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BOSTON BITES -- August 2000


Or should I say, "Boston Bites Back"? I love this city... but it is quite, quite expensive& and dining is certainly no exception.

AUJOURD'HUI, Restaurant Closed 2009, Four Seasons Hotel, 200 Boylston Street, (617) 351-2071 -- The lovely formal dining room, which overlooks the Public Garden, is both spacious and attractively appointed. Tables are well spaced and, in many instances, couples may be seated next to each other on comfortable banquettes. Executive Chef Edward Gannon and Chef de Cuisine Kwok Lo spruce up their New American cuisine with subtle French and Asian accents& and it is as exquisitely prepared as it is beautifully presented.

Begin with the superb caramelized diver scallops ($18.00). They are perfectly seared, rich and succulent, embellished with sweet corn brandade (a specialty of Provence: a pounded mixture of salt cod, olive oil, garlic, milk and cream), crispy shallots and a touch of caviar. The terrine of spring leeks and portabello mushrooms ($14.50) is another delectable starter. It is adorned with portions of petite potato salad and finished with truffle dressing. If you're in the mood for greenery, however, the arugula salad ($11.50), served up with chèvre cheese and a first-class balsamic vinaigrette, is anything but ordinary.

When it comes to entrées, there are many interesting choices, including a luscious rack of lamb and several intriguing vegetarian dishes. But the kitchen has a deft hand in matters piscatorial, so seafood is clearly the way to go here. The roasted lobster ($45.00), out of the shell, is presented with crabmeat wontons, an exotic pineapple compote, and consummated with a fenugreek broth. The braised halibut ($39.00), which reclines on a seabed of toasted cous-cous, is dressed up in Moroccan spices and accompanied by tender baby fennel and capers. Both are superb.

A perfect closure to your evening at table is the "Dessert Medley" for two ($21.00). It includes an incredible crème brûlée, lemon pudding cake, a host of chocolate goodies and fresh fruit.

There is an excellent (and rather pricey) wine list to complement your meal. Don't despair, however, as there are also some quite reasonable alternatives from California and the Alsatian region of France& also some very nice vintages available by the glass. If you feel like splurging, the 1997 Pinot Gris "Clos Windsbuhl" from Domaine Zind-Humbrecht ($98.00) is an excellent choice. Not inexpensive, to be sure, but a wonderful marriage with various and sundry thalassic selections.

The service, as you would expect, is absolutely first-class. It is completely profession yet not at all stuffy, ingratiatingly personable without attempting to become too familiar, attentive without being obsequious.

Aujourd'hui attracts a discreet and discriminating clientele. If you're in the mood to celebrate that special evening, this charming, sophisticated establishment is certain to fulfill your culinary dreams. I recommend it highly.

ROWES WHARF RESTAURANT, Boston Harbor Hotel, 70 Rowes Wharf, (617) 439-3995 -- The beautiful dining area replete with plush upholstered armchairs, mahogany paneling and shaded wall sconces is certain to please. This restaurant also boasts the city's most magnificent waterfront view& And Chef Daniel Bruce's New England-style cuisine is every bit its equal. Well, almost. Both the food and the service are a step below the aforementioned Aujourd'hui, but this delightful eatery still manages to acquit itself with considerable panache.

Once again, my wife felt compelled to begin with caramelized sea scallops ($14.00). So what else is new?! And they were the perfect consistency: Delicately browned and slightly crunchy on the outside, rich and buttery on the inside. The lemon caper escargot sauce provided just the proper finishing touch. My appetizer, however, was something of a disappointment. It was a duet of pepper-crusted Hudson Valley foie gras and Long Island duck breast over tomato crusted crostini and beet greens ($15.00). The foie gras was pure velvet& but the thinly sliced rare duck breast successfully resisted even the most spirited assaults from various forms of cutlery. Noting my dilemma, our server graciously offered a replacement. I choose the terrine of roasted summer veggies and cheese with saffron/tomato vinaigrette ($14.00). Quite good& though not exceptional.

Once again, as with Aujourd'hui, I would suggest that, when it comes to entrées, seafood should be your top priority. The swordfish ($26.00) is beautifully grilled and set atop vegetable cous-cous and garnished with tomato and caramelized fennel. Very, very nice. As is the grilled Atlantic salmon ($28.00) reclining on a bed of green lentils and finished with a delicate chive butter sauce.

In lieu of dessert, be sure to try the selection of fine cheeses -- Brie, Gouda and Stilton -- dressed up with Champagne grapes ($9.50).

Rowes Wharf Restaurant boasts Boston's most extensive list of American wines. If you appreciate a fine Chardonnay with seafood, be sure to try the 1998 Shafer "Red Shoulder Ranch" ($65.00).

If you're in search of a fine dining experience with first-class cuisine, fine service and a spectacular view of Boston harbor, this charming restaurant more than fills the bill.

