At the Boston Wine Expo, I won a $100 gift certficate in a raffle to the Excelsior restaurant. I finally dined there this past weekend. The restaurant is easy to find, across from the Boston Public Garden, and they have valet service ($16). On the first floor of the restaurant is a bar with some patio seating.
The main dining room though is on the second floor. You take an elevator, which runs parellel to the restaurant's wine tower. The three-story wine tower holds about 9000 bottles of wine and was certainly a nice view on the elevator ride up to the dining room. The dining area is elegant without being pretentious. We were seated at a table not too far from a window overlooking the Public Garden.
I first perused the voluminous wine list which has many intriguing bottles, both well known as well as some less common choices. Prices generally run about two to two-and-half times the usual retail price. They even had several different wines from one of my favorite producers, Sean Thackrey. I was interested in a Spanish wine from the Montsant region, the 2004 Mas de l’Abundancia Fluminus ($65). I had not heard of the wine before though was familiar with the region. So I decided to ask the wine steward about the wine.
Unfortunately, it was quickly clear that he knew nothing about the wine, though he tried to fake it a bit. When I asked whether it was a Garnacha based wine or not, he did not know and talked about how young Spanish wines were often tight and needed decanting. He also pointed me to a Spanish wine from Alicante that was 100% Monastrell. Nothing like the Montsant wine. I would rather he was just upfront, told me he knew nothing about the wine but that he would check and see if he could get more info on it.
I decided to order the wine anyways, as I knew the type of wines usually from Montsant. It turned out to be a blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Garnacha and 20% Carineña. It turned out to be an excellent wine, full-bodied with plenty of excellent fruit, smooth tannins and some intriguing notes of chocolate.
The food menu has plenty of interesting options including a raw bar, appetizers, entrees and side dishes. The menu is apparently seasonal, capitalizing on which ingredients are freshest. Most appetizers are $10-20 while most entrees are in the $30s except for the beef and lobster dishes which are in the $40s. While persuing the menu, we were brought a basket of breads with butter. There were several different types of bread, all warm, and also very tasty. This was certainly a good start to the meal.
We started with a couple appetizers. The Iced Wild Texas White Shrimp ($18) comes with a Smoked Red Pepper Cocktail Sauce. You received five quite large shrimps that certainly seemed fresh and were very good. The Vanilla Skewered Hudson Valley Foie Gras ($24) comes with Peppered Brioche, Strawberry-Rhubarb Compote, 10 Year Old Balsamico, and Ground Pistachios. The menu neglected to mention that there were some onions between the foie and the brioche. To me, I don't think onions and foie really mix well. The foie itself was good, a nice silky and buttery flavor. It mixed well with the sweet and bitter flavors of the compote with the touch of baslamico. The nuts even made an interestind addition.
For entrees, there was the Skillet Seared Tuna & Braised Beef Short Rib ($36) with Risotto Verde and Orange-Anise Gastrique. The tuna was a large chunk of fish, seared on the outside and raw inside, cooked just as it should be. The tuna was tender and flavorful. The short rib was small but tasty, though it seemed to suffer a little from being paired with the more compelling tuna. Maybe it would have been better with two different fishes, rather than the tuna and short rib combo.
My own entree was the Juniper Roasted New Zealand Venison ($39) accompanied with a Chevre-Boar Bacon Blintz with a Sauce Roebuck. The venison was served medium rare, though tending on the rarer side, which was perfect for me. You received three large slices of venison, which was tender and absolutely delicious, especially in the dark Roebuck sauce. It had absolutely no gaminess. Just a fantastic cut of meat. The blintz was also quite good, with a creamy Chevre, a light crepe and a smoky bacon flavor. I would highly recommend this entree.
We also ordered a side of the Sweet Potato Steak Fries ($8) with Ginger, Garlic and Thai Chili seasonings. You receive a large bowl of long, thick fries that were cooked perfectly. The sweet potato was the right firmness, neither too soft or too firm. And the seasonings were milder than expected but added an excellent flavor to the fries. This was a definitely a winner for me.
For dessert, we decided to split the Excelsior Cheese Selections ($20). This consisted of three different cheeses, including a sheep's milk from the Pyrenees of France and a local Vermont cheese. The cheeses were accompanied by some glazed figs, a strawberry sauce with black pepper an another fruit compote of sorts. Plus, there was a fruit and nut cake and a side of pine nuts in honey. For the cheeses, we also received a selections of breads and crackers. This was an exceptional dessert, with three creamy and flavorful cheeses. I especially enjoyed the pine nuts and honey atop the cheeses, as well as the black pepper sauce. There was plenty of food for two people and it is an excellent way to end your meal.
Service was very good, except for the minor issue with the wine steward I mentioned above. I was surprised that the restaurant was not that busy on a Saturday night. There were a number of empty tables available. The food was generally excellent, though a couple of the combinations did not work for me. I enjoyed my visit here and would return again.
And in a separate post, I will go into more detail about how the restaurant impressed me in how they handled a different customer.