Opening a luxe restaurant in a former industrial zone that’s experiencing a gradual rebirth sounds like a hazardous venture, but Boston chef and restaurateur Barbara Lynch beat the odds last year with her latest project, Menton. With chef Colin Lynch (no relation) manning the kitchen, the establishment earned a spot on many 2010 “Best New Restaurant” lists, and it’s up for another accolade at the JBF Awards on May 9. Read on for our interview with Barbara Lynch about Menton's risks and rewards.
JBF: Menton is named after a small French village that’s very close to the Italian border. How is that specific place expressed in the food?
BL: Many of my restaurants are influenced by my sense of nostalgia for places I've been to. Menton is one of them. It’s a beautiful place and very French, but it shares a border with Italy so you can't help but feel that Italian soul. The food we prepare lies on the border, too: it's a mix of refined French technique and soulful Italian cooking.
JBF: Are you seeing a lot of the same customers that you serve at your other establishments, or have you reached a new crowd?
BL: We are very fortunate to have guests from my other restaurants excited to come and join us at Menton. Often times it is their first time in Fort Point Channel—the up-and-coming neighborhood where I also opened Drink and Sportello—so it's exciting to share a place that I'm passionate about with them. We’re also excited to see many new faces.
JBF: The Menton wine program is described as “unparalleled” on the restaurant’s website. What makes it so special? What can you drink there that you can’t get elsewhere?
BL: Our wine director, Cat Silirie, is at the core of what makes the wine program at Menton so special. She always says that ten sommeliers are better than one, and our entire staff takes part in daily training on wine and culture, essentially creating a team of sommeliers. Cat also says that what’s not on our wine list is as important as what is; our list is edited with a distinct point of view that is perfectly scaled to the cuisine and the restaurant itself. Her connections with growers, winemakers, and importers have allowed us to offer private label wines like the 2009 Mas Christine Cuvée Menton Côtes du Rousillon Blanc. Even the Zalto Denk'Art glasses we use are only found at a handful of restaurants in the world.
JBF: You opened a fine dining establishment during a challenging time for fine dining. Why did you think the concept would be successful and sustainable?
BL: It was definitely a challenging time to open a fine-dining restaurant and plenty of people thought I was crazy to do it. I rely on instinct and I just felt it was the right time, not only for me, but for my team and the city of Boston. Boston has lost many of the landmark fine-dining establishments that were a part of the city's fabric, and I know that there are not only people craving that kind of special experience as guests, but a whole generation of young cooks who a hungry for a place to learn fine dining. I feel it's our responsibility to provide that for both guests and the younger generation of cooks, and I felt that my vision for fine dining at Menton—easy, elegant, without the pomp and stiffness— was something people would find exciting and enjoyable.
JBF: What’s your favorite dish (or dishes) on the menu right now?
BL: That's such a hard question! There are so many things I love right now, like the foie gras torchon and the kataifi-wrapped langoustine with pea, pickled rhubarb, and pumpkin seed oil.