90 Tremont Street, Boston
Chef: Jeffrey Everts
Spire wants to be something Boston doesn't have yet. Just what, might be hazy. It certainly wants to become a boutique hotel restaurant that's a place to be seen for both local and traveling style-setters, including those who need businesslike privacy. It aims for drop-dead chic à la Morgans and the Royalton, New York's leading-edge boutique hotels of the '90s, with their dark-velvet color schemes, sexy low lighting, and suave staffs in formal designer outfits.
You know you're in another world when you enter the lobby of the new Nine Zero hotel, located on Tremont Street between City Hall Plaza and the Downtown Crossing edge of the newly trendy Boston Common. It has a concentrated minimalism more reminiscent of the W Hotel in San Francisco than Nine Zero's neighbor, the Omni Parker House. A dramatic stairway leads to Spire's bar, which incorporates my favorite design statement since the hookah lounge at Mantra: a freestanding frosted-glass cabinet wall separating the bar from the restaurant, bottles and glasses glowing ice blue from within. It looks like something from the SAS Royal Hotel in Copenhagen, the recently renovated modernist landmark designed by Arne Jacobsen.
So does the ceiling, with its big polka-dot-lighted recesses. The irregularly placed circles don't quite break up the boxiness of the dining room or hide what is, in fact, a big awkward square. But they're a good try and give you something to look at besides the plain walls. So does the shimmering curtain that teasingly covers the window separating the dining room from the kitchen. When a breeze tousles it, you can glimpse the action at the stainless steel stove.
This frankly stagy setting needs dramatic food to match, and Jeffrey Everts, a transplanted southern Californian by way of Scottsdale, is working hard at it. Boston hasn't seen his kind of cooking, either, and it's surprisingly well coordinated with the Spire style. That is, it's reminiscent of what's haute in several other cities, with a minimalist overlay and luxurious basic materials. When everything comes together, dishes can be impressive and memorable. But there are a few too many chefs' techniques and tricks from the past decade, and Everts isn't always in control of them. The dishes are also precious in another sense: Spire's prices are very, very high.
Two luxurious and expensive appetizers show what I mean. (Not that you'll find a word as banal as “appetizer” on the menu, which is divided into four starkly numbered sections.) The pan-seared foie gras with baby pineapple “chops” and Szechuan peppercorns ($18) is a striking pairing of good New York State foie gras with slow-roasted, slightly caramelized slices of pineapple seasoned with fresh-ground Chinese pepper. The plush texture of the liver and the chewy fruit play well together, and the pepper gives a mild bite.
The lobster tail and claw meat poached in butter ($16), though, is unrelentingly rich; to this New Englander, lobster doesn't gain a thing from being steeped in fat. On the same plate, there are small, handsomely presented portions of ricotta “dumplings” (gnocchi) with mushroom powder, and artichokes napped with a sauce of reduced lobster stock further enriched with mascarpone. It's imaginative, and each component looks good. But they don't come together or come to life. It's something like Prada-clad diners nestled on one of the chocolate-brown banquettes (chicly set off by powder-blue pillows, a combination you might want to take home) unable to get a conversation going.
Sometimes the luxury works, however, and Everts keeps the flavors to the minimum his minimalist plates promise. Then you can think that nothing could be more fitting than Prada. The entrée I liked best was the staggeringly priced venison with summer peaches and parsnips ($36), the fruit fantastically intense and the man-sized cube of venison, from Millbrook Farms, butter-soft and rich as steak. And I welcome the entry of daurade, or sea bream, a Mediterranean fish hard to find on Boston menus, with a flavor as big as its price Â— $32 for a well-conceived dish of parsley salad with puréed celery root and roasted elephant garlic. Everts has wisely kept the daurade, along with the venison, on his second menu.
I welcome it, though, with a few scruples. Daurade is imported, and usually farmed at that, and we're on the Atlantic coast, after all. Perhaps understandably, Everts is still thinking in terms of the places where he learned to cook Â— Scottsdale, Arizona, for example, where he worked with two star chefs, Christopher Gross and Alessandro Stratta.
Everts is ordering micro greens from California and the Midwest, he told me, and pulverizing and frothing spices and sauces Â— diverting flourishes that seldom do more than dress up a dish. I'm with him up to the pineapple chops, and the peach and parsnip relish for the venison. But the pancetta-sherry vinaigrette with slow-roasted salmon ($22) seemed to introduce irrelevant richness; the fig and endive marmalade did little to help good lamb ($33); and the cod (a local fish, at least), in a broth of kaffir lime leaves with chanterelles and asparagus ($27), had practically no flavor except those like-it-or-don't lime leaves. I understood a fellow diner's remark on taking a sip: “Lemon Pledge.”
I wish the desserts were just a bit less original. The warm chocolate cake with cherry-mascarpone ice cream and chocolate custard ($10) was satisfying, but the caramelized fig tart with balsamic syrup and fig-balsamic ice cream ($9) seemed a conceit, with too few figs and nothing to sink your teeth into.
The wine list, mostly Californian and French, is predictably original and pricey, including well-chosen pinot noirs and an “aromatic whites” section with interesting Rieslings and a well-priced Gewürztraminer (Hugel, $40). Service errs on the side of the attentive, but it was never intrusive Â— quite a feat when the staff has clearly been trained to anticipate and meet diners' desires.
Spire is charging a lot for a stylish experience. I doubt it will be able to charge that much for long, at least not if it wants to have a local clientele. But Everts is an interesting new talent. I look forward to seeing him create a repertoire that tells us this is his food, the way he chooses to serve it in our town.