Dining Out: Menton

At her new Fort Point restaurant, Barbara Lynch takes diners for an exhilarating, expensive ride.

THE FIRST TIME I HAD DINNER at Menton, it was so good I stopped taking notes after the second course. The dish was langoustines — true scampi, that sweet cross between shrimp and lobster — wrapped in finely shredded phyllo, served over a bright sauce of fresh peas, and topped with a few thin slices of pickled rhubarb and green-topaz dots of pumpkinseed oil. The langoustines were crisp outside and soft inside, the peas and rhubarb messengers of spring. Here was technique and inventiveness at the service of impeccable ingredients.

[sidebar]And then there were the flourishes, the kinds of studied details that define luxury dining. Three types of homemade bread were stellar; a round of fresh-baked mini honey croissants came to the table with great ceremony. By the time the mignardises — button-size macarons with surprise ingredients like basil and black sesame — arrived, I was convinced I’d eaten the most expert, refined dinner I’d had in Boston since Jean-Georges Vongerichten made his astonishing debut at the old Lafayette Hotel in 1985. It was practically flawless.

Then I went back, and neither of the two subsequent dinners reached the heights of the first. It wasn’t just because I was tasting the same dishes I’d had before, or that the first-time thrill was fading. (Menton offers two prix-fixe tasting menus, one a four-course meal with a choice of three or four items per course, the other a nine-course parade of set dishes. I focused on the shorter menu, so I wound up tasting almost everything three times.)

Obviously the restaurant, which opened in Fort Point in April, is still settling in. But the inconsistencies in execution are surprising, and they’re not what you’d expect from a restaurant whose prices — $95 for the four-course menu, $145 for the nine-course — make it the most expensive in town (and this is without wine; the suggested pairings for the nine-course menu cost $105).

Still, Menton is a remarkable debut, one of the most ambitious restaurants to open anywhere in the country this year. It’s an extremely assured establishment operating at a very high level, the kind of place that takes lots of staff and pricey equipment but doesn’t rely, to my relief, on too much of the molecular gastronomy that is producing an increasingly tired bag of special-effect tricks. I say this as a nonmember of the Barbara Lynch cult, and an intermittent fan of the chef’s restaurants (which now number five, plus cocktail bar Drink and demonstration kitchen Stir). My admiration of her business savvy and eye for design has been unwavering. But I’m put off by the odd excess of butter at Sportello, and No. 9 Park has always struck me as needlessly fancy.

Menton is elegant without calling attention to itself. The design, by Cheryl and Jeffrey Katz, is subdued and luxurious, with dove-gray and wood-veneer panels and a wall of gray brocade patterned in a Chinese cityscape. Together, the décor choices all say, "Put me up next to anything in New York" and "Consider me for a Michelin star." The ideas in the mainly French menu — Menton is named for a town on the Italy-France border — are moderately daring without being really challenging, the presentation careful. And much of the food is as good to eat as it is elegant.