Wednesday, March 18, 2009

driven to distraction

Professional Responsibility is driving me to three-course lunches.

It might not have quite the same ring as "Professional Responsibility is driving me to drink," but I had an unplanned Restaurant Week lunch at Eastern Standard, and Professional Responsibility class was, well, responsible.

Professional Responsibility is the class in law school that purports to teach future lawyers how to behave ethically. (Some might say that this is an oxymoron.) The professor routinely exhorts the class to think about what kind of lawyers they want to be. Given that my answer is probably "No kind of lawyer at all,” my attention is usually not focused on the lecture. I write blog entries. I read blog entries. And I browse sites about food-related topics, like Restaurant Week.

I sit next to Lizzie, a third-year student who is more than ready for law school to be over. She’s usually on the lookout for a distraction too, and once the Restaurant Week website caught her eye, she spent the better part of class reading menus.

Which is how we end up calculating that if we’re quick and the T is cooperative, I have just enough time between classes to squeeze in lunch at Eastern Standard.

Eastern Standard is a restaurant with bar located in Kenmore Square, right near the exit from the T. I know it has a reputation among the law students as a place for interesting cocktails, but I’ve never been to investigate. (Given the drinking habits of law students, you could say that I’ve been a little too scared to investigate.)

My fears, as it turns out, are unfounded. It’s actually something of an oasis in the noise of Kenmore Square, with high ceilings and an open, airy architecture that’s evocative of the grand halls of European train stations.

Our server seats us at a table in the crook of an L-shaped red leather banquette, and we settle in to consider the menu. Eastern Standard is offering a three-course lunch prix fixe: three choices for a starter, three choices for an entrée, and two choices for dessert.

Lizzie is quick to make her decision: roasted cauliflower soup, grilled Scottish salmon, and chocolate crepes for dessert. I spend a little more time dithering: I’ll have the pâté de maison as my starter, and the key lime tartlet for dessert, but when it comes to the entrée, I’m wavering between the hand-rolled ricotta cavatelli and the braised pork shank.

I end up asking our server for input. She tells me both dishes are excellent, but warns me that the braised pork shank is fairly hefty. Given that I have a class to go to immediately after lunch, and “food coma” is not an acceptable excuse for lack of participation, I opt for the cavatelli.

Our server brings out a bread basket, and we eagerly fall upon the crusty rolls and slices of sourdough. By unspoken agreement, our conversation avoids the topic of law school. Lizzie was also an art history major in college, and so we discuss art and food instead.

When our starters arrive, I briefly wonder if I should start carrying my camera. The pâté de maison is presented on a rustic wooden board with a little china pot of mustard, slivers of cornichon, and a mound of pickled red onion. It would make a charming picture.

As it turns out, however, the dish is easier on the eyes than the palate. I prefer my pâté spreadable, with the distinct flavor of liver: this pâté is almost solid, and doesn’t taste much like liver at all. Also, the accompanying baguette rounds appear to have been pre-cut; they’re a little on the dry side. Topped with a smear of mustard and a bit of pickle, the pâté is serviceable, but not great.

Lizzie offers me some of her roasted cauliflower soup, and a quick taste is enough for me to conclude that she’s made the better choice. It has a nutty depth and creamy texture, but it’s still pleasantly light.

After the pâté, I don’t have high hopes for the cavatelli. Once again, the presentation is lovely - a wide, shallow dish of pasta on a bed of celery root puree, tossed with softly sauteed spinach and topped with shavings of parmesan cheese – but that’s no guarantee of taste. I pick up a forkful, and brace myself.

The kitchen definitely has a better handle on pasta than it does on pâté. The cavatelli are satisfyingly chewy, and the ricotta in the dough gives them added richness. The celery root puree acts as an unusual sauce, and the parmesan adds a welcome umami note. Our server’s description is spot-on: it’s excellent. Lizzie's Scottish salmon is also well-executed: the fish is simply grilled and served on a bed of spinach and pearl pasta in a light, flavorful broth.

Our lunch has been a little more leisurely than I anticipated, and I'm sneaking nervous glances at my watch by the time our entree plates are cleared. A diligent law student would forgo dessert to ensure punctuality at the next class. As a diligent diner, however, I am staying firmly put.

And I'm glad that I do. The pastry chef has a deft touch: the key lime tartlet is composed of a gloriously tart curd in a crisp, flaky shell. It sits on a bed of rum-spiked whipped cream, ringed with candied macadamia nuts that add a buttery, nutty crunch. It's a small dessert, but it's remarkably rich, so I end up taking a pass when Lizzie offers me some of her chocolate crepes. (I have her word that they were good.)

Once we've finished dessert and settled the bill, I make a dash for the T. For once, a trolley comes through immediately, and I'm only a few minutes late for my afternoon class. Being driven to three-course lunches might not be such a terrible fate, after all.


Virgin In The Volcano said...

This sounds far better than professional responsibility. I don't know how you keep going to that class. Btw, I'm one of those law students who's only ever had drinks at ES, never food. Good to know for the next time I need a little pasta to soak things up ;)

adele said...

Virgin - I need dedicated blogging time. :P

I have no idea how their usual menu stacks up compared to Restaurant Week. Might have to go back and compare?

adele said...

Jessica: I did receive your comment, but I checked on the blog before I had my coffee this morning, and accidentally deleted it. *facepalm*

I will try a cocktail next time... I just couldn't show up tipsy to Evidence. :P

Googie Baba said...

I am glad you reviewed this restaurant. I have always been curious about it, but didn't know if it was worth the trip (not being a drinker and all).

adele said...

Googie - I still have no idea if it's worth the trip outside of Restaurant Week, so take it with a grain of salt.

Anali said...

I've never been to Eastern Standard, but noticed it while walking around Kenmore. I'll probably get there eventually. I won't be getting the pâté though! ; )

adele said...

Anali - I don't think the pate appears on their regular menu at all. Maybe that's why it wasn't so great?

Julia said...

I think Eastern Standard is definitely worth the visit! I've been there probably a dozen times and it's always great. Though the one dish I didn't like was the roasted marrow bone. I'm not squeamish that way but it was definitely undercooked.

adele said...

Julia - Thanks for the heads up on the marrow bone. That's just the sort of thing I would order, too.

Juliet said...

Eastern Standard is yuuuummy. I always get the steak frites. So simple, soooo good.

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