Espalier opened in 1978, moving to a 1880s-era brick townhouse in 1982, and then to its current hotel location in 2008. Its long-term head chef Frank McClelland was previously executive chef at The Country Inn at Princeton. He returned to Espalier, at which he had worked in his youth, and bought the restaurant in 1988. Since then Espalier has grown in reputation and sits at the pinnacle of the Boston dining scene. The restaurant also owns Apple Street Farm, an organic farm in nearby Essex, Massachusetts that is the main source of the produce of L’Espalier. The notes below are from my last meal here, in its previous location.
Set in a pretty Victorian town house, l’Espalier is the best restaurant in Boston in my experience. It has three tasting menus (one vegetarian) as well as an a la carte. Service is formal but very good – dishes are remembered, wine is topped up. The menu tries, however, too hard to impress at times by mixing too many, and sometimes inappropriate, flavour combinations in each dish. You can just hear the chef saying “now, if I just add one more unusual taste….”, which is a shame, as the basic technique is quite good. The wine list is very classy, if limited in its selections outside the US and France, and if you have the tasting menu you can have a selection of wines chosen to match the courses for USD 55. Tasting menus go from USD 75 – USD 175 each, and the a la carte would be around USD 95.
On my last visit I started with butter poached Maine lobster, which was fairly tender, served with seafood chowder and topped with a few slices of prosciutto (15/20). Next was an excellent slab of foie gras terrine, which had smooth texture and plenty of deep foie gras flavour, offered with a jelly of Sauternes and some rather dry Mission figs (17/20 except for the figs). Next was a dish of very well timed, moist and plump divers scallops, tender red cabbage that avoided being too tart, an apple raita (why?) and a more appropriate saffron cauliflower puree (17/20). Main course of marlin was nicely cooked, with miso broth, bak choi and tender udon noodles (16/20).
Cheeses were from a mix of the US and France. I tried Gariotin d’Alvignac goat cheese, “Constant Bliss” soft cows milk cheese from Vermont, Epoisses from Burgundy in excellent, runny condition, an aged Gouda and Tomme de Brebis from Vermont, finished with a Spanish blue. Dessert of chocolate millefeuille was made with Valrhona chocolate and was served with praline ice cream – a very rich dish that could perhaps have been better paired with something to cut through the richness of the chocolate e.g. a passion fruit sorbet (15/20). Breads were of a good standard, as were petit fours. Service from my waiter Ray was as smooth as one could wish.