What happens when you apply lit crit to a restaurant?
Rating: 2.0 stars
May 30, 2007 5:11:06 PM
FRONT LOADED: Appetizers grab some of the best sauce offerings at Sauciety.

Hotel dining rooms are a large investment poured over a contradiction. Local celebrants want a distinctive menu for big nights out, while hotel guests often want a familiar steak, chicken, or fish dinner. Boston has some great and innovative solutions to this problem, including Dante, Brasserie Jo, Meritage, and Intrigue. There have also been some colossal and expensive duds. (Has anyone figured out Jer-ne at the Ritz-Carlton? Why would a luxury hotel bet a Boston franchise on a weird name and a Pacific Rim–fusion menu?) Sauciety is a restaurant to make a critical theorist giggle. They have taken familiar dinner entrées and put the protein on one plate, the vegetables and starches ($6 side dishes) on another, and sauces and dips in a series of square bowls in the middle of the table.

Deconstruction has never been so literal, and minimalism never so complicated: eight entrées (none vegetarian), seven side dishes, and 15 sauces (two to an entrée) make for a lot of permutations. But many of the flavors are muted, so you’d better tuck a copy of this review into your post-structuralism textbook to remember what to order.

The breadbasket is good (not great) with cracker bread, French-bread slices and rolls, and three dips. The winning dip is the red-pepper hummus, though the garlicky artichoke dip and the roasted-garlic olive oil are also tasty. The obvious appetizer choice is a combination of four skewers ($18), with two of the best sauces: a spicy roasted-red-pepper romesco and a lively green puréed chimichurri. But the only skewer I liked was the vegetable ($4), with grilled eggplant and red peppers. The chicken ($4) was too plain; the shrimp ($6) wasn’t charred; and the steak ($6) was nondescript.

Sauceless appetizers include a fine cream-tasting clam chowder ($7) and a meaty, lump crab cake ($10). The best of our entrées was grilled yellowfin tuna ($26). You get a caramelized onion and two chunks of seared red tuna (mostly sushi-rare), delicious with or without dressing. The Misty Knoll chicken ($23) may be a natural hen from Vermont, but the cut served (a “Statler” boneless breast with the wing drumette attached) was overdone and a little dry, albeit with crisp skin. You would not want to eat this without a sauce. The 2.5-pound Maine pan-roasted lobster (market price, recently $65) is probably not pan-roasted, but is a fine, plump lobster. It comes cracked, but with insufficient extraction tools.

Now the sauces: you’ve already had the best ones! The only other that has any pizzazz is the five-chili mole, which has some of the depth and complexity of Mexican black mole — the chili sauce with a bitter-chocolate binding. The avocado salsa fresca is okay, but the lemon artichoke emulsion is green, tasteless glop. The béarnaise, a classic, lacks any definition — the blandest butter sauce ever.

Whiskey-spiked ketchup, made with roasted tomatoes, lacks depth and balance, and apparently whiskey. Lobster vanilla mousse is a bland custard and hard to use. Mushroom-corn salsa is a small corn salad. Garlic aioli is a smooth, garlicky mayonnaise, perhaps useful with some entrées.

The side dishes are often better news. Sauciety fries ($6) are excellent, crisp, and seasoned, served in a cone of fake newspaper. Lemon broccolini ($6) has both crunch and zest. Asparagus ($6) is competent and plentiful. And a salad of tomato, onion, and blue cheese ($6) used some balsamic vinegar and lively cheese to draw out the best possible flavor from red and yellow tomato chunks. Only Savoy slaw ($6) lacked seasoning.

The wine list is mostly American, and glasses are large. That said, I think my glass of Penfolds (Australian) Bin 28 shiraz ($12/glass; $48/bottle) was from a holdover bottle. It seemed as flat as the weaker sauces. Decaf coffee ($4) was very good and was served with hot foamed milk. Tea, you pick out of a box. Usually this involves a race against cooling water to get it brewed, but china pots here keep the water hot for long enough.

Some of the desserts are also sauce-dependent, and this makes for plain cake (like the chicken) crying out for something more. The best of the dessert toppings recently was mocha. Raspberry was fine but familiar; chocolate, a little thin; “burnt vanilla,” bland; and kiwi, kind of a mistake. The need was greatest with the strawberry angel-food shortcake ($9), which had a decent strawberry drizzle that was out of proportion with the cake. Sauce was also a useful adjunct to the Boston-cream-pie stack ($9), which looks something like a sparrow wearing a cape. The body is layers of sponge cake and mousse, and the head has a chocolate cap. The cape is a thin chocolate wafer (white and dark chocolate mixed together) with embedded nuts and raisins. A little mocha, and there you are.

“Chocolate milk” and cake ($9) is a kind of chocolatized tres-leches sweet, but based on a heavy chocolate cake in a soup of frothy chocolate mousse. The toppings were unnecessary, though they did add flavor.

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