774 Boylston St
Boston MA 02199
The enormously talented and ever witty Jon McGrath once commented on a Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse review, “$700 for three people? Yikes. I'll take the money and feed my family of five for a couple months, instead of blowing it on one meal. Thanks for the review, Gary, but I'll just enjoy this one through you vicariously. I think you may need a new category for "Go and enjoy if you've got money to burn."” Fasten your seatbelt, Jon. L’Espalier is by far the most expensive restaurant I’ve ever been in. And in a word, it is simply “Amazing.”
It didn’t start out that way. Having some fundamentally cheap genes, the daily email from Rue La La is always fun. Rue La La is an “invitation-only destination for a life of style. Where Members delight in discovering private sale Boutiques that open daily – and stay open only for a short time.” While the marketing spin is always fun, the mailings always come across to me like “clearance.”
So it was fun when they listed a $200 ten course tasting menu for $160. “We’re indulging in the exquisite tastes of New England and France with a decadent feast at one of Boston’s most celebrated restaurants.” A buddy of mine lives large, and was a little down in the dumps. What a great way to bring someone out of the depths of despair!
Getting to L’Espalier required a trip down Newbury Street.
The entrance is a fairly low, key and elegant affair with no parking. Parking in the Pru, the short walk gave me plenty of time to contemplate the evening.
Entering the restaurant is actually through a small elevator lobby. In the lobby was a youthful gatekeeper, someone who would never allow the lumpenproletariat access. Impeccably dressed, she wouldn’t allow me to pass until the reservation was confirmed.
This was where my first observation around the service obsession of this restaurant got captured. Ms. Gatekeeper insisted on pressing the elevator buttons. To be clear, she didn’t so this in a controlling manner. There was no question she did this so my fingers wouldn’t be reduced to the level of touching buttons. (Or it could be they didn’t want my grimy hands on their pristine buttons, though it didn’t seem that way.)
Since I was a little early, my arrival on the third floor was met with a decision…sit in the “Salon” and wait, or be seated at the table.
Well, frankly, my first choice was the restroom. Normally I don’t cover restrooms in my posts. L’Espalier is different. You have to use their restroom. First, they won’t let you touch the door. Every time I went near the door discreetly labeled “WC” a staff member bolted to the door and opened it. As a full sized male, I’m pretty sure I could open the door almost as easily as the petite young woman opening it the first time for me. And this wasn’t a restroom attendant; this was a female staff member holding the door for me. No $$ were spared on the fixtures and the towels were real towels…
The Salon is a smallish waiting area aside the main dining room. It has a variety of tight seating, the ideal place to have a cocktail and prepare for a feast.
The main dining room, with seating for around 90, is made up of a variety of private tables where you never get the sense the people at the next table are waiting on your words. With the exception of a nearby young couple, the majority of the diners appear to be, well, “old money.” Did I say Boston Brahmin? No, and I wouldn’t be surprised.
The obsession with my not touching things continued at dinner. While we had signed up for the 10 course Chef’s Tasting Menu, I lost track of the courses with the multiple opening “gifts” from the chef, and different kinds of dessert. After every course, glasses were swept away with silverware changes to match.
Most of the night, the details were handled by Louis Risoli, whose description from the website is perfect, “Mâitre d' hotel and Fromager Louis Risoli instills the philosophy of “chasing perfection” into the front of the house by way of his diligent and meticulous orchestration of L’Espalier’s three dining rooms. In doing so, Risoli ensures a dining experience that far surpasses guests’ expectations night after night.”
And yes, there was food. Small portions, perfectly matched to the wine. There was something for everyone:
- Apple Street Farm Egg Custard with Siberian Sturgeon Caviar
- Wellfleet oyster with samphire, bone marrow, and vermouth cream
- Casco Bay lobster with white asparagus and vanilla, bitter almond and brown butter
- Roasted Hudson valley foie gras with macerated ning cherries, anise-sesame feuille de brick, smokes cacao milk and walnut butter
- Slow poached Nova Scotia halibut with Apple Street Farm kohlrabi and white turnips, marigold and geranium
- Veal sirloin and roasted tomato, burrata, white anchovy and roasted garlic puree
- Tasting of Lovejoy Brooks Farms lamb with anise and farm herbed sausage; roasted figs, caramelized fennel and olive oil puree
- Grand Fromage
- Grand Dessert Tasting
I’m not good enough to remember all this, so had to refer to the special card prepared for you as a remembrance. Heck, the Cheese gets its own menu.
Did I mention they do tableside science? I have never been in a restaurant where liquid nitrogen is brought to the table to freeze fruit for immediate consumption. Un-freaking believable.
While the portions were generally small, we both protested when leaving as we were presented with a final gift from the pastry chef.
What is amazing about experiencing a dinner like this is the total absorption in the event, the total attention to detail paid by the staff, and the wide array of new & unique flavors experienced.
As it was the mid-week during summertime, we both went tie-less with sport jacket or suit. The website says, “Jacket and tie most comfortable, but not required.”
Total bill for the evening? An equally amazing wallet draining $900 with tip, reduced by $80 due to our Rue La La coupon. This includes $260 for the accompanying wine flight and $30 for three opening beverages. I find it unbelievably hard to justify $900 for two and yet share for the impeccable service and array of flavors it may actually be a good value.
L’Espalier is clearly not a daily diner kind of place, or a first date choice (you would never be able to repeat the stature.) It’s a place for the rare celebration, the new job, the big promotion, or the grandkids graduating Harvard prepared to healthily contribute to your personal endowment.
As Robin Leach says, "Champagne wishes and caviar dreams."
Monday - Friday, 11:30am - 2:30pm
Saturday & Sunday 12 noon - 1:45pm
Saturdays & Sundays 1:30pm - 3:00pm
Cocktails & small bites, Sunday - Thursday 5pm-10:30pm; Friday & Saturday 5pm - 11:30pm
L’Espalier gets a GREEN LIGHT…go and enjoy.
About the RAG scale:
Green Light – Go and enjoy
Amber Light – Use caution
Red Light – Save your time and money