It's quiet in the Stanhope Grille. A few tables are filled, and there's a murmur of conversation as the chefs work behind the window that looks into the open kitchen. But it's hard to miss the contrast with the Cuffs bar next door, where the scene, even on a Tuesday evening, is a throbbing mass of young revelers. Hotel restaurants fill many functions, but the handsome and comfortable dining room tucked into the bottom of the new Jurys Hotel can seem, depending on one's mood, either a little out of the loop or a refuge from the packed bar.
Jurys Boston, the Irish hotel chain now in several US cities, opened in midsummer after a complete renovation of the old Boston police headquarters across from Grill 23 & Bar. Except for a lilting accent here and there and illuminated artwork of Celtic knots, the Stanhope Grille certainly can't be confused with an Irish-themed restaurant. A cursory glance at the main ingredients does not reveal an Irish bent, either, with one exception: potatoes, in a variety of forms. It's as though the place was making up for the potato famine by offering Colcannon potato cake and pan-roasted fingerling potatoes, German potato salad and bacon-studded potato hash, rosti potatoes, and truffle-crushed potatoes.
After settling in one evening, we peruse the wide-ranging dinner menu, which includes fancy hotel fare such as wild mushrooms and asparagus artfully arranged over puff pastry, as well as gussied-up bar favorites like "Buffalo" fried calamari. The chef, Matthew King, previously was chef at Legends in the FleetCenter -- his resume includes other hotel stints -- and the goal appears to be to cover a lot of bases.
An appetizer of house-smoked salmon features a small twist of salmon over four big slices of potato covered with mustard sauce. A dollop of creme fraiche and a tiny mound of caviar finish the dish, but though the salmon is fine and its complements pleasing, the potatoes take center stage.
In another appetizer, the richness of the sauce on wild mushrooms and asparagus sandwiched between two layers of puff pastry seems an indulgence.
A tuna spring roll has become a staple on first-course menus, but this version has a good bite with pickled cabbage slaw, wasabi cream and ginger-soy glaze. However, a plate of beef tenderloin carpaccio arrays all the traditional pieces -- there's the paper-thin raw beef, the shavings of Pecorino Romano, a little fluff of micro greens, and some asparagus spears -- but it has no flavor. Salt might have helped, or a cut other than tenderloin, which can be bland. Perhaps someone simply neglected to add the dressing at the last moment before the dish came to the table.
Since potatoes predominate here, it's tempting to order main courses by their spud accompaniments. At least that's what I think when I lay eyes on the rack of lamb with a honey Guinness sauce, accompanied by a potato hash. The lamb, tiny chops grilled on the bone, is excellent, done to a pink interior; the slightly bitter tang of the Guinness against honey gives a burnish to the meat. Carefully carved carrots and asparagus tied into bundles add a festive, hotel-y look to the dish.
But it's the accompanying rillon potato hash -- chef King says in a phone conversation later that rillon refers to bacon -- that's especially intriguing. King uses good Irish bacon, and lots of it, making the hash memorable.
In fact, bacon runs as a counterpoint to potatoes here. The wild salmon is a lovely cut of fish and the pan-roasted fingerlings are good; but the apple-smoked bacon is excellent. However, this dish, which I tried twice just to make sure, suffers from a dark, congealed lobster demiglace. It doesn't taste of the sea; I could be fooled into thinking that I'm eating a sauce that started with canned mushroom soup.
Chicken breast stuffed with fontina cheese and wrapped in prosciutto becomes an ungainlylooking package on the plate, though the taste is fine. The potato version here is a crisped cake. A generous cut of beef tenderloin comes with a crackly edged roesti potato cake that spurts brie when cut into and features more bacon. It's kind of a shock, actually, to get to a dish without the favored ingredients. Braised short ribs, in a tomato and red wine sauce, are too fatty, but that hardly registers as I try to figure out the grainy mashed potatoes before realizing I'm eating polenta.
Stanhope has a full list of desserts, but something light sounds best after a fairly heavy meal. Melon sorbet in a martini glass, its rim dipped in coarse sugar, makes an appealing ending. On another night an assortment of ice creams is only so-so. Calories and carbs be damned, we decide on that occasion: The warm fondant chocolate cake with chocolate sauce captures the prize to bow us out of the Stanhope.
We say goodbye to the solicitous waiter who has diligently filled and refilled our water glasses and inquired repeatedly about topping off our coffee. (Stanhope's waitstaff, as befits a new hotel, is faultlessly friendly and swift, without stiffness or too much formality.) We tiptoe past the bar area where the party seems to be kicking into high gear.
The doorman outside just smiles when we ask him if Cuffs is unusually busy. Later in the week, it's much more crowded, he says. Surely, more patrons will spill over to the quiet dining room, even if just to fill up on potatoes and hear themselves think.