Mooo . . . .

Yet another steak house with cash-cow dreams
Rating: 2.0 stars
September 5, 2007 4:57:05 PM
GOT AN EXPENSE ACCOUNT? If so, you might enjoy Mooo.

Mooo | 15 Beacon Street (Xv Beacon Hotel), Boston | Open Mon–Thurs, 7–10:30 am, 11:30 am–2 pm, and 5:30–10:30 pm; Fri, 7–10:30 am, 11:30 am–2 pm, and 5:30–11 pm; Sat, 8–11 am and 5:30–11 pm; and Sun, 8 am–2 pm and 5:30–10:30 pm | AE, DC, DI, MC, VI | Full bar | Valet parking, $18 | Street-level access via hotel lobby | 617.670.7799

Another week, another fancy dining room converted to a steak house by a big-name chef. This week’s victim: the Federalist, recently recast as Mooo. The chef: Jamie Mammano of Mistral. Legacy asset: high-end wine list. So why do they keep doing these conversions? Maybe chefs think it looks easy and bankers think it looks safe. But is it? I’m not even sure it’s easy, this business of having a chef’s chef remake the all-American steak house. Mooo has some very exciting appetizers, but it’s hard to pick the super steak, and the side dishes and desserts are mostly too plain for their astronomical prices.

Things at Mooo start out fun, with a cast-iron pan of freshly baked rolls, impossibly heavy and glutinous and white, with a sprinkling of rough salt outside and sweet butter to put inside. “Sushi grade tuna” ($18) is a small dish of tuna tartare set in a large dish of ice, with sesame cracker breads arranged on the side and a sequence of herbal impressions complementing the richness of the raw fish. I settled on shiso, a citric-sage-y Japanese leaf as powerful and controversial as cilantro, but perfectly blended into this dish.

Lobster salad ($24) was presented the same way, with different herbs (borage, perhaps? Dill?) but a similarly terrific effect, and with toasted brioche in case you want to make the world’s subtlest lobster sandwich. Potato-and-leek clam chowder ($12), served in an individual cast-iron kettle with real pilot crackers, however, showed what happens when chefs upgrade a dish unevenly. Replace traditional salt pork with a much stronger smoked meat and the dish becomes all smoke and salt. Replace traditional onions with subtler leeks and the leek flavor almost disappears. A “classic Caesar” ($14) was pre-dressed with a nice sharp dressing, but was otherwise notable mostly for croutons made from real white bread.

The menu has seven steaks, topping out with a Japanese Wagyu sirloin at $130. At that price, it’s not a signature steak, because I only order things like that once for the experience, and that already happened recently with Wagyu sirloin. Next down is a “Four Story Hill 21-day dry aged sirloin” ($78), which we paired with a “Prime New York Sirloin” ($39). Both were excellent beef, but came cooked a notch more than ordered. Four Story Hill is a boutique farm in Pennsylvania boasting grass-fed and dry-aged beef, yet the choice from there was not that different from the feedlot prime. A little more intense, a hint more complex, but the extra $40 could be better invested in wine.

The steak house idea isn’t just expensive, it’s à la carte. So you may want to budget a little extra for a sauce, such as the sharp parsley-olive-oil chimichurri ($2) or the red-wine sauce ($3) (the latter perhaps a little burnt on our night), and side vegetables, especially the corn succotash ($5; $9/double order), which is rich and creamy, with green fava beans instead of the expected limas. “Steamed jumbo asparagus hollandaise (of course)” ($9) was a genuine classic, but pork belly and beans ($5/$9) was almost inedibly sweet. “Native green bean amandine” ($5/$9) was nothing special.

The fish eater in our party dined memorably on grilled Mediterranean corvina ($39), a piece of full-flavored sea bass. The chef worked the filet to a crisp skin, with a hint of anise in some mouthfuls, and tomatoes and yellow peppers cooked slowly to an intense sweetness. Wiener schnitzel ($28), done up in buttery crumbs with lemon, was a nice piece of retro food — the veal not pounded too thin, and tasty enough to assure us that the calf had a life.

The wine list was an important feature for big spenders at the Federalist, and Mooo is still reserving the wine vault for private parties. We picked something relatively cheap, an A to Z Oregon Pinot Noir 2005 ($40), and enjoyed it. A to Z was so named because it’s a blend of second lots from all over the overpriced Oregon pinot world, and the wine shows what can work with blending. It’s light colored and easy to drink, but with some of the characteristic herbal and mineral flavors of the Oregon pinot noirs that cost more than some steaks here. Nice big glasses help the wine along. Don’t take the bait for “still water” — it’s Acqua Panna mineral water at $8 per liter, and not cold enough. Decaf coffee ($6) was remarkably good, and tea ($6) is served loose-leaf in Japanese iron pots.

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