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

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.

1  |  2  |   next >
Related: Vinh Sun BBQ and Restaurant, Busy options, Kelley’s Deli, More more >
  Topics: Restaurant Reviews , Culture and Lifestyle, Food and Cooking, Cheese,  More more >
| More

Most Popular
Share this entry with Delicious
  •   REVIEW: BONCHON  |  August 10, 2012
    What am I doing in this basement in Harvard Square, reviewing the second location of a multi-national franchise chain?
  •   REVIEW: CARMELINA'S  |  July 25, 2012
    After a good run with "Italian tapas" under the name Damiano (a play on the given name of chef-owner Damien "Domenic" DiPaola), this space has been rechristened as Carmelina's — after the chef's mother and his first restaurant, opened when he was an undergraduate in Western Mass — and the menu reconfigured to feature more entrées.
  •   REVIEW: TONIC  |  July 06, 2012
    Bad restaurant idea number 16: let's do a neighborhood bar-bistro where there already is one.
  •   REVIEW: HAPPY’S BAR AND KITCHEN  |  June 20, 2012
    In a year of bad restaurant ideas, one of the better bets is to have a successful fancy-food chef try a downscale restaurant.
  •   REVIEW: GENNARO'S 5 NORTH SQUARE  |  June 18, 2012
    In year of bad restaurant ideas (often done well), this the worst idea — and best meal — yet.

 See all articles by: ROBERT NADEAU