First Bite: Stanhope Grille

This revamped Back Bay restaurant promises flights of fancy. Too bad many dishes don’t make it off the ground.

Stanhope Grille

Photograph by Michael Piazza

The relaunched Stanhope Grille at the Back Bay Hotel, now under the direction of executive chef Raymond Southern, looks great on paper. Promotional copy touts a bevy of local farmers, cheesemakers, maple syrup producers, and fishermen who are stocking the kitchen. For foodies, this kind of thing is Pavlov’s bell.

The menu presents a long list of compelling, multilayered options, such as flatiron steak with lobster hash and a duck dish with “foie gras brown butter caramel” and Concord grape–accented cabbage. Indeed, the Stanhope’s lineup reads like something from Todd English at his Boston-based best, and raises hopes for a fascinating (if over-the-top) meal.

But as the first course arrives, the reverie of ordering gives way to puzzled expressions of “Huh?” and “Wait, wasn’t this supposed to be…?” An example: house-cured salmon rubbed with cocoa, salt, and sugar and then brined in Jameson whiskey. Sounds winning — or at least interesting. But all that layering turns the fish into a mere vehicle for whiskey, salt, and sweetness. More baffling, it arrives without the promised black bread crouton, which leaves us eating with knife and fork, fillet-style.

The aforementioned duck, so tantalizing on the page, is cooked exactly to temperature, and the meat is perfectly tender. The grape-scented cabbage is sweet and tangy with a nice crunch. Yet the confit leg lacks any crispness, the skin on the breast meat is fatty, and the brown butter caramel is nowhere to be found.

Chef Southern grew up on a small farm outside Vancouver, and his longtime-commitment to peak seasonal ingredients is praiseworthy. Clearly, he also can dream up a menu that makes us want to eat. The challenge now, for both Southern and the Stanhope, is creating food that makes us want to eat, too.

The Back Bay Hotel, 350 Stuart St., Boston, 617-532-3827, doylecollection.com.

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