LOVIN’ HALF A DOZEN: The “Sensing Snacking Platter” allows diners to choose six appetizer items, including local oysters and lobster parfait.
I've enjoyed the revival of 1950s-style French bistros, but it's been quite a while since I could review a full-tilt example of 1980s French "nouvelle cuisine," which brought on bipolar reform. On the one hand, it asserted the slow-food locavore conservatism of the French mind; on the other, it exaggerated the extraordinary love of the artificial that runs through French culture. Sensing's executive chef, Gerard Barbin, under the guidance of three-star consulting chef Guy Martin, has gestured in both directions, doctoring fresh, local ingredients into small, highly composed dishes. One arises from a full-course dinner satisfied and not overstuffed, though the flavors are subtle, even pastel, and some are lost altogether.
|Sensing | 3 Battery Wharf (Fairmont Battery Wharf Hotel), Boston | 617.994.9001 | Open monday–friday, 6:30–11 am, 11:30 am–1:30 pm, and 5:30–10 pm; and saturday and sunday, 6:30–11 am, 10:30 am–2:30 pm (brunch), and 5:30–10 pm | AE, DC, DI, MC, VI | full bar | street-level access | valet parking, $12|
We started our meal happily with hot, rectangular white (or even better, whole-grain) rolls and salted butter. For appetizers, it's difficult to get past the "Sensing Snacking Platter" ($16) consisting of six items: a local oyster with shallots and vinegar; a tiny mille-feuille sandwich of carrot with a spiced filling; an eensy "éclair" of guacamole topped with a rectangle of alleged passion-fruit leather (too small to taste); two splendid micro-croquettes of potato and Stilton with prosciutto on top; an asparagus shooter as rich as chocolate milk (my favorite); and a lobster "parfait" of jelly, lobster mousse, and fresh tiny peas (too much to take in). You can have all or any combination.
Spring pea and lemongrass soup with parmesan foam ($10) tasted wonderfully of fresh peas and perhaps pea tendrils. Our server brought us a bowl filled with black-trumpet mushrooms and then poured the soup over the filling. Since the soup was served cold, nothing was lost by this folderol. A potentially cliché appetizer of seared ahi tuna ($16) was a winner: sushi-grade fish with a slightly grilled crust, served over a beautiful salad.
Although Martin is the author of a vegetable cookbook, all the vegetarian dishes here are listed as appetizers. Still, there are enough options when combined for any vegan to have a good time, and the large "Green Risotto" ($12/small; $16/large) with fava purée, asparagus, and spinach even works as an entrée. It's not too rich or cheesy, but was a little over-salted on our night.
Cod steamed in lemongrass ($26) may become a signature dish for this restaurant. Given a local fish of mild flavor, the French chefs here have put in a light touch of southeast Asia, a hint of grapefruit and coconut that doesn't rise up to notice, and a mélange of seasonal vegetables, including a radish or small turnip. You don't get the symphony of flavors that you might enjoy in a French bouillabaisse — more like chamber music such as develops in a Japanese hot pot — but it's still quite nice. Arctic char ($25) was less successful. It's one of my favorite fish, but isn't local and one piece tasted better than the other. Both were topped with shaved slices of baby artichoke and a lemon confit/Marcona almond foam, none of which really brought out the sweetness of the char, nor any flavor of their own.