First Bite: North 26

The Millennium Bostonian Hotel sits on a prime patch of real estate–directly across from Faneuil Hall, a stone’s throw from the North End–but no one seems to know about it. Or, at least, here’s the standard reaction I got when I mentioned I was going to check out North 26, the new restaurant there:

“The what?”

“The hotel near Faneuil Hall.”

“Oohhhh yeeeeeeah. That place.”

So, there’s a marketing problem.

There’s another problem: The restaurant doesn’t deliver quite what it promised in early press releases–a modern New England cuisine using organic and sustainable ingredients.

Instead, executive chef Brian Flagg, a protege of Todd English and Jasper White, is preparing updated regional classics for a crowd that, on a weeknight visit, seemed mostly hotel-based. There’s clam chowder, “Boston” bean soup with pancetta, grilled Rhode Island calamari, and herb-crusted cod–and there are some highlighted local products, like the Westfield Farm Hubbardston Blue in a good goat cheese tart starter.

But the menu doesn’t mention anything about organics, an absence that gives the impression that Flagg’s ambitions may have exceeded the hotel’s, and that this place, which once housed the storied, ground-breaking Seasons, isn’t what it could be.

It’s a shame, because the room is lovely after last year’s renovation: airy and sleek, accented with hickory and walnut panels and accordion windows that open up to the live show of Quincy Market on a summer night. And they’ve hired some real pros in the dining room–the kind of career servers who know how to make you feel pampered while still keeping things moving, and who can nudge you toward the pricier glass of wine without making you feel like you’ve been fully upsold. You only realize it later, when you look at the check, which is otherwise reasonable (entrees run $18 to $27).

But the final verdict, for me, came in the form of a should-have-been-great seafood stew, loaded with all the local favorites: scallops, squid, mussels, lobster, and chorizo. If only the lobster and sausage hadn’t been cooked beyond saving, and the squid taken out a minute before it became chewy. And if only the broth had boasted a stronger saffron flavor, and that earthy shellfish aroma of a good bouillabaisse. Instead, there was a bland, vaguely local stew, pretty but not fully realized, much like the restaurant.