Dining Out: Menton

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

By Corby Kummer | Boston Magazine |

Who knew, for example, how meaty fresh hearts of palm could be when they’re roasted, or what a fine pairing they’d make with the first fat asparagus of the season? Executive chef Colin Lynch did. (Asked whether he’s related to Barbara, he has a snappy comeback: "If I was, I’d have risen a lot faster.") Of the other first courses, terrine of duck foie gras — a thick slice with a dot of sweet wine gelée — was the only real failure. The underseasoned terrine was like a cross between mayonnaise and whipped butter, the gelée cloying. The dish was pretty, but seemed contrived.

The second-course options featured the most gems, starting with those langoustines. At one dinner, a velouté with English peas, chanterelles, and a dollop of curry yogurt and mint was marvelously potent and springlike. A square of halibut "en croute" was crusted with a butter-crisped wafer of sourdough bread in place of the skin, a clever idea that worked, as did the fresh fava purée and maitake mushrooms underneath. And yet. One night the fava purée was emerald green, the seasonings perfect; another night it was watery and all salt. The velouté was similarly uneven: Its texture varied between a thick, creamy vichyssoise and a barely thickened broth. Soft-shell crabs showed the oddest variation — light and crisp one night, greasy and leaden the next.

The third courses were more consistent, if less interesting, and stood as lessons in sauce technique. Satiny, deep-flavored jus accented the lamb with black garlic, as well as the foie gras-stuffed quail. I didn’t find the flavor of either the meat or the vegetables noteworthy, but I did go through one main like a thresher: "duet of rabbit." It’s really rabbit three ways, the star being a round mini tart of confit leg meat mixed with sweetbreads, wrapped in cabbage, and then baked in homemade puff pastry. It’s called a pithiviers, and it was fantastic. So was the teeny-tiny rack, with frenched legs you’ll find either adorable or nauseating, depending on your pet-rabbit associations. The terrinelike combination of poached loin and puréed shoulder meat, though, was disturbingly undercooked, becoming progressively pinker at each dinner until I had no desire to take a bite.

Menton’s desserts are mostly up to the same standard of inventiveness and skill. This is where molecular tricks turned up in the greatest profusion, as in strawberries dehydrated and crushed to a powder, then baked into tuiles for a deconstructed shortcake spritzed with lime foam. (Foam? Please.) The standouts were a chocolate ganache draped in a sinuous curve, served with peppermint foam and peanut ice cream; and a small lemon tart with mint purée, blackberries, and yogurt sorbet. Words can barely describe the perfection of the tart’s lemon-curd filling, or the crackling shell. Many people dream of the ideal lemon tart, me included. This is cheaper than a trip to Paris.

But it’s not cheap — dinner for two, including wine, can easily cost $350, and far more if you go for nine courses. Is Menton worth the money? Yes, opening inconsistencies and all. It’s major, and will be the Important Meal destination for a long time. I hope the kitchen irons out the glitches, and that it shows a bit more imagination with the main courses. But my first dinner experience brought on the kind of magic-carpet exhilaration you feel at a great restaurant. True, I came down to earth a few times at later meals. But I’m looking forward to soaring again.