Rowes Wharf Sea Grille

An acclaimed chef, a wonderful setting, and fabulous food
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  August 19, 2009
3.0 3.0 Stars

It's a little daft to order anything but wine in a Chef Bruce restaurant, but I was continuing my classic cocktail research with a "Boston sidecar" ($14.50). The Boston features of this 90-year-old Continental favorite include the substitution of fine rum for Cognac, and demerara (raw, brownish) sugar for white on the rim of the glass. Despite these emendations, I enjoyed a nicely balanced, sour drink, indicative of its origins as a variant of a daiquiri. Yes kids, it's true: daiquiris and margaritas used to be sour, not sweet. And martinis used to be dry.

For wine, a very good glass with seafood is the Frog's Leap 2007 sauvignon blanc ($17/glass; $50/bottle), a California white with the aromatics of the New Zealand style and the snappy acidity of a French Sancerre.

Desserts (all $9) are consistent, but not great. A mandarin-orange crème brûlée is overpowered by great orange sorbet. A white peach panna cotta, presented as a four-sided pyramid, tastes more of the mango sauce than peach. The "duet of dark chocolate phyllo purse and bitter chocolate cream pie" is really a cadenza of chocolate, with an accompanying little tart of chocolate cream in a chocolate cookie shell. And a milk chocolate charlotte, is, well, made out of milk chocolate. Vanilla custard–filled crespelle is actually three crêpes with a custard raspberry filling.

Service is everything you'd expect from an upscale hotel — there's no sense of being treated differently than the Meritage customers upstairs. The setting is really that of two entirely different restaurants. Outdoors on a warm summer night is about as grand an outdoor dining experience as Boston has. Indoors, in a loud duplex space, is intended to evoke a yacht club, with white details and blue wall panels, each with framed photos of boats. The photos are close-ups that read as abstractions, which doesn't entirely work for me.

The food definitely does work. But at these prices, it's perhaps reserved more for special occasions. Isn't that how we use our hotel restaurants best?

Robert Nadeau can be reached atrobtnadeau@aol.com.

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