I’m munching on some really good ciabatta-style rolls, sipping my perfect Americano cocktail, awaiting the Pea Soup with Gooseberry Crème Fraîche and the Really Good Lobster Soup at City Table in the Lenox Hotel, one of the grand dames of old Boston. There’s something familiar about the place, and I’m trying to put my finger on it. The deep, chocolate-brown walls and ceiling, the dim lighting, the dark wooden tables floating on the pale tan planks of the floor—the effect is not romantic, exactly, though it certainly could be with the right person. Cozy is closer, but also not quite.
And then the memory surfaces: when I was a kid, my father (of the Mad Men generation) always had his den, his inner sanctum, and it felt like this. Elegant but not stuffy, modern, a little moody, decidedly masculine. It’s an appealing atmosphere, and the crowd—a mixture of hotel guests (mostly in the dining room) and upper management (in the adjoining bar)—have an air of calm satisfaction.
A burst of green pulls me out of my nostalgic reverie: my first soup has arrived. The Pea Soup with Gooseberry Crème Fraîche is definitely the star of the evening. Set in a wide-rimmed bowl, the soup presents marvelously: a circle of the brightest spring green, a spiral of pure white, and a tangle of yellow-tan at the center. The green is a delicate, incredibly light foam of peas and mint, with that combination’s perfect springtime flavor, given body by the slight starchiness of the peas. The white gooseberry cream is tart and earthy, a good foil to the sweetness of the pea foam. The yellow-tan turns out to be crunchy strips of fried salsify, another earthy note that harmonizes the other two, and adds a touch of salt. Together they make a memorable bowl that achieves lightness and richness in one.
Decidedly rich is the Really Good Lobster Soup. That’s what it’s called on the menu, and it’s not false advertising. This bowl announces itself to the nose before the eye: essence of lobster makes a strong and welcome first impression. The pale coral soup, with a sprinkling of chives, spots of bright green herbed oil, and a crescent of puff pastry, has a creaminess that doesn’t overwhelm the lobster flavor. Several nice-sized chunks of perfectly-cooked lobster lurk in the wide bowl’s depths.
City Table’s menu is a mixture of classic bistro, steakhouse, and modern fare: there’s a lot of seafood, though not necessarily prepared in typical New England fashion; a big sirloin steak topped with marrow butter; and plenty of smaller and vegetable plates. There’s also a sizeable sandwich list: I had a crab-cake po’boy, nicely crusted, soft as a cloud inside, topped with a spicy, vinegary slaw that I wanted more of.
City Table is centrally located in the Back Bay. The room is fairly quiet, with a single discreet TV showing sports. Its calm vibe makes it a great place for finishing a busy day with a good bowl of soup.