Rowes Wharf Sea Grille

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

PERFECTLY SWEET You can’t go wrong with caramelized scallops, golf ball–sized onions, and three kinds of spring peas.

Rowes Wharf Sea Grille| 70 Rowes Wharf (Boston Harbor Hotel), Boston | 617.856.7744 | Open Monday–Friday, 6:30–11 am, 11:30 am–2 pm, 2:30–4 pm, and 4:30–10 pm; Saturday and Sunday, 7–11 aM, 11:30 am–2 pm, 2:30–4 pm, and 4:30–10 pm; and Saturday, 6:30 am–11 pm | AE, CB, DC, DI, MC, VI | Full bar | Validated parking in hotel garage, $18.
It's hard to believe Daniel Bruce has been executive chef at the Boston Harbor Hotel for 20 years, outlasting the managers that hired him and both of his original restaurants in these waterfront digs: a formal dining room that gave way to the fancy, ultra-expensive Meritage, and Intrigue, where Bruce could fool around with homemade salami and whatnot, which has now become the Sea Grille. This casual café under Meritage is also not for the faint of wallet, but Bruce knows New England seafood and produce like no one else, and turns out excellent breakfast, lunch, and more substantial dinner options.

The initial sensation at the Sea Grille has been cod-filled corn empanadas ($14), which combine two treats from Puerto Rico (fried corn dumplings and codfish fritters) into pretty crescents with only the mildest salt-cod flavor. There is a lemony dip, too, but the plate will be empty and most of the dip will be sitting there. I give the nod to the "Pilsner, mustard and herb steamed mussels" ($14), which are also outstanding, but it takes longer to eat mussels, so you have a chance to savor the idea. The key to the dish is the mustard — why didn't I ever think of that? It comes with bruschetta plus soft rolls to soak up every bit of the broth. A special on soft-shell crab ($16) used a mango/black bean/fresh corn salsa to add interest to what, even when perfectly fried and crunchy throughout, hasn't an awful lot of taste.

My favorite of the seafood entrées was pan-roasted halibut ($27), a fabulously light chunk of fish mounted on a creamy risotto that was bright saffron yellow, with the flavor tempered by lemon, and a tangle of shredded zucchini. I was also pleased with the monkfish "osso bucco" ($28), a similar piece of a denser fish braised until tender in a kind of tomato-fennel broth with fennel jam on toast. To make it look like a veal shank, a piece of bone sticks up like the chicken wing segment on a "Statler" chicken breast.

You wouldn't miss with caramelized sea scallops ($29), though. Here, they're presented with onions the size of golf balls and three kinds of spring peas, including sugar snaps and tendrils.

Of course, not everyone likes seafood, and their possibilities include a notably delicious "Ginger Crusted Lamb Sirloin" ($32), served in chunks like tournedos of beef used to be in fancy hotel restaurants. Tournedos were a tenderloin cut; this lamb sirloin is just as tender and set off by fingerling potatoes and greens.

Vegetarian? No problem. How about pappardelle ($19) with a creamy sauce that gets its color from carrot (not tomato) and features buttery-fresh ribbons of pasta and farmer's market–level chunks of zucchini, peas, and wild mushrooms — mostly oyster, I suppose? (Bruce is a mushroom forager.)

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