RISTORANTE TOSCANO, 47 Charles Street, (617) 723-4090 -- This festive Beacon Hill eatery is one of our old faves. It is also a favorite with those who don't feel like hiking over to the North End, but who are still in the mood to chow down top-notch (northern) Italian cuisine. The atmosphere is pleasantly rustic, the clientele casually sophisticated, and there is even a diminutive bar where one may partake of appropriate libations before dinner.

The antipasti are superb, so be sure to treat yourself to one of the establishment's fabulous opening moves. Particularly recommended is a starter of assorted Tuscan salami with chicken liver pâté on toast ($12.00). Yummy. For those watching their cholesterol, however, you can't go wrong with the luscious assortment of grilled veggies sprinkled with just a touch of olive oil and lemon ($14.00).

The soups, hearty and robust, also make wonderful prelude here. The pasta e fagioli ($7.50) is a slightly different slant on this traditional favorite. The beans are pureed and provide a savory backdrop for the pasta, a wonderful array of slightly spicy seasonings and flecks of spinach. The ministrone ($7.50), awash with a plethoric variety of tender veggies, is equally up to the mark.

Pastas are superior, well worth seeking out and, given the somewhat lofty tariffs for other items, a comparative bargain. The tagliolini verdi al pomodoro e basilico ($14.00), for example, is an absolute must. Thin spinach spaghetti is adorned with an intense tomato/basil sauce that is just the proper shade of crimson. Also worth trying is the homemade ravioli filled with spinach & ricotta and embellished with butter, sage and fresh Parmesan ($18.00).

Entrées include such delectable possibilities as char-grilled sirloin steak with a provocative Gorgonzola sauce ($28.00), veal scallops served with wild porcini mushrooms ($28.00), and filet of sole sautéed with butter and fresh sage ($25.00). Especially enjoyable was a special halibut filet sautéed in sweet dessert wine and spruced up with pine nuts, basil, currants and cracked peppercorns ($27.00).

A number of homemade pastries make for a marvelously sweet ending; however, when it is available, be sure to opt for the marinated fresh fruit with just a touch of fresh whipped cream ($7.50).

My wife and I have always enjoyed Toscano, and our affection has continued to grow with the passing of the years.

LEGAL SEA FOODS, Various locations in and around Boston, Washington, D.C., and Baltimore -- What began as a tiny eatery above a Cambridge fish market has already become a legend in its own time. On our recent sojourn, several of us visited the location at Copley Place, which is located amid a host of expensive shops and an extensive group of theaters.

The thing that one must always keep in mind with regard to Legal is that the food is all-important. The décor may be somewhat utilitarian& the wait may seem interminable& but the cuisine is exquisitely fresh and very carefully prepared. Wood grilling is now the preparation of choice, and sauces include some interesting variations on Chinese and French themes, along with a number of good old American classics.

You must begin with the infamous New England clam chowder ($3.50 cup/$4.25 bowl) -- the pottage served at the last five presidential inaugurations -- a creamy, decadent delight. But you may also treat your palate to the splendid Rhode Island Red clam chowder ($3.50 cup/$4.25 bowl) that comes replete with plump bivalves, potatoes, onions and chorizo sausage in a spicy tomato broth.

Needless to say, the other starters are highly recommended& But you haven't really lived until you've sampled Legal's incredible smoked bluefish pâté ($6.00) rolled in a walnut/herb crust. If you're a confirmed seafood lover, just one bite will make your day.

Wood grilled entrées are brushed with herb vinaigrette or Cajun spices and then seared over a hot fire. My faves include the East Coast halibut ($22.00), haddock loin ($17.00), or the medium rare tuna ($20.00). Landlubbers may even order an 8-ounce filet mignon ($23.00). Then again, you may always opt for one of the "Legal Classics." The baked Boston scrod ($19.00) is particularly scrumptious, as is the Louisiana "Catfish Matrimony" ($15.00) sautéed with bay shrimp and andouille sausage.

If you happen to be early for your flight, be sure to check out the Legal Sea Foods in terminal C of Logan Airport. Enjoy a fried soft-shell crab sandwich with bacon ($13.00), salmon burger ($10.00) or tuna salad melt with Asiago and Monterey Jack cheese (7.00). You won't be disappointed. We certainly weren't!

THE NORTH END -- Boston's North End provides numerous opportunities to sample the city's delightful permutations of Italian cuisine. Those I would recommend from previous visits are: The Daily Catch, Davide Ristorante, Giacomo's, Mama Maria, Massimino's and Sage.

PREPRANDIAL LIBATIONS -- Be sure to check out the Bristol Lounge in the Four Seasons Hotel, or the clubby, sophisticated bar at the Ritz Carlton. Both are bastions of civility in this mad, mad world.

The Artful Diner

The Artful Diner is an independent, freelance food writer.  His latest review and an archive of past reviews for restaurants around the country and the world can be found on this site on the REVIEWS page.

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