No. 9 Park
The summer's big opening hits its stride, mostly
by Stephen Heuser
Barbara Lynch first came to public attention as the executive chef of Galleria
Italiana, a previously obscure restaurant near the Theater District. It was
there, starting in late 1995, that Lynch, a native of South Boston who'd worked
her way through various well-regarded kitchens before becoming Galleria's
executive chef, began to be anointed a Talent by various local reviewers, and
quickly ascended to name-chef status.
(617) 742-9991 |
9 Park Street (Beacon Hill), Boston
Open daily for lunch, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
and for dinner, 5:30-10 p.m.
(Café open for dinner until 11 p.m.)
AE, DC, Di, MC, Visa
Her attention-grabbing run at Galleria was followed by a falling-out with the
owners, and then by rumors in food-gossip columns that she had a new project
under way, a restaurant of her own. Word trickled out among foodies. It would
be on the Common, next door to the Union Club. It would be not exactly Italian.
It would be named for its address. It would open sometime in the summer of
This was all before the first official notice crossed my desk. That first
official notice came in June, and it said, "No. 9 Park Now Taking
It did not say, We are opening a restaurant. Or, Barbara Lynch is pleased to
announce. It assumed you knew all that and were just waiting for the gun to go
off so you could book a table.
Man, I thought. If that's their PR campaign, they have to be pretty
The initial reviews came in. Inconsistent-but-promising was the word from
Lynch's friend Corby Kummer, who reviewed No. 9 Park for Boston
magazine. Alison Arnett, over at the Boston Globe, kept visiting the
place until she liked it. To me, people seemed to be dancing around the issue:
they had just eaten at a very expensive restaurant that didn't rock their
By now Lynch's place has settled in as the downtown restaurant, with a
bustling bar and full tables even on a Monday night, and Bon
Appétit has just named it one of the country's most important
openings this year. The food is undeniably tasty, and if not every consistency
problem has been ironed out, it's clear that Lynch can work magic when she's
on. Still, the entrées are very expensive; unless you are feeling
particularly flush, my advice would be to sit at one of the marble-topped
tables in the café/bar, order appetizers and one of the excellent
Belgian beers on the menu, and absorb the in-ness of the place, the
clean sage walls and cherry-wood trim, the square plates, and the throngs of
well-heeled downtowners mingling around the bar's dollhouse-white bar chairs,
under its nine beaded amber lamps.
Lynch's food is a distinctly American fusion of ideas, drawn mainly from
Italian and French traditions. Perhaps in part because it's winter, the menu
seems to hit the bass notes of truffle oil and cream and foie gras more than
any perky top notes. To Lynch's credit, she manages to pull this off without
For instance, the "pizzette" ($9) is your typical high-end small pizza, done
with a delicacy you don't usually see. A stylish oblong of flatbread is
carpeted with thinly sliced mushrooms over white cheese, then sprinkled with a
bit of fresh flat-leaf parsley and more than a bit of white-truffle oil. The
result is woodsy-tasting and crisp, deep without being heavy.
The tagliatelle ($12) is rolled very thin but still retains a nice bite. The
flat noodles are gently tossed in a "Tuscan meat sauce" with a light
tomato-cream feel and a lot of ground meat, with a sprig of basil on top.
I'm not sure what to think of the steak tartare ($11). The version here was,
as you'd expect, a glistening disk of brilliant red ground beef. But the capers
mixed into the meat, and the bit of truffly-tasting crème fraîche
hiding underneath, did more to cloak the meat in a generic veil of gourmet-ness
than to bring out its singular, barbaric buttery taste. It didn't taste
bad -- it just didn't quite taste like steak tartare.
The spirit of inventiveness is served much better in the chestnut bisque
($10). The soup is presented with a little ritual: the bowl arrives dry, with a
handful of chanterelle mushrooms, and the liquid is delivered by a waiter from
a white porcelain ewer. Pretentious? Maybe. Then again, maybe keeping the
ingredients separate means that the mushrooms can retain their earthy taste,
contrasting with the sweet, mild, slightly chalky chestnut purée rather
than leaching into it. A salad ($8) was uncomplicated -- a pile of mesclun
greens, no adornments -- but the dressing, made with olive oil and chopped
olives, really made it jump.
The highlight of an entrée of "crispy duck" ($27) wasn't so much the
skin, which didn't quite reach crispiness, as the intense game flavor of two
deeply colored duck legs. They were served with fresh black figs cut open to
reveal their rather suggestive insides. They were also served on top of
something: as I moved the duck aside, I found a kind of slaw flavored with
mustard seed, and then a bright pink substance -- foie gras! The thing under
the duck was a giant, disintegrating ravioli filled with slaw and a piece of
what seemed, by color and texture, to be quite raw foie gras. I moved back to
the duck and left the rest of the foie gras alone.
That was probably the roughest edge we encountered at No. 9 Park. A plate
of scallops ($29) had five big scallops, with those perfect grill stripes that
scallops acquire, each mounted on a little bed of mashed potato studded with
lentils, surrounded by a watercress purée, with a nutty tangle of fried
parsnips on the plate.
Along with the scallops we had a half-bottle of a very nice, unusually round
and fruity Sancerre, a Lucien Crochet 1996 that wasn't too terribly
marked up at $22. (The wine list, assembled by Lynch's former sommelier at
Galleria Italiana, is impressively rangy, though the "values" seem to be mostly
in the expensive bottles.)
It is hard, even if you are so curmudgeonly as to worry about raw foie gras
and $6 scallops, to leave with a bad feeling if dessert is good. And all of our
desserts were good: an excellent pear sorbet ($8), lilting and light, with a
cute pear chip on the plate and a gewürztraminer sauce; a wholesome
vanilla-flavored bread pudding ($7) was molded into an oval, with a crisp crust
and fine caramel sauce. The most run-of-the-mill was probably something called
the apple terrine ($8), which was a square slice of sweet, soft bread
laid on its side and framing a single round slice of baked apple, all in a pool
of liquored sweet-cream sauce. The strangest-sounding dessert was in some ways
the most impressive: "sweet-potato pithivier" ($8), a puffy golden pastry
flanked by two little scoops of coconut ice cream and a wash of light ginger
sauce. The sweet potato inside the pastry was caramelized (or brown-sugarized)
to the point where it tasted genuinely desserty. This is exactly the sort of
bright sleight of hand -- unexpected, but suddenly obvious in retrospect --
that differentiates chefs who merely try hard from those who have a real gift.
Even if the wrapping is a bit loose.
Stephen Heuser can be reached at email@example.com.