The addition of the Seaport Hotel to South Bostonís skyline was what the largely vacant area around the Seaport World Trade Center needed to bring it to life. Inspired by the success of the hotelís own restaurant, Aura, other high-taste restaurants have followed.
Legal Test Kitchen
Bostonís best-known seafood restaurant, Legal Seafoods, has opened a block past the hotel on Northern Avenue. An entirely different concept from their other successful restaurants, Legal Test Kitchen offers a world-view menu that draws on Latin and Asian styles for a new look at fish and shellfish. Varied-size wine pours, as small as two ounces ($2.25 to $2.95), encourage tasting several with each course for the usual price of one by-the-glass selection. This makes it possible to create your own tasting and pairing menu. We found Toula, the Maitre dí to be very helpful in suggesting wines to go with each dish we chose, but the wine list also has helpful descriptions. Table-docked screens are offered for tv or internet, especially nice for business travelers who are dining alone.
But the bottom line is the food, and that line is drawn with the hand of an artist. My tuna sashimi melted in my mouth before I had a chance to chew it, and the cucumber salad and wasabi swirl were just the right counterpoint. Fish taco may not sound like fine dining, but between the fish, creamy avocado, cilantro, hot peppers, crisp corn tortilla and shredded cabbage, this one had so many things going on at once with its flavors and textures that it was the food equivalent of a full symphony orchestra.
Calamari was fried to the tiny window of tenderness, in a light coating that was slightly crisp without absorbing the oil. The accompanying peppers were hot without masking the flavor of the calamari. Tossed with them at the final moments of cooking were oven-roasted grape tomatoes that had been marinated in pepper vinegar. These first courses are generous, so those with light appetites should share one Ė although that makes choosing even harder.
The main dish of ďAngry CrabĒ made me anything but angry or crabby. Two tempura-fried soft-shelled crabs arrived in a miniature wok on a bed of black beans, mixed vegetables and noodles. Wok Shrimp was tossed at the last minute with cubed fresh pineapple. The chef is not afraid to use assertive flavors, but is forthright in labeling the degree of tongue-bite. We chose the ďnot for sissiesĒ selections and never looked back.
Desserts, which we didnít have room for, included Cookies & Cream Ė a warm chocolate chip cookie with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce. The prices are very reasonable, especially for city dining, and for us the ultimate luxury was in knowing that owner Roger Berkowitz is near fanatic about the sources and safety of his ingredients. A complete laboratory in his corporate headquarters just down the street tests each batch from each source for everything from mercury to antibiotics.
Inside the Seaport hotel, Aura Chef Frank Tooheyís menu is more sedate, but no less imaginative. His genius is in the interesting on-plate pairings that concentrate on working well, instead of aiming solely for the surprise factor. The starter of foie gras was paired with a raspberry and fig tartlette and drizzled lightly with a port wine reduction. As I savored it, the thought struck me that Iíd be equally pleased with the dish if it were served as dessert instead of a starter. The baked oysters with andouille sausage and Chardonnay butter broth was equally tasty.
Salads Ė a Caesar with white anchovies and an Asian-inspired toss of Tatsoi and Mizuna with bean sprouts, cucumber, wonton crisps and a pickled ginger-sesame dressing -- provided an intermezzo before the mains arrived.
Half-inch blackened tuna slices were dramatically served, standing against two grilled langoustines between a mound of Creole rice and plum tomatoes braised with scallions, a nice contrast of textures and flavors. Butter-poached lobster was served with chanterelles and ciopollini onions in roe broth, again a pleasing flavor combination.
After these it was impossible to even consider dessert, but our waiter, a charming young Peruvian who has just opened a gallery in East Boston promoting Latin American artists, convinced us to linger over our wine before we decided. His descriptions of the Blueberry Financier and the bittersweet chocolate tart were so irresistible that we didnít resist. And didnít regret it, either. Pastry Chef Karen Hodsdonís combination of warm almond cake with blueberry compote and vanilla ice cream might sound simple, but it was simply divine. And it only seemed right to finish off my day by wrapping myself around the chocolate ganache inside a warm chocolate sable crust.
The Seaport Hotelís no-tipping policy extends to the restaurant, making its prices even more attractive.