Pairings

Artistry and taste combine — but perhaps not often enough
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  December 16, 2009
2.0 2.0 Stars

0912_pairings_amin
NICE TAIL: Beautiful seared scallops on a bed of lentils and scallions are crossed with a meaty oxtail in a cream sauce.

Pairings | 50 Park Plaza (Park Plaza Hotel), Boston | 617.262.3473 | Open Monday–Thursday, 6:30–11 am, 11:30 am–2 pm, and 5 pm–1 am; Friday and Saturday, 6:30–11 am, 11:30–2 pm, and 5 pm–2 am; and Sunday, 6:30–11 am and 11:30 am–2 pm | AE, MC, VI | Beer and wine | Valet parking, Columbus Avenue side of hotel | Sidewalk-level access
At breakfast and lunch, Pairings serves as a basic hotel restaurant, which the Park Plaza has lacked for about 10 years. But at dinner, chef Robert Bean gets creative with exotic ingredients. Unfortunately, the cuisine is a work in progress. While some of Bean's dishes are visually arresting and delicious, others are experiments gone wrong, and/or visually almost comical. (A modest bowl of soup ($8) is served in an enormous bowl, while the same amount of, say, cuttlefish tapas ($8) is crammed in a petite cast-iron pot with a lid.)

Presentation aside, many of Bean's small plates and tapas are fabulous. The cuttlefish, for instance — meaty strips of cephalopod in a sauce of onions, sausage, and a little orange — are excellent, and a fine topping for the complementary sourdough bread. The red kuri squash soup with curry powder is rich and satisfying, even if the bowl is a little silly. It is one of those dry, Japanese-type squashes that stand up to anything. And a red-beet salad ($8) with blue cheese, endive, and pistachios likewise deserves attention in a crowded field.

Though Bean used to work at Todd English's Bonfire (in this same space) and Kingfish Hall, his grilled flatbread ($9) — a novel and effective combination topping of roast pork pieces, fig jam, cheese, and fresh chopped arugula — is better than English's grilled pizza.

But then you get something like grilled prawns with shishito peppers, espelette, and pequillo peppers ($12) — thin-shelled shrimp and three kinds of mild chilies — which is tasty, but not up to the simple tapa of grilled peppers you get at Estragon, or the beautifully grilled shishito peppers at Exotic Sushi and Tapas. And Brussels sprouts ($6) are one of my favorite vegetables, but not in this sour, salty sauce.

As for the lobster corndogs ($12) with "vadouvan" and pickled cabbage — say what? Back when Boston chefs were all doing lobster sausage, I wrote that it failed the Nadeau test: if you were going to sell me a lobster sausage, it had to be as much fun or better than a plain boiled lobster. Applying this standard to lobster corn dogs, I advise you to skip this dish. The batter overpowers the lobster meat, as well as the vadouvan — which, for the record, is a French mixed spice based on Indian curry flavors.

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