Kataifi-wrapped langoustines at Menton


Photo: JOEL VEAK

It takes audacity to debut an ultra-high-end restaurant in 2010. When Barbara Lynch proceeded with the long-planned opening of Menton (354 Congress Street, Boston, 617.737.0099), reactions ranged from "That's bonkers," to "If anyone can do it, Lynch can." I wondered how it would compare with L'Espalier, Boston's reigning king of elaborate French fare, and Lynch's No. 9 Park, already one of Boston's most expensive restaurants. Also, to an increasingly informal, egalitarian dining public, wasn't the jackets-suggested luxury-dining concept outmoded? I went to see for myself.

Menton makes its first impression with a subdued, almost stark design in gray, black, and white. But for one opulent Murano chandelier and some vaguely Moorish pendant lighting, it might recall a modernist, wood-veneered boardroom. Tableware and especially stemware are beautiful and pleasing in the hand. Service at Menton continues in No. 9's exacting tradition: the ethos is a studied air of informality aimed at underplaying tightly choreographed, intense service for a 60-seat room. At least six different staffers coordinated their efforts at our table without seeming fussy or obtrusive, a well-executed tightrope act. Then there's the food, which Lynch and executive chef Colin Lynch have characterized as fine French fare with Italian soulfulness. The French character clearly predominates, reflecting much labor-intensive handwork, recherché ingredients, and rarefied flavors. Perhaps the Italian aspect is in the portions, which trump No. 9's famously smallish ones: neither the $95 four-course prix fixe nor the $145 seven-course tasting will leave diners hungry.

I started with duck foie gras terrine and finished with veal sweetbreads - both spectacularly detailed and rich - but marveled most at the middle course: kataifi-wrapped langoustines. Three fat tail portions of this small North Sea lobster are encased in shredded filo and accented with spring peas and pumpkin seed oil, with a bit of pickled rhubarb added for salty-sour contrast. The spare presentation correctly focuses attention on the flavor of the langoustine, which recalls Maine lobster in delicacy and sweetness but boasts a deeper tang of the ocean. It's emblematic of the overall effect of dining at Menton, which I liken to a paddling duck: despite a lot of furious exertion beneath the waterline, what appears above the surface is all effortless, serene, gliding motion. It's the kind of seamless, indulgent experience on which I expect deal-making and occasion-celebrating Bostonians will be happy to spend large, demonstrating once again that while Lynch is capable of taking breathtaking risks, she's not entirely crazy.