At the Ritz, eating on the brighter side of blu

BY JONAS BLANK

From the moment you step into the lobby, it’s clear that almost everything about blu is exceptional.

Unlike most of Boston’s über-fine dining installations, blu does not boast a trés-chic streetside storefront. Instead, it’s far from the public view, sharing the other end of a floor of the Ritz-Carlton with the new Sports Club L.A. But make no mistake – this is no place for MetRx bars and creatine drinks.

Blu is helmed by former Federalist chef Dante de Magistris, who has also seen action at local hot spots like Pignoli and spent several years refining his craft in Italy. De Magistris aims for a personal touch, occasionally strolling the dining room to speak to customers, as well as serving up occasional treats from the back (one morsel of his escargot will make you wish it was on the menu).

Blu infuses what can often be a flashy but over-starched fine dining experience with a verve and style that acknowledge – and even celebrate – its youth on the scene. Its location is slick and ultra-modern, with high glass walls separated by large steel cylinders bathed in a soft blue light. Even the place settings look like artwork, with large angular or teardrop-shaped flatware mated with curvy 21st century silverware and salt-and-pepper shakers that look like standing orange slices. The service is uniformly punctual and cordial without seeming stuffy, and shows a decent, though not exceptional knowledge of the cuisine and the wine list.

But there’s no need to be seduced by the service and the silverware. Even in its heavily stylized environment, blu’s food is the real star, and is as exciting as its atmosphere. The clear winner among the appetizers is the onion tarte tatin, a creamy, soft disc of pleasure coated with a thick layer of goat cheese that venerates the subtle sweetness of the onions. For the title alone, it’s hard to resist “Out of the Blu,” a raw seafood sampler of tuna sashimi, halibut carpaccio, scallop ceviche and salmon tartar. Adventurous (and less thrifty) patrons might also want to opt for blu’s extensive raw bar. You can savor a sampler (“The Blu Plate”) for $18, or relish the raw oysters, clams and other shellfish by the piece. It’s even hard to resist the temptation of filling up on the bread offerings (a sourdough roll, focaccia or Indian flatbread on one evening). Instead, pore over the pricey (the cheapest red is $38) but uniformly successful wine list, or sample one of the bar’s creative drinks like the peach martini or (drum roll please) “blu martini,” both made with Grey Goose vodka.

But it is blu’s entrée selection that perhaps best demonstrates de Magistris’ commitment to consistent, playful New American cuisine. “Three Fishes” ($27) offers three tasting-sized portions of seafood mated with a rice and sauce – scallop with arugula pesto, grilled calamari with tomato sauce and swordfish with a pungent bl-ack bean sauce. The portions won’t ma-ke you feel stuffed, but likely won’t lea-ve you hungry, eit-her.

Still, heartier eat-ers ought to consider the Delmonico steak ($32), perhaps the gem of the ent-ire menu. Covered with a tangy wine reduction sauce and paired with a Gorg-onzola-stuffed pear and “bowl” made of fried on-ions and greens, the cut, wh-en served medium-rare, was tender enough to be cut with a fork (literally) and absolutely void of excess fat. Another, richer choice is the venison with a maple sauce ($30), which cuts the potentially gamey taste of the venison with a divine hint of sweetness. The accompanying yam purée, though not as innovative as the Gorgonzola pear, was every bit as satisfying.

Vegetarians are also not out of luck; though the menu is heavy on seafood, a diner would be a fool to ignore the gnocchi with truffles and a mushroom sauce ($22), that shows off de Magistris’ Italian experience nicely.

And when it’s time for dessert, pastry chef Amber Renberg does not disappoint, offering such rich treats as a “white hot” cake with a melted chocolate-hazelnut center and topped with a dusting of cinnamon and delectable scoop of chicory ice cream that could easily be eaten by two. And though this writer tends to be a sucker for bread pudding’s spongy texture anyway, Renberg’s toasted chestnut bread pudding with mascarpone ice cream managed to offer something new and keep the aforementioned spongy texture light enough that it didn’t turn the end of the meal into a painful overindulgence.

Of Boston’s many “funky” upscale restaurants, blu does the best job of keeping the quality of its cuisine in line with its atmosphere. And at least for now, the place is new enough that it’s not impossible to get a table – and it’s still possible to impress your friends by knowing about it. In the end, it may be a good thing that blu is so near a private gym: The place could inspire enough return trips to make a few extra workouts necessary.

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