A Juxtaposition of ThemesBy Josiah Seale
15 Beacon St. (617) 670-2515
Mon-Fri lunch 11:30-2:00, dinner 5:30-10:00, Sat-Sun dinner 5:30-10:30
Appetizers $14-22, entreÉs $40, dessert $14, lunch $29
With much hullabaloo and fanfare, The Federalist opened its doors two years ago. Much of the fuss was due to the initial capital outlay of $25,000,000 and the rumors surrounding XV Beacon, the boutique hotel to which it is attached. Kinks still remain to be worked out, but for the most part, The Federalist has retained its charm while attempting to make a name for itself and live up to initial expectations.
Tongue-in-cheek austerity remains, but efforts have been made to ensure that diners feel at least somewhat at ease. Imposing high ceilings and chandeliers are set off by a hodgepodge of furniture reminiscent of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, with a touch of 1950s thrown in. Rothko-esque art hangs on the walls and the background music includes Enya selections and acid Bossa Nova from Smoke City.
This restaurant strives to provide for a diner’s every conceivable need. According to Bruno Marini, the general manager, “The greatness of a restaurant finds its substance in detail.” This philosophy is evident throughout the dining experience. Two house Mercedes-Benz sedans await to drop diners off at the theater and to pick them up afterward. Freshly cut, seasonal flowers adorn each table and are replaced daily. The staff attend mandatory weekly beverage tastings from the 1,800-selection wine list to ensure their ability to well advise diners in their selections. Everything from the fine linen tablecloths to the various shapes and colors of dishes was obviously selected in an attempt to be both interesting and simultaneously taken seriously.
Upon our arrival for lunch, one of two impeccably dressed hosts immediately asked to take our coats. Following him past the lounge area and the imposing bar we entered the dining room, which seats approximately 70 people. Downstairs lies the cave au vin with an enchanting well-lit private dining area in its center.
My first impression of the menu was that it consisted of high quality, if fairly standard, yuppie food (green salad of the season, lobster salad, etc). However, I had a slight jolt when I realized that it was the lunch menu, and not as standard as it seemed. While a few of the dishes towards the top were geared towards the nouveau riche dot-com set (barbequed pork sandwich on toasted baguette with potted foie gras, skillet roasted beef shank and Black Angus sirloin burger), there were a couple of very intriguing Franco-American dishes towards the end. We ordered the entire executive menu, which consists of a three-course lunch with two options for each course.
The first appetizer was a creamy parsley soup with truffle oil and caviar, with a spiral of crÈme fraÎche to contrast visually with the square bowl. The caviar paired well with the soup in a very sedate manner. The second appetizer I found most intriguing: a beef tartare with quail egg on fried tortilla chips. The tartare and chips came stacked in a perfect cylinder on one side of a leaf-shaped plate, with a spicy balsamic reduction on mesclun salad on the other. The USDA Choice tartare paired very nicely with the tortilla chips, and the spicy reduction provided an interesting contrast to explore between bites.
The Federalist has a phenomenal wine selection. Their collection of 42 Guigal single-vineyard Cote-Rhoties is the largest in the world, and was likely instrumental in their earning a Wine Spectator Grand Award, the highest rating. I asked the server which wine she would suggest to accompany our meal. After pondering over the dishes we had selected, she recommended a Pinot Gris and asked if I would like to sample a glass before ordering it. The wine was good if slightly over-chilled, with an interesting complexity to accompany its full body. It opened nicely as it warmed and matched well with three out of the four dishes we selected.
The low point of the dinner was the oven-roasted salmon, tapenade and potato spring rolls. Salty, greasy and heavy flavors do not offset each other well. The salmon was slightly overcooked, and the pinot gris succumbed hopelessly to its saltiness. I found myself going back to the fresh, warm bread and butter instead of finishing the dish. In contrast, the duck breast and blue cheese grits with Sauterne glaze were definitely the high point of the meal. Preparation and marriage mixed wonderfully, working especially well with the wine. Even my Georgia snobbiness had to admit that blue cheese and grits do indeed go well together, and with duck as well.
For dessert, the Valrhona chocolate cake with cashew nut praline was heavenly, and the blood-orange sorbet nicely balanced the heaviness of the salmon. The full pots of yunnan and oolong tea were very useful for after-dinner conversation purposes.
While the staff seemed to be trying a bit too hard to please, there are certainly worse faults to be had. Prices are indeed high but it could be argued that the service more than makes up for it. Besides, The Federalist falls in the category of restaurants at which money is not generally an object.
The Federalist is working out its kinks marvelously. It has a very good idea of what it wants to achieve with its juxtaposition of the new and the old, the conservative with the avant-garde. If it continues on this track, in a year or two it should feel comfortable in its position among the best of Boston restaurants.