Restaurant Review: In the Lobby of the Whitney Hotel, Peregrine Soars
Can a pair of on-the-rise restaurateurs convince locals to eat dinner in the middle of a hotel lobby? With Peregrine, they just might.
In a way, Peregrine is a homecoming for chef Joshua Lewin and wine expert Katrina Jazayeri. Before they jointly opened Juliet, a European-style café-restaurant in Somerville, the couple met while Lewin was earning food-world notice as the chef at Beacon Hill Hotel & Bistro. This past summer, they returned to the neighborhood with their own project: an idiosyncratic destination for Italian islands–inspired cuisine that nests a handful of tables directly within the lobby of the new boutique Whitney Hotel. (And I do mean within the lobby; you can see the check-in desk from certain tables.) To be sure, Peregrine wants to wow the transient traveler upstairs. But as an all-day, gratuity-inclusive restaurant, it also clearly aims to be the kind of refined yet familiar respite to which locals will want to return, at any hour on the clock.
Does it succeed? Let’s put it this way: After my first visit, Peregrine quickly became a place I found myself craving. I came back in the morning, for iced lattes and custardy omelettes ($17) savored in the tiny oasis of the hotel’s back patio. I came back for midday snacks, such as standout garlic Gulf shrimp ($17), their tails fat, flayed, and lolling about in warm olive oil. I came back for a classic negroni ($14) at the bar before hoofing it to Long Wharf to catch an evening ferry. Part of the appeal is that the restaurant quietly exudes an attentive kind of hospitality best glimpsed in the in-between moments: the morning I spotted Jazayeri lint-rolling each plush linen chair, say, or the evening I watched her toss a bowl of pasta tableside for an elderly man who had trouble seeing through his eye patch. Here, “personal touch” feels uncommonly tangible.
Yet the food does a fine job securing second (and third and fourth) visits on its own, whether you’re relaxing with elbows on the table in the cushy dining room, where walls of windows spoon light over wood tables, or sliding into a high-backed barstool at the L-shaped white-marble counter. That’s where I found myself one evening, when my brother’s reservation for three turned into four and the floor manager/bartender—yes, Peregrine is really that small—kindly finagled us corner seats. There, I discovered a beautifully balanced kale Caesar salad ($12), shredded greens accented with butter-toasted focaccia croutons and the particular, pristine salinity of white anchovies. Hake ($34) with melted tomatoes and sweet corn was as light and cozy as wrapping up in cotton sheets. Ultra-tender roast chicken ($34) with sun-colored saffron rosemary sauce conveyed restraint and opulence, much like the Whitney itself.
Certain offerings here were especially sublime. “This is my favorite dish,” a food runner whispered to me another night, as he set down a cavernous bowl of wild mussels and local clams ($29) in an intoxicating, rust-hued tomato broth of their own juices. Hunks of potatoes drank it up alongside two ragged wedges of sourdough, perched on top and just waiting to be dunked. Here, in a bowl of bivalves, the bridge between homey comfort and upscale elegance existed as a beautiful piece of edible architecture. Sicilian sashimi ($22), meanwhile, held a different, austere kind of lure: lobes of sea urchin with cured capers, supple slivers of octopus, and coarser cuts of gently brined hake on a shiso leaf.
There are, to be sure, a couple of kinks to work out. Homemade pastas were too soft; I wondered how the pappardelle ($24) with braised chicken, as well as a truffle-laced tagliatelle alle vongole ($31), might have fared with more al dente bite. (They also tasted as though the cooking water, a.k.a. Italian liquid gold, was under-seasoned.) The bagna cauda ($15)—a warm blend of olive oil, butter, and anchovies—was a strange interpretation: not a fondue-style dip, per usual, but a sauced pile-up of potatoes, onion tangles, radishes, and one halved, molten egg. I understood the riff better when using a side of bread to catch the extra dressing, but still missed the classic Italian dunk.
The left turns are more welcome on the beverage side, from the natural-leaning wine list—where an offbeat German Pfalz ($15) shares space with that suave Italian king, Chianti ($16)—to the cocktails. In the “Wandering Exhibitionist” ($15), tequila danced with yellow chartreuse and the curious undertone of prickly pear liquor. In the “Paper Falcon” ($14), the depth of rye whiskey was tempered by Aperol, fresh lemon, and the molasses-like bitterness of Zucca Rabarbaro, making it perfect to drink on the patio in August or near the fireplace in January.
Desserts, lovely for the most part, are their own invitation to stick around the bar for a round of amari. A wedge of Catalonian cheesecake ($10) with sherry-soaked dried cherries was reminiscent of the Basque “burnt” variety with its well-browned crust that yielded to a smooth center. I was charmed by a delightful platter of homemade cookies, which featured coarse-ground pistachio, dark cocoa, and salty, chocolate-studded planks. And though the disappointing mint panna cotta ($10) was, one evening, firm enough to chew, all was forgiven for a showstopping nightly special: wheels of whole oranges ($13) cooked to folds of silk in an orange syrup, and topped with chocolate shavings and wisps of cream.
This orange dish embodies the specialness of what Peregrine offers: a sort of elevated familiarity, like reality improved upon. And I suppose that’s what great hotels, and restaurants, are truly about. They are places to feel at home, and also transported. So, too, is Peregrine. Jazayeri and Lewin’s shared voice, in its crystal form, is elegantly undone—a dichotomy that is difficult to achieve. Luckily, like its namesake, the coast-favoring falcon, Peregrine has sharp vision and nearly unerring aim. It soars.
170 Charles St., Boston, 617-826-1762, peregrineboston.com.
Wild Chatham mussels and local clams ($29), Garlic Gulf shrimp ($17), Omelette Francese ($17)
★★★★ Extraordinary | ★★★ Generally Excellent | ★★ Good | ★ Fair | (No Stars) Poor