First Bite: City Table

The Lenox hotel's new restaurant concept aims for comfort—and ends up being a yawn.

First Bite City Table

Photograph by Kate Kelley

A meal at City Table reveals a critical truth about the Boston restaurant-goer, circa the Late Great Recession: As drinkers, we want adventure; as diners, we want familiarity. City Table features a vibrant cocktail list (think cucumber-pomegranate infusions and pisco sours made with raw egg white), but the food lineup is a well-worn mix of short ribs, seared tuna, risotto, and roast chicken. Alas, this menu schizophrenia is the latest example of a formula that’s being repeated ad infinitum these days: sexy cocktails paired with frumpy comfort food.

To diners’ credit, perhaps the formula isn’t as much a reflection of popular taste as it is of management’s anxieties. The good news for City Table patrons is that chef Dennis Wilson, who also ran the kitchen when the space was home to Azure, does a fine job turning out rustic fare. The hanger steak tacos, for instance, hold beef so tender and flavorful you’d swear it’s sirloin. The house-made pappardelle topped with braised short ribs and vegetable ragu is rich but not greasy, balanced by the bright acidity of the tomatoes; plus, the generous serving means the $10 half portion can stand in as dinner.

The bad news? You won’t find anything terribly interesting or quirky here—even in the décor. The room has been remodeled in a handsome palette of brown ultrasuede and espresso-colored wood, but it still looks like a place you’ve been before. And when Wilson does attempt to go further afield with the food, as with the wan duck spring rolls, he seems less sure of himself.

Still, those rustic dishes are nicely done, the drinks are simply great, and the service is highly polished, which means City Table will make a fine neighborhood hangout. Most nights draw a mix of tourists, afterwork diners, and regulars from the posh condos near the Prudential. So maybe those management types do have their finger on the pulse. We just can’t help wishing that every once in a while, they’d make our heart skip a beat.

65 Exeter St., Boston, 617-933-4800,