KATRIN: I was elated when I learned that, after two dinners in Cambridge, Mystery Meet would be returning to Boston with a dinner at the Back Bay Social Club (BBSC). Several on-line reviews had mentioned how nice the décor is, but personally I could not get images of the space’s former tenant, Vinny T’s, out of my mind. (Yes, I will confess that I did eat at Vinny T’s once or twice!) The saloon level is a mish-mash of looks – a handsome curved mahogany bar, tin ceiling, giant sign pointing down to the restaurant level, and random photos hanging about. Add the baggy plaid shirts that the wait staff wear and you have homage to 1992 grunge along with “1960s Manhattan.”
The bar was crowed, but we made our way in to get a couple of cocktails. BBSC is building a reputation for well-made cocktails, including some updates of almost forgotten classics. Glenn and I had a Negroni and the Blood & Sand respectively. Both, in my opinion, were watery and on the expensive side. After getting our drinks, General Manager, Johna, came over and warmly greeted us. Her welcoming manner and friendliness helped to overcome my not-so-positive impressions of the cocktails and décor.
GLENN: To begin, I would like to note that Katrin is an intrepid sleuth. From the clues that Seth provides, she has deduced the location and even theme of each Mystery Meet. I like Katrin’s characterization of BBSC as a saloon – it’s not “Deadwood” but, for me, does have a good speakeasy ambiance. And thankfully, the tvs aren’t overwhelming large. My cocktail, the Blood & Sand, is a revival of a near-forgotten classic – pig nose scotch, Carpano(!), cherry liqueur and house -made Grenadine. The problem is the ice – somewhat too finely cracked, it melts too quickly when being shaken, thus throwing off the proportion of water. When we met Johna, she told us she had paired each course with a beer – I was immediately intrigued. I appreciated her selections, all Belgian inspired brews – Avery White Rascal with the risotto, Dogfish Pangaea with the duck and Blue Moon Belgian White with the baked chocolate mousse. I had the Avery and the Dogfish – both very good though the pairings weren’t perfect.
KATRIN: The Mystery Meet party was seated at the back of the saloon at four tables of either four or five seats each. Generally, the best Mystery Meets have been the ones where the group is seated together at one or two long tables and not split up into small dining groups; it feels too much like you are going out to dinner on your own, not with a group. But I suspect the large corporate party downstairs prevented us from getting a table downstairs.
The prix fixe menu sounded great: crab risotto; stuffed duck; and chocolate for dessert. Our table was puzzled by the fact that none of these dishes are on BBSC’s regular dinner menu. The risotto was terrific and hands down the best of the three dishes. A generous amount of crab in the dish, the vegetables were fresh and not overcooked, and the flavor was perfectly savory and delicious.
That could not be said about the duck dish, which was burdened with too many elements and flavors: a stuffing containing lots of roughly chopped garlic, fatty duck (I may have been able to avoid the fat had there been enough light to actually see the meal), oversalted greens, sweet butternut squash, and the fig in sauce. It was a study in contrasts that did not really work.
GLENN: I too really enjoyed the risotto and agree it was the best item of the meal. For the most part, I thought the concept of the duck was good – a sweet vegetable paired with a bitter green and both offset by the richness of the duck. But the squash was almost too sweet, the kale too greasy and the fig sauce – another sweet element – a bit confusing.
I did enjoy dessert though. Most of my tablemates didn’t like the baked chocolate mousse but I found it light and moist – the satisfaction of chocolate without the oppressiveness of too much chocolate. It paired well with the orange marmalade sauce, but the Blue Moon gastrique did nothing for the plate. Incidentally, I was amused by the name – baked chocolate mousse. In reality, it was a variation of flourless chocolate cake, that warhorse of the 1980s. “Baked chocolate mousse” is much more current and hip than “flourless chocolate cake” – though I believe it might make a comeback. Two weeks ago, it was the featured recipe in Amanda Hesser’s column Recipe Redux in the New York Times. She did give it a bit of a make-over to make it more appealing to contemporary tastes. Perhaps, like historical cocktails, we’ll be seeing more of this on menus. Is creme brulee next?
KATRIN: I was already tired of the whole “comfort food” and the gastropub concept, but this meal pushed me over the edge. I hope with winter finally coming to an end that Boston restaurants will start to embrace spring and lightness.
GLENN: Knowing my fondness for burgers, Katrin asked if I’d return to BBSC for the burger. Reputed to be the best burger in Boston – though other eateries make that same claim – I wished that it had been our entree or at least – as a slider – our appetizer, but at $21 – one of the most expensive burgers in town – well outside the parameters of our prix fixe menu. So, in my pursuit of the quintessential burger, I do believe I will return, but instead of a cocktail, I’ll have a beer from their very solid beer menu.
Shortly before this Mystery Meet, Seth Resler, founder of MM, sent out a teaser email which began “Last Mystery Meet?” No – it’s not the last one. Seth is leaving Boston for San Francisco – our loss, their gain. This was his last MM before departing. However, since MM is founded upon social networking, he will continue to operate from SF. Seth, we’ll miss you and thanks for the mystery and fun! Can we do a Skype MM with you?