A weekly pair of updated capsule reviews to remind
readers of area restaurants that have made the most
favorable impression on the Boston Globe restaurant
THE RITZ-CARLTON DINING ROOM * * * 1/2
Ritz-Carlton, 15 Arlington St.,Boston Telephone 536-5700
BUSTER'S AMERICAN BARBECUE * * 1/2
1069 Broadway, Route 1, Saugus Telephone 233-7100Ah, the magnificent Ritz-Carlton Dining Room. For decades it stoodat the pinnacle in Boston dining. Elegant appointments, polishedtable service, deluxe Continental cuisine.
That was before serious competition moved into town. Today, Iwould not go there searching for the best-tasting meal in the city.But the Ritz remains a local treasure; so much more than a place tohave dinner. It is a dining room that confidently resists thepassage of time and waltzes to its own elegant tune.
The traditional French/Continental menu eschews anything remotelyresembling the nouvelle or the contemporary. It is grounded ratherin the cooking principles of Escoffier that were laid down at theturn of the century.
The popular Ritz standard, Sole de Douvre Sautee Meuniere, a wholeDover sole in parsley brown butter, was a marvelously prepared treat,boned at tableside and served simply with a bit of potato on theside. The current menu offers the whole sole sauteed with pine nutsand lemon butter.
Another famous entree, lobster in bourbon whiskey sauce, was avery successful treatment. An evening special of Boeuf Wellingtonwas a gorgeous slice of tenderloin coated with pate and baked in atempting pastry wrapper. Outstanding execution.
But some entrees were a bit flawed, beginning with the rack oflamb, which, though tender, was fatty and flavorless. A pair ofwhole woodcocks were too chewy, as were the slices of duck breast ina peppercorn kumquat sauce.
For first courses, we enjoyed smoked salmon carved tableside andserved with appropriate condiments. A pheasant consomme was clearand light with not a trace of saltiness. And a slice of foie grasroulade with truffles was a rich and regal treat.
Several other Ritz menu items are prepared tableside. On ourvisits, they included pleasures like the superior Caesar salad andthe famous Crepes Suzette Flambees dessert.
Everything is delivered in style. The classic approach to serviceinvolves a team of captain and waiters who transfer the completeddishes from silver serving platters onto your plate. But it allcomes at a notable price.
For dessert you can select from the pastry cart, or enjoysomething like the good creme brulee with its crunchy sugar crust orthe festive profiteroles filled with vanilla ice cream and toppedwith a silky, warm chocolate sauce. Those in search of pampered OldWorld dining can still find it at the Ritz.It has been a long time coming, but barbecue has finally carved outits place in the Boston restaurant scene. North Carolina pulledpork, Memphis ribs -- regional specialties that until recently wereseldom sampled in Massachusetts -- are now part of the local culinarylanguage.
Lovers of this messy, satisfying fare can now quibble over whichof the area's many barbecue joints is doing the best job.
Though not the best of the lot, the volume leader is surelyBuster's American Barbecue, Fish Shack and Rodeo Bar, a massive roadhouse on Route 1 North, Saugus, that opened last June hoping tocapitalize on this yen for finger-lickin' food.
The operational minds behind Buster's belong to Jimmy Burke andBobby Hillson, co-owners of the Cactus Club in the Back Bay. AtBuster's, Burke and Hillson were brought in by the owners of thisvast property to do something that might coax in big crowds and feedthem well at low prices in a 'fun' atmosphere. Bring your date.Bring the kids. Bring the softball team.
The physical setting might well have been conceived by DisneyWorld. The exterior is Western Frontier and the big interior spacesare bedecked with a playful, busy decor. Buster's is big.Considering a kitchen geared to turning out such tremendous quantity,the product is quite acceptable. We encountered plenty of decenteating at decent prices.
The Best Bet among the appetizers was a plate of 15, count 'em,plump and tasty, cold Peel 'n' Eat Shrimp with cocktail sauce servedon a bed of seaweed. If you want them hot you can choose from threeother versions: tasty garlic shrimp done in sort of a scampi style,BBQ shrimp, or hot and spicy shrimp.
All the barbecue was given plenty of smoke, but underseasoning wasa bit of a problem with the meats. The Memphis ribs, tender andslightly fatty, did not have a discernible rub of spices. Weencountered a similar restraint with the pulled pork. Goodtender/stringy texture, trace of vinegar flavor, but no real tang.But the seasoning issue need not be a problem, since each tablesports a quartet of chili pepper sauces, including one called Gib's'Hell Sauce,' that can blow the top of your head off. The house'sown sweet, regular and hot barbecue sauces are pretty good, too.
Recently, steak tips and a Texas T-bone have been added to themeat side of the menu. Both corn bread and potato salad came inworthy versions. And the savory BBQ baked beans were terrific.
Desserts at Buster's are hearty, including a massive Garbage CanSundae in a container shaped like a trash can.