The renowned Michelin has ever only reviewed five cities in the United States: New York, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Boston is notably missing in this list, which, considering the city's culinary gems, is a shame. But if Michelin ever did arrive in Boston, the first destination to try would most certainly have to be Chef Barbara Lynch's restaurant, No. 9 Park.
I made a reservation for a breezy September day, at the crisp hour of five in the afternoon when the restaurant opens. The COVID-19 restrictions in place ensured that guests were placed at an adequate distance from each other. I entered a quaint area that felt like a living room turned dining space. The comfort of the room, from the affixed windows that overlook the bustling Boston Common, to the flaming candles and dim lighting made for an ambient and exclusive dining experience, with food as the main focus of course. The service was absolutely stellar, the waiter smoothly navigating my dietary preferences. I had chosen the chef's tasting menu, an option notoriously inflexible when chosen at other restaurants. I dreaded seeing "no substitutions" in bold lettering, but was soon cheered as No. 9 Park accommodated my every preference.
The first course were the ricotta fritters. These were delicately fried, served with raw honey that glazed atop beautifully. The crunchiness of the marcona almonds balanced the creamy inside of the fritters perfectly, as well as giving a more elevated crispy texture to the fried ricotta fritters. The choice to have this as the first course was superb, as it began the meal on a light note with an appetizer that seems heavy, but was anything but. This was one of my favorite courses of the night; I could munch on the fritters as upscale snacks all day.
Course 1: Ricotta Fritters with raw honey and marcona almond
The second course was served promptly twenty minutes after the first one, and it is here that I want to note the attention to detail in the dining experience that No. 9 Park offered. It would seem that once I was done with one dish, another followed immediately after, but there was enough time between the heavier courses to enjoy my water and rave over the previous dish. That timing—those minutes where you feel that you are ready for your next dish, but its arrival is neither too late nor too soon—was so perfect in its execution that I can only be astounded. In addition to this, each course was brought to me by the chef with a detailed description of all the ingredients and the inspiration behind it, making it not food that I was eating, but chapters of a culinary story. The promptness, attention, and care to detail is not to be overlooked in a haute dining experience, as these elements make or break it, and No. 9 Park did not disappoint.
My second course was the silver hake fish, surrounded by a simmering bouillabaise, garnished with turnips and set atop cannellini beans. This wasn't my favorite dish, especially right after the exquisite ricotta fritters. Alas, the ricotta fritters had raised the bar quite high. There were, however, elements I enjoyed in the dish. The fish itself was perfectly cooked, lightly fried and crisp on the outside, and tender on the inside. The combination with the cannellini beans, however, was a little lackluster, mainly because the beans itself, when paired with the bouillabaise, did not seem to have a lot of taste. The turnips, I assume, were the main element to add the kick into the dish, but it still fell short. There is also the added danger of the fish with the superlative crisp outside covering becoming soggy very quickly because of the bouillabaisse. Regardless, while the ingredients may not have meshed quite as well as they could have (an added hint of spice to the beans or the turnips would have addressed the missing element in the seasoning), I finished the dish, as it was part of the whopping $135 of the tasting menu.
Course 2: Hake with bouillabaisse, cannellini beans, and turnips
The third course arrived with a mouth-warming aroma of melted goodness. It certainly wasn't much to look at, but the brilliance was all in the taste. Sometimes presentation must be ignored in place of the joy the tastebuds feel. It certainly was the case with the carnaroli risotto. Filled with the perfect amount of wild mushrooms to bring an earthy, comforting taste to the dish, it was delicious. The pecorino and black truffles that were sprinkled atop the dish signaled to me how perfectly seasoned the dish was. The combination of the ingredients brought the dish together fantastically, the textures melding together in a softly liquid form. This was a Sunday comfort dinner elevated. So simple, yet elegantly spiced and tasteful. If I return to No. 9 Park, this would be a top option for me to order as an entree. It is the kind of dish that does not just satisfy the stomach, it satisfies the heart and soul as well.
