First Bite: Sensing (Was That a Frenchman Who Just Breezed By Me?)

Photo by James Ringrose

Photo by James Ringrose

At the end of the day, the food is what really matters, right?

Not the following peripheral issues, which distracted from the main event at the press opening for Sensing, at Battery Wharf, Monday night:

1. That you have to drive to the outskirts of the North End to get there.

2. That the generic hotel-restaurant decor looks so “retro” (circa 1998).

3. That Guy Martin, the celebrity French chef “helming” the place, admitted he’d be skipping town before the restaurant even opened to the general public, last night. (He’s got the new Tokyo outpost of the place to attend to, bien sûr.)

4. That the “translator,” a manager who provided a seemingly memorized English version of the non-anglophone chef’s opening remarks, kept referring to said chef as “Mr. Mar-TAIN.” (Don’t professional interpreters have to learn, uh…pronunciation anymore?)

5. That the plate of small bites that opened the meal are referred to preciously as “snackings,” presumably to keep provincial Bostonians from getting confused that they were smaller than appetizers. (That must be how they eat over there in FRANCE!)

6. That the females at my table—whose gender otherwise doesn’t cross my mind, given that we’re professional colleagues—got their bread…and wine…and food before I did. (And that the waitstaff resorted to conspicuous acrobatics to make it happen.)

No, none of this should matter. So we’ll go straight to the food, which isn’t bad. Not bad at all.

The first course was the aforementioned “Snacking” Plate, which (despite the insufferable name) offered the most interesting flavors and concepts of the night. The best of the six-item platter—in fact, the best bite of the entire night—was the Duck Foie Gras Crème Brûlée, a rich, nutty, decadent spoonful of creamy liver, more salty than sweet, a refreshing antidote to the dessertlike recipes served in general. The intense smokiness of a roasted mussel was balanced by a raw-beet garnish, which provided an earthy respite to so much woody flavor.

Not as successful: King Crab Meat in Jelly, which tasted about as good as it sounds, and a whimsical take on a maki roll, filled with cheese and sage, that didn’t quite pan out.

The entrees were fine, though not as thrilling as the best of the starters—which, to be fair, is the case at the majority of restaurants. Cod Steamed in Lemongrass, Seasonal Vegetables (which, puzzlingly, included baby summer squash…), and Coconut-Grapefruit Sauce was solid, if less genre-busting than the presentation and menu description seemed to suggest. (“Deed you ever imazheen zat your local cod could taste so…exotique?” I kept expecting the chef to wonder aloud, avec widened eyes.) The lacquered duck breast suffered from less-than-ideally-rendered fatty skin, though the flavors were excellent and the meat itself was cooked beautifully.

All in all, it was a decent meal that has some kinks to be worked out going forward. And with entrees in the $30–$45 range, the restaurant (with or without the hands-on care of Monsieur Chef) would be wise to address them quickly. In case you haven’t heard, there’s something of a broken economy first, and folks just aren’t as forgiving as they once were at such an aggressive price point.

  • Bruce Friedrich

    It’s disappointing to see foie gras plugged. The short indictment of foie gras is this: It’s produced by jamming a pipe down an animal’s throat 2-3 times/day; the animal’s liver balloons from about 70 to more than 700 grams, becoming incredibly fatty (foie gras is French for “fatty liver,” as you know). Foie gras production is so cruel that its production has been banned by 16 countries, not because these countries are run by animal rights supporters, but because its production is so obviously beyond the pale. It’s also been condemned on cruelty grounds by everyone from Prince Charles to the Pope to the Israeli Supreme Court.

    PETA’s video about foie gras, narrated by former foie gras connoisseur Sir Roger Moore, includes footage from all three U.S. foie gras “farms”:

  • Mary Jane Faulkner

    My Husband and I found the food fantastic and the service excellent at Sensing. While we do not consider ourselves food critics by any means, we have spent a lot of time eating wonderful food in France. Sensing brought back great memories.

    By the way, “Mr. Mar-TAIN.” is the proper pronunciation.

  • Christina Pellerin

    This “reporter” might want to get a few facts straight before leaving “educated” comments. Just thought I would drop a note to agree with the above comment Ms. Faulkner left “Mar-TAIN” is the correct way to pronounce it, considering the gentlemen who spoke is French Canadian and has an accent!

    My Fiance and I ate at Sensing and found the cuisine delightful and refreshing. The menu and portions were made perfectly so you can start with an appetizer, followed by an entree, finished with dessert and perhaps a small cheese platter without being completely full, exactly how the French intended, in order to enjoy every aspect. That is something that is seriously missing in todays American cuisine, balance.

  • Jolyon Helterman

    My apologies. According to the company handling PR for the restaurant, “mar-TAIN” is indeed the correct pronunciation. A French speaker myself, I’d always heard and said “mar-TEH(n).” I stand corrected.

    More to the point, however, I’m glad the place is finding an audience.