First Bite at Forum

A new Back Bay restaurant has plenty of scene-stealing style. If only it served food to match.

Photograph by Dan Watkins

With the acquisition of the space formerly occupied by Euro haunt Vox Populi, the restaurant group Boston Nightlife Ventures (Noche, the Tap, the Federal) struck real estate gold: two expansive floors, each with its own bar, and colossal windows overlooking Boylston Street. The group’s new concept, Forum, attempts to distinguish itself from the party spot that was Vox with a tastefully hip, white-tablecloth dining room and a refined, contemporary American menu.

The problem with a high-end restaurant in a prime location, though, is that competition is fierce. And in Forum’s case, it’s hard not to weigh the offerings against those at nearby eateries L’Espalier and Towne, where prices are only slightly more elevated but the food is much more interesting. In nearly every dish I tried, the flavors underwhelmed. An appetizer of cured salmon with avocado, pea tendrils, and chive-chili vinaigrette ($16) was beautifully presented, but could have used more chili to brighten it up. Similarly, the house-made cheese in the caprese salad ($14) lacked the delicate tang that makes fresh mozzarella so utterly addictive. And an entrée of striped bass with favas, English peas, white asparagus, and uni ($25, pictured) was just plain bland — not to mention nearly a quarter inedible dark meat.

A few plates were worth coming back for, however — namely, the deconstructed beef Wellington ($35), a creative take on the classic served with a heap of wild mushrooms, a flaky puff pastry, and a generous piece of foie gras; and the tender ricotta gnocchi with lobster and tomatoes ($27). The 160-label wine cellar and extensive cocktail list, meanwhile, might be reason enough to drop by.

In another location, perhaps, Forum would be poised to thrive. But standing as close as it does to the Boylston Street bigwigs, the place still has quite a few improvements to make before it can truly compete in this race.

755 Boylston St., Boston, 857-991-1831,