First, let me say that Rob Evans deserves all the accolades. My birthday dinner at Hugo’s was nothing short of spectacular. That said, when your restaurant sits perched on a pedestal boasting a shining, gleaming “sterling” reputation – well, the expectations of your guests run high. Very high.

The gateway to a great meal

The gateway to a great meal

My admittedly stratospherically high expectations were almost – just about – very nearly – exceeded. But not quite.

We had, of course, the “works.” Better know as the chef’s six-course nightly tasting menu with wine pairings. Courses three and four – the cod and the duck – were both spot-on, do-a-little-happy-dance-in-delight, successes.

Another stunning dish was the first course of beet-cured salmon belly paired with a fennel and hyssop salad. Got that? Beet. Cured. Salmon. It was inspiring.

Where the meal failed for me was during a strange second course cheekily titled “Deconstructed Chowdah.” Fried bits of clams sat in a bland thyme oil sauce communing with doughy, flavorless potato gnocchi. The wine pairing for this dish, an acidy Saumur from the Loire Valley, was disappointing alone. It truly botched as a pairing – turning flat-out bitter.

Not sure the “deconstructed” trend has legs. Or should.

The cod dish featured succulent, crispy cheeks and a meaty pan-fried belly. But the duck was the night’s winner by a nose. All three preparations were a joy.  A crispy breast nestled on a bed of delicately spiced wheat berries tasted, as Adam put it — his eyes wide — like Fall. A foie gras was melt-in-your-mouth marvelous, and the duck pancetta – perfectly cured with a layer of fatty chewiness – almost defies description.

The fifth (cheese) course was a little lackluster, but dessert was a lovely “crispy cream” of braised pineapple, peppers and coconut milk.

Overall – a truly memorable meal.

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