August 23, 2011
Restaurant Week: Meritage
For those of you from more suburban areas, Restaurant Week is an event where the fanciest of the fancy restaurants open their doors to us common folk and offer three course meals for a mere 33 dollars. Of course, with "suggested" wine pairings and "recommended" side dishes or glazes or other tomfoolery that you feel obligated to splurge on since you are nearly robbing the place blind paying only $33. Many who frequent restaurant week do so with serious reservations and research, knowing that the experience is very much a mixed bag. I know I personally check Yelp a few days into Restaurant week to see what people are saying before I make my reservation. I have had absolutely rapturous meals (Smith and Wollensky) and wholly disappointing meals (Harvest) during restaurant week, and though $33 is a small price to pay for the experience, you still want to feel like you are getting your moneys worth.
This year, I had my eyes set squarely on the creme de la creme, one of the most esteemed restaurants in Boston: Meritage. Located within the Boston Harbor Hotel, it is a gorgeous place that Zagat calls "romantic", "chic", offering "exquisite harbor views" and "beautiful taste symphonies". Seriously. With a glowing recommendation like that, I leapt at the first reservation I could find. Planning it as a surprise for my date, I tried to sneakily use Google Maps on my phone while also confidently leading the way, but when your restaurant is inside of a hotel, you can only get so far before you need to whisper to a doorman. We were seated just before 7pm, just in time to see the some of the last light drain out of the harbor (the sun set behind us, who knew?).
We were quickly presented restaurant week menus, and urged to try either of the two wine pairings our waiter assured us were fantastic deals. He was a dour man of average build, for whom restaurant week was probably at best a nuisance and at worst a sacrilege. We resisted his charms on the wine, placed our orders, and drank in the views. I shouldn't have to tell you, but Restaurant Week is MADE for Filet Mignon. In fact, if I see a restaurant that doesn't have steak on its RW menu, I promptly excommunicate it from competition. This reflex was only further ingrained after having some weird ham slab entree at Harvest two years ago. So needless to say, MT and I both enjoyed the filet...eventually.
The thing about these fancy restaurants are, is regardless of how you are dressed and present yourself, you can't help but feel that something is "giving you away". This is especially acute when you begin to feel miffed or disappointed. For example, shortly after placing our orders, we were each given three different pieces of bread. Once was a traditional dinner roll, plump and fluffy, which MT attacked with reckless abandon. Another was a meager slice of cinnamon raisin bread, cut from a loaf that was surely sat on. The final roll was a crusty, porous bread that was everything I could ever ask for. We were also given a heaping dish of whipped butter with a huge cursive M emblazoned across it, to remind us where we were. Admittedly, it was a cute touch that really brought home the fact that this place was really insanely fancy. I don't know how else to put it. Unfortunately, after we ate this bread, we waited a good 40 minutes before the first course showed up. Being unaccustomed to restaurants of this stature, I gave them the benefit of the doubt and told myself that they were surely following the advice of their resident gastroenterologist and giving our stomachs ample time to handle those complex carbohydrates. It wasn't until other tables started getting their food in a timely fashion that I started to feel hungry/grumpy. I blame MT, since she claimed to have seen our waiter, appetizers in hand, turn around and head back into the kitchen after emerging and seeing her with bread left on her plate. Why he didn't just come back in 5 minutes is beyond me, but we waited patiently.
When it comes to appetizers at these places, you are probably better off rolling a dice than trying to visualize what you are actually going to get. MT ordered a Salmon, Avocado and Creme Fraiche dish that looked a bit like a slightly more unstable leaning tower of Pisa above leafy brambles. Not what I would have expected from the description, but upon further review, it explicitly mentions the word "tower" so I suppose I should hold my tongue. I had spinach and shallot ravioli, which were pretty tasty, although the "wrapper-style" ravioli was a bit gummy. After another forty minutes, the main-course showed up and I was grateful. Not grateful enough apparently, as the waiter deemed it necessary to hover above me "waiting for his thank you" (his words) before excusing himself. Perhaps this turn of phrase simply came out incorrectly (he was French, but seemed more Spanish, and neither of us were convinced either accent was real), but I was a tad offended that he needed an expression of gratitude before we would let us enjoy our meal. Perhaps the wait staff is trained not to leave the table until everyone is satisfied with their food, but like I said, the word choice was unfortunate. With that being said, the filet was fantastic, as were the steamed carrots, whipped potatoes and potato "chip" (I use that term loosely).
MT and I decided to go our separate ways for dessert, with she opting for the chocolate tasting plate, while I chose the artisan cheeses. It felt like my duty to order the cheeses after enduring some heckling from my cheese post. I'm happy to report that all of the cheeses were delicious and unique. Maybe it's because cheeses are so often served as appetizers, but I rarely give their flavor and texture as much attention as I should. But when it's being served as dessert, and your girlfriend is eating some chocolate/caramel/pretzel cup, you get to know the cheese pretty intimately. The fontina was especially fantastic, soft and exploding with flavor, that I didn't expect. It tasted like distilled macaroni and cheese, and I mean that in the best possible way. The double-Gloucester was also great, and CM is right, it did taste a lot like cheddar, though with a bit of a sweet finish to it. The gouda was my least favorite, but MT loved it, so go figure. The chocolates were good also, but I've never been a big dessert guy, so I only tried a couple. All in all, the meal was quite good, though ranking in the middle of the road as far as Restaurant Week experiences go, mostly due to the off-putting waiter and the agonizing wait times.