Course 3: Carnaroli Risotto with wild mushrooms, pecorino, and black truffles
The fourth course was the expected star of the night, as it is Chef Barbara Lynch's signature dish that is featured on the No. 9 Park menu: the prune-stuffed gnocchi. The plating was effortlessly alluring. The aroma of the food is often as important as the taste, sometimes even more so, and this dish did not disappoint. Right away, the vin santo hidden in the dish emanates a fragrant and rich aroma, with the scent of prunes trickling in. It was mouth-warming. The dish itself was stunningly unique, and it is no wonder that it is a popular menu item. The prune-stuffed gnocchi is the star, with foie grass and almond playing the supporting roles. For someone who is not a fan of gnocchi, this dish was a hit with me. The gnocchi was very delicate and cooked well, with the juice of the prunes inside both fresh and explosively tasty when one takes a bite. The airy texture of the pasta combined with the chewiness of the prune is both unique and delicious, playing with touch and taste both. The sauce that simmered around the gnocchi made the spoonful even more tender and delicate. On days when I do not want the satisfying fullness of the carnaroli risotto, I would opt for the much more elegant prune-stuffed gnocchi, for explosive and unique taste.
Course 4: Prune stuffed gnocchi with foie gras, almond, and vin santo
The fifth course was my favorite meat course of the night, the giannose chicken. The tender chicken melded to the cut of my knife very well, signaling how expertly it was cooked. The cauliflower and broccolini added a whimsical ode to the mustard family of Brassicaceae, an aspect I enjoyed tremendously as they are my favorite vegetables. I really appreciated the chef's decision to pair the chicken with something that isn't the standard mashed potatoes or rice, and thought the two mustards were an excellent choice. The quintessential ingredient of the dish, however, was the stilton blue cheese. It meshed extraordinarily well with the chicken, giving it a tangy and acidic kick that saved the little flavoring the meat had. Add that to the broccolini, and you have an exquisite dish.
Course 5: Giannose Chicken with cauliflower, stilton blue cheese, and broccolini
The sixth course hit a little low for me right after the stellar chicken, if only because I felt that the meat had been overcooked. The Bavette steak I had asked to be well done, and despite not being a voracious steak eater, I could tell the meat had been a tad overcooked. I enjoyed the accompaniments of the dish immensely, though. The kale and fingerling potatoes were singular, the potatoes slightly crispy shell with the soft insides my personal favorite. The pairing of kale and steak worked exceptionally well, and the sauce choron served as the perfect dipping sauce. The presentation of the dish was flawless, and I would certainly like to return and try the dish again, this time eating a well-cooked steak.
Course 6: Bavette steak with sauce choron, kale, and fingerling potatoes
The final course was one I was anticipating, as desserts are my favorite indulgences. I had the option to choose one, and I decided to forgo my usual choice of anything involving chocolate and chose the apricot custard. I was fully satisfied in this decision, because the apricot, paired with hazelnut and cardamom was an entrancing experience. The texture was similar to a yogurt, creamy and airy, with the candied apricots atop and hazelnut adding the perfect crunch. The dessert left my palette with a cool and refreshing taste. The dainty nature of the dish was perfect after the steak, and was an even more flawless finish to an impressive chef's tasting menu. I finished the exquisite dessert within minutes.
I remain incredibly impressed with the culinary genius, attention to detail, and stellar service at No. 9 Park. Would I recommend the $135 seven-course tasting menu to others? Absolutely, I would. Without question. It is not a seven-course tasting menu that you are paying for at No. 9 Park, it is the experience. It is an experience involving true, edible passion. It is an experience of respecting diet and navigating a beautiful culinary adventure around it. It is an experience of one wonder after another, with an ingredient that is never repeated. It is unique yet comforting, soulful yet whimsical, delicate yet filling. I will be sure to visit No. 9 Park again, again focusing only on the explosive elements on my tastebuds and blind to the gorgeous view of the Boston Common outside, for it takes true expertise to make one forget about anything but the lavish dishes in front of them. Michelin, where are you? No. 9 Park calls to you.