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Avenue One
New spins on familiar dishes strike the ideal balance between familiar and fancy
Avenue One
(617) 422-5579
Hyatt Regency Boston, 1 Avenue de Lafayette, Boston
Open Mon–Sat, 6:30–10:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m.–2 p.m., and 5–10:30 p.m.; and Sun, 7–10:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m.–2 p.m., and 4:30–10:30 p.m.
AE, DC, Di, MC, Vi
Full bar
No valet parking or validated parking in Lafayette garage
Street-level access via elevator

Well, it ain’t the five-star Swissôtel anymore, and it isn’t really in the Financial District, unless you think of the Combat Zone as the "Financial Sex District." But the new restaurant at the Hyatt has its moments, and even nods back to Switzerland with a trio of fondue dishes. In particular, chef Brad Ozerdem has a knack for putting new spins on familiar dishes. Travelers want familiarity, while locals want something fancy enough for big occasions, and Ozerdem’s food is ideally constructed for both situations. Hotel dining rooms also have a useful informality, yet this one also has enough formal touches for special occasions, and food to suit. A current package deal with Lion King tickets assures a useful pause at 8 p.m., when the theatergoers rush out. That was good timing for my post-shopping visit.

If you want to go light with appetizers, the winter salad ($8) offers a nice spin. It has the usual beets in neat cubes, but what look like yellow beets are in fact cubes of spiced, pickled pear. You’re expecting walnut, and you get fried pumpkin seeds, called pepitas. The dressing is balsamic, as you might expect, but then there are grapes.

Tomato-and-buffalo-mozzarella salad ($8) is a summer salad. The chef does his best to dip the tomato slices in vinegar, but there is no substitute for the basil leaves. A more sensible seasonal appetizer is the New England apple, leek, and cheddar tart ($10). It could have flakier pastry, but not much flakier, and the cheese-apple-leek richness of the filling is superb. To garnish the plate in the modern manner, we have a cup of apple confit, spiced like mincemeat, with a baked-apple-chip sail. The confit makes a good spread for a basket of sourdough Tuscan bread and kind of cakey white poppy-seed bread, with butter, too.

Entrées did fall off somewhat our night, but were certainly good eating. The roasted crispy-skin chicken ($21) wasn’t crisp, but it was deliciously roasted, and served on ravioli with evident truffle oil and a few very fine wild mushrooms. Four-hour-braised lamb shank ($25) needed either two hours less or one more. Ours was a little dried out, though with delicious gravy. The white beans, as is so often the case in restaurants these days, were underdone. Mrs. Nadeau, a former Spanish/English bilingual teacher, refers to these as "gringo beans."

In fact, our most successful entrée was the 1.5-pound lobster ($32). This is either stir-fried Chinese-style with yellow noodles and Chinese broccoli, or, as we had it, steamed, with drawn butter, well-garlicked broccolini (the compact-size broccoli), and sliced fried potatoes. The lobster was a fine specimen, correctly cooked, but the trimmings put it a level above clam shack.

The wine list is frankly overpriced, with almost nothing under $30, and that — Beringer white zinfandel ($28) — at almost double what some restaurants charge for it, implying a multiplier on the low end of almost four times retail. Our bottle of Veramonte merlot from Chile ($30) was excellent, however, with lots of character in what can be a soft, simple red — the one the guy in Sideways refuses to drink, remember? Decaf ($2.95) was very good, and tea ($2.50) is served at least with a china pot of hot water and a selection of bags. If you can avoid the habit of putting the bag in the cup, and put it instead into the pot, you can get a decent cup of tea. And the service has all the fun accouterments: sticks of rock candy, all the sugar substitutes, and so on.

For dessert, it will be hard to pass on the "ultimate chocolate fondue" ($14/serves one to two; $28/serves three to four). The single order will handle many tables of four, as there are chunks of pineapple, marshmallows, and even biscotti to dip in the pot of excellent, melting bitter chocolate. The rustic fruit tart ($8) has superlative pastry and a good filling of spiced pears. The Boston cream pie ($7), done up into a cupcake, doesn’t have a lot of filling, and what’s there is more cream than custard. But the yellow cake and chocolate have the authentic flavor.

The space is open on two sides to a U-shaped lobby, and some of it is under a dramatic duplex space. Despite this, it isn’t terribly loud. The R&B soundtrack doesn’t really go with the food or ambiance, but maybe it goes with The Lion King. What I do like is the tableware: glass squares like ashtrays for butter plates, oddly shaped and bent white china bowls and plates — these are nice touches. Service on a quiet weeknight — and after 8 p.m. — was excellent.

Robert Nadeau can be reached at RobtNadeau@aol.com.

Issue Date: January 28 - February 3, 2005
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