Restaurant Review: No. 9 Park in Boston
I admired the crisp skin on hake served with saffron-aioli-smeared grilled bread and an olive-y bouillabaisse-like broth, the fillet translucent to highlight the delicacy. And sautéed striped bass over romesco, the Catalan almond-pepper-roasted-tomato sauce, was particularly meaty, with a dense flesh that pulled apart in strands like skate wing. Warmed “jambon royale” from Niman Ranch made it a successful take on Portuguese cod with chorizo. But you have to be ready for dry fish, too. When the season ended and Jones replaced the bass with less-flavorful imported farmed branzino, the firm flesh was less persuasive.
Lamb worked when cooked medium well, served in chunks in one of Jones’s neat rectilinear lines, like de-shished shish kebabs. Though the date, ginger, shallot, and curry paste sounded odd, it brought out both the sweetness and the meatiness of the lamb, and could even be called inspired. But the pine nuts, anchovies, and sunflowers on the same plate only added confusion.
Jones, who studied biochemistry as a Harvard undergraduate and cancer biology as a graduate student at the Harvard Medical School, has plenty of ideas (and with his spouse, Ben Wolfe, a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard, writes about some of them on bostonmagazine.com). He told me that he loves both hazelnuts and mayo, and there were indeed aiolis and green goddesses and plain peppery mayos on many of the appetizers, appearing to best effect as a garlicky green-goddess-like dressing over heirloom tomatoes, and a buttermilk-dijon dressing on a baby-vegetable salad with buttermilk-and-semolina-dredged Ipswich clams. Those clams would hold up well in a North Shore taste-off, and could be a plate all on their own.
The best idea Jones mentioned, though, was one that will let him work with guests to tailor menus that will suit both them and him. Jones told me that he wants to give customers more control of what they eat, by asking what they do and don’t like, how many courses they want, and whether or not they want to be surprised.
That’s for the future. For now, you can eat at the bar and change up the appetizer-entrée-dessert parade, but you won’t save money: À la carte appetizers are $21, entrées $39, and desserts $14. The three-course prix fixe, however, locks in a lot of food and expense. (And obliges you to order dessert. Perhaps because the longtime pastry chef was about to depart when I visited, few desserts were remarkable, the most interesting being squares of almond-flour cocoa cake with tonka bean, white chocolate, and an applewood-smoked vanilla ice cream—a subtle, expertly matched combination.)
When Jones comes into focus as a chef who owns the menu, and puts his new custom-tailoring plans into place, No. 9 will truly be reborn—and again show Boston new ways to satisfy customers.
9 Park St., Boston, 617-742-9991, no9park.com.
Critic Corby Kummer—an editor at The Atlantic and author of The Pleasures of Slow Food—has been reviewing Greater Boston’s top restaurants in our pages since 1997.