BY ERIC CZEPYHA
In big cities, as we all know, hotel restaurants are not just for hotel patrons. Azure, a swank Boston eatery located in the Lenox Hotel, may in fact be too cool for those boys and girls upstairs ordering room service. After setting foot inside this beautiful and sophisticated downtown restaurant, one soon realizes how Azure gets its name. Shades of blue envelop diners as soft yellow light creeps from behind golden curtains and reflects off of cobalt blue tiles. High ceilings make room for giant paned windows looking out onto Boston’s chilly streets. From the ceiling drips a unique set of blown-glass chandeliers that (given your deep blue sea surroundings) resemble a school of jellyfish quickly escaping from a dinner plate. Azure’s décor is understated and soothing (like “eating at a spa,” a friend of mine commented). Good for a first date? Doubtful — too romantic, too expensive (but then who am I to tell you what to do with your life?). Azure is definitely a winner for special occasions, however, particularly when mom and dad (or your favorite corporate firm) are footing the bill.
Several of my loyal readers (okay, one guy) have commented that my restaurant reviews seem to be more devoted to drinking than to eating. Eager not to disappoint, I have decided to insert an entire bar into my review this time. Yes, while waiting for a table at Azure (you really should make reservations), guests may stroll across the hotel lobby and into City Bar, the sleek, dark watering hole that is the other shinning star of the Lenox Hotel. Whereas at most eating establishments a quick pre-dinner drink usually entails cramming yourself into a tiny seat at a cramped and bustling bar at the front of the restaurant, City Bar offers Azure’s patrons a quiet and comfy retreat where diners can warm up for dinner with a few cosmos or pints of Bass while seated in large leather couches and booths (the host will come get you when your table is ready).
Corresponding with the “underwater” theme of its décor, Azure’s menu is heavy on the seafood (the entrée list reads like a casting call for The Little Mermaid). Among the more notable seafood selections include the “Very Good Lobster Soup,” sauteed sea dabs with Peekytoe crab, the classic oyster spread, and roasted Monchong (a flaky white fish). My date and I began with the seared Mano de Leon scallops ($15), a delightful (yet tiny) assortment of scallops, smoked trout and shiitake mushrooms served in celery root cream. Everyone seems to do scallops, but Azure does them very well, avoiding the classic scallops blunder (heavy on texture, slight on taste). For those of you into a little S&M at the dinner table, I recommend the “Oysters in Bondage” appetizer ($13), a crispy treat of smoked salmon and potato crusted bound oysters with crème fraiche and caviar oil.
Though the appetizers certainly did not disappoint, head chef Robert Fathman (formerly of Grill 23 and The Federalist) really shows his strength with Azure’s entrée selection. The pan roasted tuna ($26) was a splendid and ample cut of sushi-grade tuna, crusted with telli cherry peppercorns, perched atop a bed of caramelized Turkish figs and drizzled in vanilla citrus. The tough texture of the peppercorn crust balanced nicely with the tender rare tuna. I took a break from the ocean and opted for the pan roasted venison chops ($28), a hearty serving of venison coated with maple sugar and accompanied by rapini, red yams, huckleberry sauce and cranberries. The tapestry of flavors melded splendidly, but did not overpower the taste of the (very) rare cut of venison. As a testimony to Azure’s cleanliness, I accidentally dropped an entire venison chop onto Azure’s hardwood floor (perhaps I had a few too many at City Bar), yet my dinner companion confidently suggested that I retrieve the chop (under five seconds) and enjoy. (Note: Nevertheless, when I offered a bite of the well-traveled chop to my dinner companion, she refused.) While Azure does not boast a fancy cocktail list (remember where City Bar is?), its wine menu is impressively extensive. Though slim of New World offerings, those selected by the good people at Azure will not disappoint. We chose an excellent bottle of South African Vintage Mulderbosch sauvignon blanc ($49; average bottle: $55), with a great bouquet and a refreshing “mineral” taste.
Desserts at Azure are certainly on the experimental side — what you order looks nothing like what you expect to receive. Nonetheless, each crazy creation wins high marks in the taste category. The caramelized banana split ($9) resembles a tiny patty of delicious creamy pie of cheesecake consistency, adorned with a crown of crystallized sugar. We managed to find room in our stomachs for the German chocolate cake ($9), another curious invention which consisted of a chocolate shell tube stuffed with a layer of cake and topped with a coconut-laden praline.
If you’re out on the town, craving exotic seafood and ready to spend some serious bucks on your (not first) date, try the City Bar-Azure combo out for size. Booking a room at the Lenox is optional.
The Lenox Hotel
61 Exeter Street at Boylston
Boston, MA 02116