The sweet smell of excess
When adventurous diners wish upon a star, Barbara Lynch has plenty of answers at Menton
They are giddy. Drunk on knowledge. High on the conceit of what they are trying to do. Finest dining, here in Fort Point — modern yet lavish, refined and formal and beyond expensive. You are in their sights, and Menton’s minions are coming for you. From the right! A woman armed with more information about the wine she will pour than anyone would ever need to know. She is grinning. She is talking perfume and acid and soil and philosophy. She is pouring liquid, golden, into your glass.
From the left! A man with a dish of delicate white porcelain, covered by a domed lid. Attached at his hip like Gemini, twin in intent, another man with fingers out like pincers. He removes the lid. They watch, smiles twitching the corners of their lips, as you bend forward to look at what he hath revealed. Tiny, delicate, edible jewelry, landscape artistry in miniature. It is a round of rock crab salad with caviar, grapefruit, and almonds. It’s a balm, as refreshing as a cool cloth on the forehead.
They keep coming, the courses and the servers. You can’t have too many of either, it would appear.
A Maine scallop, glowing round and plump like a pearl. Hello, luscious. It sits beside ravioli stuffed with fava leaf. Truffles are flung about here and there like rose petals at a wedding. It’s a celebration of something, all right. Land and sea. Taste and texture. Spring and cleansing. So good.
Lobster salad, austere, coral rounds all in a row. On top, little piles of white sturgeon caviar and tarragon. Beneath, a line of artichoke shaved into delicate, tender slivers.
Foie gras terrine, anything but austere, a slab of richness punctuated by sweet wine gelee. Squiggles of rhubarb gel cavort exuberantly across the plate, doing backbends over bits of almond.
Lovely spring, a pea veloute the color of Kermit, poured from on high at the table. It pools around a melange of candy colors, courtesy of nature. Tiny pink radishes, bright carrots, asparagus tips, elfin mushrooms. The season’s sugar, spiced with wisps of curry yogurt.
Fat langoustines with blunt pink tails, wrapped in shredded phyllo dough. Turbot poached and served with sauce Veronique, beside white grapes wrapped in pleasingly bitter braised endive. Quail seated with its legs crossed and confited, breast puffed out around a filling of foie gras: proud little bird. Dinner here is part medieval banquet, part Relais & Châteaux.
Time is marked by plates delivered and swept away, a brigade of silver marching — forks of all sizes, spoons of all sorts. Servers want to give you foie gras and fold your napkin. They want you to be so adequately hydrated, alcoholically lubricated to the perfect degree. They want to surprise you with extra, unannounced courses of fresh bacon with tomato jam or seared tuna with chanterelles and black rice. They want crab to blur into bass into pork into veal. I believe — those are bits — of brain — in the sauce — but — gasp — too full can’t think.
There will be cheese, doled from a cart whose arrival is announced by ripe perfume. And sweets as elaborate as a geisha’s hairdo. And macarons in a wee glass dish. Would you like a souvenir menu, personalized just for you? Would you like to come see the kitchen?
It is after midnight and you stand, blinking in fluorescence, huddled with your fellow diners in a space of white and steel, like so many fatted, bleary beasts. For the staff, beer in cans, a quick palaver with executive chef Colin Lynch, a turn with a broom. How can anyone in this world drink another sip, move so quickly, complete a chore that is useful? And when are they sending the magic floating pods that will bear you back home to your bed? Because surely, surely, after all that excess and buttering and love and attention, there will be magic floating pods. No?
Well, no. But if your wish can be granted, it will be.
Chef Barbara Lynch has quenelles of steel. The girl from the Southie projects wants a four-star restaurant. She believes it can be done, in this neighborhood, in this economic climate. There must be a formula, and she determines to master it. Study, emulate, one-up. Grant every wish. Grant it before it is even made.
This is the secret.
Because the food at Menton (they pronounce it mawhn-TAWHN) is not night-and-day different from that at Lynch’s No. 9 Park — it is more refined, lovelier and lighter, turned a few degrees more toward the sea. The wine list at the restaurant — which opened in April, completing Lynch’s Fort Point trilogy with Sportello and Drink — is equally significant. Composed by master wine director Cat Silirie, it lends itself to transcendent pairings with every course. Menton’s design is in the details: Chinoiserie wallpaper in the bathroom, cream-and-cocoa rugs in the lounge, Ted Muehling candlesticks in the private dining room, an arabesque motif that echoes in white pendant lights and empty display shelves. The main dining room is either stark to a fault or Zen-like, depending on your aesthetic. Linear and gray, it could as easily play host to cubicles as to banquettes. It does not distract from the show.
The show is what you’re paying for, what makes Menton work, what makes Menton worth its price, even if only for one crazy night. Dinner for one is $95 or $145, for a four-course prix fixe or seven-course chef’s tasting. These are your only options. That’s before wine. And it’s before you pay the you’re-kidding-me upcharge of $8 and $12 for lobster salad and langoustines, respectively: At these prices, there should be no upcharge. But it is possible to spend not-that-much-less for a much lesser experience.
Quibbles: Desserts aren’t always as intriguing as some of the other courses. On slower nights, without the bustle of other tables, the attentions of so many servers are slightly overwhelming. And to the staff member who feels compelled to comment, every time two women finish a tiny course or a half-pour of the wine pairing they are splitting, “You hated that, didn’t you?’’: No, we hated you.
But we won’t wish you any harm, because at Menton wishes tend to have consequences.
When the girl from Southie walks into this restaurant in her old backyard and thinks, “I made this come true,’’ it must feel damn good.
Devra First can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.