Dining Out: The Marliave

A Boston classic gets a new lease on life with a dramatic overhaul that might be a bit too ambitious for its own good.

Yet there’s hope. Herritt has a refreshing restraint that comes out in, for instance, that egg appetizer, served as a trio with a lovely poached egg on toast beneath a thinner-than-usual hollandaise, a bland but fine deviled egg, and soft–scrambled eggs with three kinds of caviar. Though the eggs were cool by the time they arrived, all had a beautiful and just-right texture that’s not easy to achieve. Herritt’s reimagined clam chowder ($14), already a signature dish, is a shallow pool of simple reduced-cream broth base below hand-cut carrots and potatoes, big squares of braised Vermont pork belly, and a few meaty littlenecks steamed to order. It was so good I wished for more of the broth, and it’s an example of where Herritt, reaching for elegance, succeeds.

Entrées could all use editing. The best so far are sweet Nantucket Bay scallops poached in an artichoke and leek broth, alongside seared diver scallops with slightly salty uni butter ($34)—as with the egg appetizer and the chowder, the flavor of the principal ingredient comes first. A black truffle–stuffed leg of rabbit beside a prosciutto-wrapped loin ($34) is a bit precious, with the leg placed vertically like a cancan dancer’s, but has nicely flavored if slightly underdone meat.

No other main I tried warranted the price. Wolf Neck Farms tenderloin and braised short rib with sauce Diane ($42) and rack and braised shoulder of lamb ($42) are tender but so mild in flavor you can hardly tell them apart. Veal chop Milanese ($44) has too much breading and too little flavor, as does the overly rich risotto beside it, but at least the plate has some green asparagus, topped with a poached egg. The potpie ($29) keeps to local and in-season (unlike the asparagus) vegetables, including Macomber turnips and parsnips, but is almost completely unseasoned, with an underbaked round of puff pastry and not-very-truffley black truffle butter.

Have you noticed a white theme? (I know you’ve noticed the prices, unsustainable in this economy.) Aside from an arresting beet starter ($13), with borscht and a napoleon of thin-sliced beets and goat cheese, and salad with greens and heirloom tomatoes ($14) from Eva’s Garden in Dartmouth, nearly everything is white or light brown. Even the (three-part) desserts are monochromatic. The chocolate option ($10) has the most color, even if it’s brown, with a particularly good flourless cake made with superior Callebaut baking chocolate. The vanilla-themed plate ($10) comes with a curdy crème brûlée, tiramisu parfait, and dull vanilla cupcake with mascarpone frosting. The trio of house-made ice creams in vanilla, ginger, mint, or lavender ($9) is well executed, but picture it: three little white scoops in three little white cups on a big white plate.

If Herritt can keep the restraint, double the color, and roughly halve the prices, he’ll keep the upstairs dining room as lively and happy as the downstairs—and give a grand old landmark the new life it deserves.