Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Halfway Through the Circle - My Shameful Confession

I have a terrible confession to make.

I don't like salmon.

Now, if I were just a human, or something, this would be no big deal. But as a bear, salmon is expected to be a part of your staple diet. If you're in a position to do so, you're expected to get to the salmon run and fatten up on them before going in for hibernation.

Luckily for me, I'm an urban bear. I can fatten up for hibernation at the local buffet restaurant, if that's my idea of a good time. Not that I need much fattening...or do much hiberating...but still...

So when I tell you that I ate one of the tastiest meals I've had in a long time last night, you may be shocked to hear that one of my favorite parts of the meal was a big piece of salmon.

But H.B., I hear you say, you just said you hated salmon!

Ayup. But this salmon, I loved.

Let me explain...an otter friend of mine is celebrating a birthday, and, as a gift, my other half and I took him to Radius, a fine restaurant in Boston's financial district. The experience was fantastic, from beginning to end.

Firstly, the restaurant's decor is elegant, but not overwhelming. In my button down shirt, plain pants, and sandals, I didn't feel one bit uncomfortable or looked down on. This treatment extends very oganically to the service. Our main server was a joy, as she explained everything she was serving, never once made us feel ignorant when we asked for more information, and seemed genuinely interested in our opinions of various dishes.

After ordering drinks, we explained our desires. We wanted to do a chef's tasting menu, but we had one semi-herbivore with us as well (the otter *does* eat fish, but no other meats.) After a quick check with the kitchen, our server gave us the go-ahead, and the adventure began.

The chef presented us with a pair of amuse bouche. First, a spoonful salad of white anchovy, enhanced with sunflower seeds and other tasty morsels. I was a little leery, but the anchovy was very mild. The second amuse bouche was a crab salad, served in a half pickled pepper, with cilantro and basil. It was very light and refreshing; this second piece made me much happier about our choice to dine here.

Then the real meal began with our first course...a tartare of striped marlin, prepared with cucumber, candied macadamia nuts, and a cold melon broth. This was an absolutely fantastic dish...I would go so far as to call it a perfect dish. The firmness of the marlin pieces, working in conjunction with the crunch of the cucumber...the sweetness of the ingrediants combining with the melon broth. Really, I've never had anything quite like it.

The second course was a seared scallop, served with sweet baby tomatoes in a pea sauce with fennel. While none of us were overwhelmed with the other elements in the dish, we all agreed that the scallop was, perhaps, the single best seared scallop we'd ever eaten.

The third course was the previously mentioned salmon. It was slow roasted, the flavor not overwhelmingly fishy. It was flaky and moist, neither over or under cooked (tricky with salmon), with a rich, buttery flavor. It was served on top of baby artichokes and summer mushrooms. The server asked if I were now converted to liking salmon. I allowed that I would consider ordering salmon at Radius any time. Other salmon was still not on my top ten.

One of the only weak points of the meal was a play on succotash, made with sweet corn, fava beans, another bean none of us caught the name of, and lobster. The lobster meat was incredible, but the rest of the dish was only okay.

As if we needed to be elevated one more time, the next dish was a plate of homemade potato gnocchi. These were served in a light foam of some kind of cheese (got me) with rock shrimp and some par-cooked peas. The gnocchi were light, fluffy, and wonderful, the rock shrimp added nice body, and the peas gave the dish freshness and crunch. My other half has an unfortunate dislike of pasta, but he admitted that these were what he'd always hoped gnocchi would be like...light, fluffy pillows of perfection.

At this point, we omnivores diverged from our piscatarian otter. We were served pieces of duck breast over an amazing melange of baby turnip, plums, and chervil sauced with a kind of pistachio butter. This was another highlight of the meal...both my other half and I did our best to scrape up every bit of it with our folks, as licking the plate, even in an atmosphere that relaxed, would seem inappropriate. Our piscatarian otter was served a cripsy soft-shell crab with an avocado paste, a tomato-bacon vinaigrette (which he ate despite the bacon), and a spicy papaya salad.

We stayed separate for the next course, as we dined on an excellent piece of veal, served with a mustard-dill cold potato salad, apricot sauce, a sort of slaw of celeriac, and a veal reduction sauce. This was all excellent, with the sweet-sour flavors all working wonderfully together. The otter had bass over potatoes and a salad of some kind. I was nearly in a food coma by now and can barely remember even that much detail.

After a palette cleansing orange-pineapple sorbet, we moved on to what might be referred to as a dessert onslaught. Four plates were brought out, featuring:

- A chocolate horn containing chocolate mousse...served with salt caramel sauce and I think a rum ice cream?
- Butter cake with toffee bits and a thick cream
- A "spumoni" of balsamic infused cherries, chocolate, pistachios coated in...well, I can only say love, really...and a ricotta gelato
- A goat-cheese cheesecake, with homemade huckberry ice cream

We passed the plates around until everyone had had some of everything, then went back and worked over our favorite bits.

Finally, as our check was brought, a tiny plate of tiny sweets was served, including a marshmellow-coconut morsel, a shortbread cracker with blueberry and cream, and chocolate with cocoa nibs.

Did I mention drinks? They were fabulous, with my other half favoring a drink called L'Orangerie, made with Stella Artois, St. Germaine, Orange Bitters, and Orange Juice. The otter loved a drink called Pimm-ing Ain't Easy, with Pimm's Cup, Gin, and fruit juices. He also enjoyed a drink whose ridiculous name belied the fact that it was a fabulous, rum-based mango lassi.

Although we walked out at a cost of about $200.00 per person, none of us felt the cost was ill-spent. This bear can't say enough good things about Radius. If you have a special occassion to celebrate, enjoy the tasting menu - put yourself in the chef's hands, and you will not regret it.

I have no qualms about calling this the best fine-dining restaurant that I've been to in Boston. Definitely a four-star experience.

- The Happy Bear

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