Sensing

An old twist for a new French restaurant
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  May 6, 2009
2.0 2.0 Stars

If you're uncertain whether you enjoy nouvelle cuisine, the top sirloin of veal ($28) is a good test. The cut is lean and tender but not deeply flavored, and the mustard sabayon sauce is subtler and less rich than a classical treatment, like hollandaise or béarnaise. Sautéed ramps and black trumpets function as flavor accents more than garnishes. With our entrées, the chef sent out a sort of lagniappe of puréed beet with shaved ramp and melon and a sweet pickle of celery or lovage.

Subtle foods are often friends to fine wines, and Sensing has a lovely list, about half French with some American and world options. They're all fairly expensive and marked up. The real find for us was one of the cheapest glasses, a 2005 Tangley Oaks chardonnay ($9). I expected steel-tank, fruity California chard at this price. But it was as tart as a real French Chablis, with just a measure of oak in the aftertaste.

Decaf coffee ($4) is well made. Tea ($4) comes in a variety of flavors, unfortunately packaged as bags, which means brewing anxiety. A shot of espresso ($5) was thin and burnt.

Try at least one or two desserts, which are so overly composed as to be unique. Perhaps the best was "Yuzu crystalline" ($10), a fishbowl of citrus flavors topped with a sugar wafer that you shatter to get to the superior stuff within. Bites of lime sorbet and a kind of lemon custard are graced with sugar and yuzu Japanese citrus jelly. Orange-blossom panna cotta ($10) is even more beautiful, served in a heavy glass teardrop with candied fruits and a coconut sorbet. "Raspberry Chocolate Fantasy" ($10) lives up to its name. It's a fine chocolate cake topped with raspberry cream, a thin candy chocolate wafer, and a very distinctive raspberry sorbet.

Where the restaurant's style went off the rails, I think, was on "Our Idea of Strawberry Cheesecake" ($10): blended cheesecake on a basil crust, topped with fruit leather and served with strawberry sorbet. No actual strawberries appeared on the plate, and none of the components really tasted like berry, though the sorbet was close. The cake itself was sweet but without distinction. My idea of strawberry cheesecake involves contrast between cream-cheese flavor and strawberry sauce.

Sensing's dining rooms are ultra-modern and beautifully appointed. Even with an open kitchen and a techno soundtrack, they aren't too loud. Outdoor tables, which open this month, will be sought after, since they have an excellent view of the water, the nearby Coast Guard cutters, and the Charlestown Navy Yard condominiums. Because service is so excellent, my only worry about al-fresco dining is that even more of the pastel flavors will be lost in open air.

Robert Nadeau can be reached at robtnadeau@aol.com.

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