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Fine form and function at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  March 4, 2009
2.0 2.0 Stars

GRILLED CHICKEN "TANDOORI": The ability to grill boned breasts well is the sign of a skilled chef.

ASANA | 776 Boylston Street (Mandarin Oriental Hotel), Boston | 617.535.8800 | Open Monday–Thursday, 6:30 am–5 pm and 5:30–10:30 pm; Friday, 6:30 am–5 pm and 5:30–11 pm; Saturday, 7 am–2 pm and 5:30–11 pm; and Sunday, 7 am–2 pm and 5:30–10:30 pm | AE, DI, MC, VI | Full bar | Street-level access | Valet parking, $17
Luxury dining has long been associated with hotels, but hotel restaurants must walk the line. They have to cover the familiar bases for hotel guests of all ages and backgrounds, while offering enough that's out of the ordinary to satisfy the yen for opulence — which almost by definition has an element of I've-got-something-you-don't-have. Asana is additionally challenged by sharing a building with L'Espalier and a branch of Sel de la Terre — near-definitive examples of upscale restaurants and serious bistros, respectively. Chef Nicholas Boutin toes these lines with real panache for two courses and the wine list, but needs to work on the dessert course to seal the deal.

The breadbasket isn't where it ought to be, either, though many will be pleased with a choice of hot flaxseed multigrain rolls, small stems of French white bread, and twice-baked thins of sourdough. The first two are softer than the real thing, and not so flavorful. The slim toasts are great, but won't soak up any sauce.

Not that Boutin relies on condiments in a big way; his style is a mix of modern no-sauce French cookery and Asian fusion lite. (He does put out classic béarnaise and hollandaise with steak.) Boutin's Maine lobster-salad appetizer ($24) is just a lovely pile of the meat from about one-third of a lobster, prettied up with paper-thin slices of raw choggia beet (the stripy ones) and some arugula. The sauce is a "drizzle" of 12-year-old balsamic vinegar. (Of course, with that exquisite vinegar, a drizzle is all you need.) This dish rises on the flavor synthesis. The only adjustment I would make is to put the beet slices in a dehydrator (as they do at Grezzo) to sweeten the flavor while keeping the colors.

In the fusion area, assorted dumplings ($10) were not so assorted our night — they had only pork. Nevertheless, these were the softest, most wonderful Peking ravioli skins ever, with a fresh-tasting filling and three dips: the usual soy ginger, a syrupy chili sauce (like Thai "squid sauce"), and a chili-lime dip I found too harsh. A cheese cave provides additional appetizer options, of which we tried the Manchego ($16.50), a terrific aged cheese served here with an interesting jellied chili sauce and wonderful, melting white-cornmeal arepas — the best Johnnycakes ever. The "MO . . . Caesar Salad" ($14) — Mandarin Oriental, get it? —is a familiar idea, with red and green romaine and fine-grated cheese coating each leaf. The Melba-toast-thin croutons are cute, too. But it's a lot of money for a small salad.

My favorite entrée was "Corn-Fed Grilled Chicken 'Tandoori' " ($24). The increasingly popular Statler cut (a boned breast with the first wing section still attached) was topped off with an excellent crust of Indian spices. It's wonderfully juicy and delicious — the ability to grill boned breasts well is the sign of a skilled chef. The accompanying naan bread has the same soft quality as the basket breads, so it is more like a grilled pita than the real Indian tandoori breads. But the yogurt-cucumber raita, somewhere between a sauce and a dip, has a complementary spice flavor, as well as assorted vegetables in fine dice. This is the best kind of fusion, where the French technique just refines the ancient essence of the dish.

"Roasted Duck & Pancake" ($23) arouses the Peking-duck centers of the brain, even if the dish has been modified. Instead of crisp duck skin and hoisin flavors, you get a deep duck-meat flavor from two strips of breast with just a wisp of basted hoisin. Great eating, but not Peking duck. The pancakes are wrapped around buckwheat, so they, too, are a surprise (but not a bad one). Grilled prime strip loin ($31), the most expensive entrée, is also a best buy, given that you get four beautifully made cylinders of superb fillet beef with a classic béarnaise sauce, plus a big dish of exquisite French fries. A special on swordfish ($29) brought chunks of meaty fish in a seafood broth, with a ragout of autumn vegetables ($6/à la carte). Many entrées don't come with side dishes, so you may want to select some from the list. Of those available, my favorites were "Spinach Natural" ($6; the other choice is slightly creamy), a fine portion of buttery spinach, and "MO'c & Cheese" ($5), which is influenced by fondue, in that the cheese part is Swiss and crème frâiche. It still will fool kids, and your inner child, as comfort food.

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Related: Ghazal Fine Indian Cuisine, Ghazal Fine Indian Cuisine, Review: Taam China Glatt Kosher Chinese Cuisine, More more >
  Topics: Restaurant Reviews , asian, Culture and Lifestyle, Desserts,  More more >
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