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.