City Table

Sampling the perks of a recession
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  November 18, 2009
3.0 3.0 Stars

COD FROM OUR YAHD: City Table’s Chatham cod with fingerling potatoes is even more delicious than the Pacific-based entrées of its predecessor, Azure.

City Table | 61 Exeter Street, Boston (Lenox Hotel) | 617.933.4800 | Open Monday–Friday, 6:30–11:30 am and 5 pm–1 am; and Saturday and Sunday, 7 am–noon and 5 pm–1 am | AE, CB, DC, DI, MC, VI | Full bar | Valet Parking, $16; Validated parking in Prudential Garage, $10 | Sidewalk-level access via lift to hotel lobby on Boylston Street entrance
I'm enjoying this restaurant recession more than the last one. That's because instead of closing, restaurants are downsizing and down-pricing, which often puts more focus on the food. The former Lenox Hotel dining room, Azure, for instance, focused on luxury seafood. But its replacement, the new City Table, actually does better, by pruning away the exhibitionism and airmail rarities. Case in point: City Table's Chatham cod with fingerling potatoes and a lobster-and-corn-chowder sauce ($23) is even more delicious than the Pacific scallops and Hawaiian fish that Azure used to stock. You might never have ordered such a familiar-sounding dish at Azure, because, after all, you were there for something exotic. But you go — or should go — to City Table because you want something delicious at less than top dollar.

On your quest for such, you might try the holdover "really good lobster soup" ($9) with a creamy base that invokes mushroom and meat flavors, and incorporates bits of lobster meat plus a crescent of puff pastry to absorb some of the broth. Or, there's the Walla Walla onion soup ($7), the typical fondue of melted cheese and soaked bread, with sweet onions that have more caramel than onion bite, and a stock that is beefy without too much salt (the usual flaw).

Grilled shrimp ($10) are all over town, but not so many are skewered on strips of sugar cane, an old Vietnamese flavor combination that brings out the sweetness of the shrimp, whether or not you chew on the skewers. The house chopped salad ($6/small; $11/large, with protein options at additional cost) leans on all-season greenhouse grape tomatoes, cucumbers, and a mix of organic greens, and isn't overdressed.

After the full-flavored cod, my favorite dinner plate was the not-so-plain-old sirloin burger ($12). For once, the grass-fed beef was in perfect harmony with cheddar cheese and a house-made bun. The fries had the right balance of fresh-potato taste and crisp texture. And even the house-made pickles, a little sweeter than they look, were great to the last bite. More serious meat? Rack of lamb ($29) was three double chops, rare as ordered, with Delmonico potatoes and roast asparagus. More impressive shellfish? Day-boat sea scallops ($21), which have more taste than the Baja California scallops offered at Azure.

The wine list at City Table is international, with very fair pricing on select American glasses and bottles. Our glass of 2005 MacRostie Keltie Brook merlot ($8/glass; $30/bottle) had quite a lot of spice and structure, apparently because the winery blends in cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc to make a meritage blend like a right-bank Bordeaux. Adelsheim 2007 pinot gris ($12; $45) is a clean, fruity example of why Oregon whites are the best values in American wines right now, even when not served alongside the overpriced pinot noirs of that state. If your beat is world, the 2004 Mount Langi Ghiran Billi Billi shiraz from Victoria, Australia ($9; $33), is a red fruit bomb with enough age to remove any unnecessary roughness. Capuccino ($4) was smooth in both regular and decaf; decaf coffee ($3) impeccable.

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