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Lobby Bar & Kitchen

Room for improvement
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  April 30, 2008
1.0 1.0 Stars

GO FISH: The swordfish kabobs at Lobby are one of the menu’s bright spots.

Lobby Bar & Kitchen | 131 Broad Street, Boston | Open Mon–Wed, 11:30 pm–10:30 pm; Thurs and Fri, 11:30 am–11 pm; and Sat, 4:30–11 pm | AE, DC, MC, VI | Full bar | No valet parking | Street-level access | 617.261.5353
We walked into Lobby the same day the Boston Globe’s critic slammed the place — meaning, she gave it only one star. As with many rating systems, the Globe’s now has such a steep bell curve that its four-star system really amounts to only two: two and three stars. Lobby was the exception. That review also reported that one of the garnishes actually tasted bad, which the Globe is usually loath to say.

So the question was, how much could Lobby fix in one day?

The answer proved to be: not all that much. It cut down on some of the over-salting. It fixed a dish or two. But a core complaint — that the menu lists ingredients that diners can’t taste — remained. In some areas, I disagreed with the other paper’s assessment. The Globe thought the 20-by-20-foot room with a muted TV tuned to sports was “deftly designed,” for instance; we thought otherwise. It also thought the noise level was not a problem for conversation and — what’d you say? — we measured mid-80s decibels on techno-reggae and asked for the music to be turned down. (Then when Otis Redding came on, we regretted it.)

But enough about the atmosphere and on to the food. The breadbasket was heated French bread rolls, cut into pieces: crude but pleasant. My favorite appetizer was jerk-spiced shrimp included on a $40 three-course prix fixe. Here, the under-use of garnish ingredients was a fine idea because the milder jerk spices didn’t overwhelm the nicely sautéed shrimp. Soup of the day (varies; also on a $40 prix fixe) was squash and ginger; the ginger flavor was stronger. Similarly, tuna tartare ($14) tasted mostly of capers. A trio of fritters ($12) — perhaps from a new batch, since the other review slammed it — was pretty successful, though the codfish balls might have been even better. Of the other two, a conch fritter with herbs was nice but chewy, and a corn fritter was perhaps too simple. The dip was spicy tomato.

Spicy barbecue beef ($10), which the Globe thought was “good . . . . flavorful,” I found to be dangerously tough. As in, it could be a choking hazard for those who bite too much off of the sticks that come arranged in a tripod. The meat had more chew than flavor, and no evident marinade or taste of the fire. Barbecue sauce had been added at the end, but it would’ve been better to stick with the competent peanut sauce.

My favorite entrée was grilled salmon from the tasting menu, served with a passion-fruit sauce and a terrific vegetable hash with some tropical roots mixed in. I like the grilled swordfish kabobs ($25), too, except for some uncooked wine in the couscous with raisins. Then there was the roasted Cornish hen off the tasting menu. The Globe found there to be too much salt in the stuffing (I agree to an extent), and thought a fake-tasting chicken stock dominated the risotto (fixed by the time I got there). Hardly any restaurants have the resources to make real stock these days, so the usual fix for risotto is lots of cheese. Not here. The stuffing was studded with chorizo, which was too salty and spicy in this context. The hen was cooked correctly, so its just-slightly-gamier flavor, still closer to chicken than even turkey, was evident.

Filet mignon ($32) with potato croquettes was handled just right, except for excess salt on the otherwise terrific broccolini. Pan-seared cod ($26) was also a hearty if simple dish, with roasted fingerling potatoes and sautéed greens. Then there was the “Porcini-Encrusted Lamb Chops, Pomegranate Glaze, Whipped Purple Potatoes, Roasted Root Vegetables, Dried Fruit Relish” ($35). Don’t be frightened. The glaze and the crust are subliminal. What you get are two double baby lamb chops, cooked to order (medium rare) with mashed potatoes (they do look purple) and baby carrots. The dried fruit are apricots and raisins. You can just ignore them.

If you ignore the menu prose, you have some prosaic but sound entrées. What goes well with the prosaic? Wine, which can be overwhelmed by too many spices or sauces. Lobby has a satisfying list, well served in oversize glasses. But ordering by the glass has risks when you’re dining early — namely, you risk getting a glass from yesterday’s bottle. This may have been the case with a 2005 Vidal Fleury Côtes du Rhône ($8/glass; $30/bottle), which had dark fruit but was hot with extra alcohol, and even with a 2005 Acacia “A” pinot noir ($10/$40), a red wine that should show better. A 2006 Veramonte sauvignon blanc ($8/$32) was delicious, crisp with pineapple and spicy aromas. It’s a Chilean white that tasted like good New Zealand.

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