Chef de cuisine Keith Bombaugh re-envisions the menu at Meritage Restaurant + Wine Bar with a touch of whimsy.
First things first: Chef Daniel Bruce, the legendary culinary mastermind behind Meritage Restaurant + Wine Bar’s staggering success, is still very much at the helm of his kitchen. But he’s happy to share the line (and the limelight) with chef de cuisine Keith Bombaugh, an innovator mixing things up in the kitchen. Bombaugh came to Meritage by way of Grant Achatz’s three-Michelin starred Chicago restaurant, Alinea, after helping open Boston’s Menton in 2010. While you might not see one of Alinea’s famous scented “pillows” floating your way at Meritage, the menu has a whimsical approach to it now. Diners are greeted with small flights of fancy like the vegan oyster amuse-bouche served on a recent visit. Bombaugh presented a green leaf that mimicked the taste of oysters with a dot of mignonette agar pudding as “a nod to nature in its uniqueness as well as the pleasure of enjoying oysters on the half shell. It allows people who don’t eat oysters to enjoy the flavors without having to consume the shellfish.” The amuse-bouche is just a small entry into the world that Bombaugh creates with his food at Meritage.
Guests can work their way through the nine-course chef ’s tasting or a la carte options, like the tagliatelle with hazelnuts covered in Burgundy truffles that are shaved in a decadent shower tableside. “Working with Grant was one of the most mind-opening experiences any cook could possibly ask for,” says Bombaugh. “He unlocked ways to think about food that I didn’t know existed before.” To this end, Bombaugh dreams up stories through his dishes using New England’s rich ingredients, such as the Atlantic halibut with mustard orange vinaigrette and the Peruvian Scallop with Tiger’s Milk and Huitlacoche. Bombaugh’s storytelling reaches new heights with dishes like the PB & J Foie Gras, an ode to the youthful lunch staple with pluots and Concord grapes. Diners are invited to combine the ingredients on a warm popover as a luxe homage to the sandwich. The Thai lobster dish arrives with 2 pounds of delicate meat served alongside a dehydrated green curry powder that when combined with the coconut and umeboshi creates a stewlike effect on the palate. “I want the guest to feel a bit of childish happiness and joy when they have finished a course, so logically I find things in my surroundings that give me that same feeling and do my best to recreate those emotions with the mediums that we have available,” says Bombaugh.
The food’s innovative nature keeps your attention so you almost don’t notice the dining room’s sleek design by The Johnson Studio, an intentionally soothing palette of cream and gray that allows the view of Boston Harbor to serve as artwork.
Sommelier Nicholas Daddona worked closely with Bombaugh to create a beverage program that could stand up to the food. Daddona paired the dinner menu with red, white and Champagne wine flights, a special treat thanks to the pouring of Krug Cuvée. “Keith and I have made a clear and concise effort to push both the food and beverage menus forward on a collaborative basis,” says Daddona. “It is, I believe, the strongest part of Keith’s presence as a chef. His food is delicious, creative and playful, but most importantly collaborative from the inception of dishes or processes in service.”
One wouldn’t expect this playfulness to end with dessert, and it doesn’t; strawberry “short cake” is paired with green strawberry and vanilla sponge while the Yuzu Stone has Mandarin orange and matcha. The dessert wines and cordials are tempting, but opt for the unique amaro flight of Chinato, Montenegro and Cynar, a journey through Italy in three glasses.
“Alinea was like a bird’s nest that showed you that creative flight was possible, and I wanted to fly,” says Bombaugh. Bostonians can be thankful he chose to land at Meritage.