After a long COVID winter with limited or no dining in at restaurants, a special four-course meal at Boston’s No. 9 Park was even sweeter. Located in Beacon Hill and directly across from the famed Boston Common, chef-restauranteur Barbara Lynch’s flagship restaurant has continued to deliver perfect French-Italian dishes for more than two decades. On this occasion, a polar vortex Saturday night in March, No. 9 Park’s elegant Continental comfort food warmed the soul.
The restaurant continued to implement COVID-19 protocols with well-spaced tables. We were seated in the dining room behind its open bar area. The dining room’s decor is understated, and while it seemed to lag a bit behind restaurants of its calibre in terms of luxury and visual stimulation, I would much prefer the food to be peerless than the ambience. We opted to order from the a la carte menu instead of a tasting menu, allowing our party of three flexibility to mix and share courses. We began the evening with a bottle of Sicilian Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG Frappato-Nero d’Avola blend from producer Gurrieri. Priced reasonably, it proved to be a fantastic choice, light and balanced enough to complement the range of dishes and proteins we ordered.
We enjoyed a steak tartare starter and a substantial shellfish platter to start. The shellfish platter was plenty to share and a welcome treat (I, with the dreaded food allergy), did not partake. The delicate steak tartare was obliterated all the more quickly as we spooned it on top of the accompanying crisp potato gaufrettes. Wondering why no photos? Oops – I was too busy eating to capture this course in photos. We did not try the restaurant’s signature starter, the prune-stuffed gnocchi, which is topped with bites of seared foie gras. If I made a return trip, that would be a must, judging from the scores of rave reviews. You’ll see why we had to pass on that one from our heavy second course picks.
Our second courses all were standouts. Between the three of us, we sampled their sizable portion of seared Hudson Valley foie gras; garganelli with pulled duck, sautéed kale and pignoli; and tagliatelle with a Bolognese sauce. The garganelli’s ridges serve as a nice carrier for the pulled duck meat and kale, with a buttery, subtle veloute-like broth to bring it all together. It was a perfect winter dish. The tagliatelle’s meat sauce was so rich and intense, I would have been happy to eat it by itself. The foie gras was delicate, and its quince accents were a lovely sweet-tart pairing.
After those two courses, I could have called it a satisfying meal; however, our mains were equally worthy of Culinary Diplomat recognition. I chose the Wagyu Bavette – tender medallions of beef, while my dining companions chose the sea bass and quail, respectively. Wagyu Bavette is a staple of the No. 9 Park tasting and a la carte menus, though its accompaniments vary seasonally. Mine was served atop a garlicky potato cake with roasted winter vegetables. The sea bass had a beautiful sear and the most elegant presentation atop a celery root puree and complimented with a colorful salad of radicchio and watermelon radish that evoked the colors of spring (which we all awaited eagerly after COVID Winter). The quail were the centerpiece of a surprisingly busy dish, comprised of cavatelli pasta with chard and quail meatballs, all topped with skewers of roasted whole quail. Each selection had its own character and balance, and it was hard to pick a favorite.
For dessert, two of us picked their chocolate souffle, served with homemade hot chocolate sauce, and our third picked a dessert that was simply and mysteriously titled “Honey.” The later was a collection of delicate, honey-themed elements: almond-honey sponge cake with honey mascarpone mousse and served with honey ice cream and accented with homemade honeycomb candy. I would have liked a more pungent and clear flavor of honey throughout, but each element had such a unique texture and creaminess, so it was a fun sampling. The souffle is a permanent fixture of their menu – it’s easy to see why based on the volume and effusive praise of their reviews – but of course, it’s even more obvious when trying it yourself. Their hot chocolate sauce was so delicious, I finished every last drip with a spoon after finishing the airy souffle.
In terms of the experience, the only element that detracted from the meal was the long time between courses – longer than a typical fine dining establishment. Understanding the restaurant industry has changed significantly over time, I was sorry to see that other recent diners experienced similarly long delays in service of their courses, and the service itself was less attentive than a Michelin establishment. Regardless, the food and experience was top notch.
We left dinner completely filled and happy to have experienced a decadent meal together, accented with shared stories of favorite New England dining establishments. It was a meal I won’t forget.