Boston, MA - 2018 hasn’t been the easiest year for French cuisine in greater Boston. Central Bistro? Closed. Les Sablons? Closed. Brasserie JO? Closed. In a year in which saw massive chain expansion push all but the most well-funded institutions out of business throughout the city (and a year which saw many startups look to outlying suburbs for commercial property), the very notion of a dining institution can seem almost like a quaint anachronism. And you can add the Back Bay’s L’Espalier to the list of French restaurants shuttered by 2018.
Originally established on Boylston Street in 1978 by chef Moncef Meddeb, L’Espalier seemed like something of an eccentricity when it was purchased by Frank McClelland in 1988; combining locally sourced New England staples with nouvelle cuisine-inspired cooking and classically French prix fixe tasting menus. Forget “farm to table” dining; no one had even heard of locally sourced in the late ‘80s. After settling down to its final location next to the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in 2008, Mclelland—who received a James Beard award for Most Outstanding Northeast Chef—saw both his reputation as a leading American figure in French cuisine as well as the high profile status of L’Espalier swell to national prominence. Zagat’s once referred to it as “consistently exquisite”; while Lonely Planet tour guide touted it as “the crème de la crème of Boston’s culinary scene.” Never mind the fact the typical bill for an six course meal could set you back upwards of $300; it was the legacy of L’Espalier which commanded its status. Mick Jagger was reportedly a fan, as was Henry Kissinger; and even the like of Jordanian royalty were known to have entered through its gilded brass doors.
But legacies come and go; and at a time in which spending more than $8 at a food truck seems like a luxury, the opulence of a mainstay like L’Espalier can seem more and more irrelevant; especially in comparison to the flash and diversions of culinary mega-complexes.
“It’s been a great run. I just need to go and do something else that feeds my soul,” McClelland stated in a press release, noting that “the lease is up and I don’t have the desire to continue to do this and renew.”
“There are a lot of myths about fine dining,” he told Boston magazine in an interview earlier this year. “It’s pigeonholed. We do refined menus and tasting menus, and you can come as you want. We want to take you on a journey. Like a cruise. I guess I don’t even really call L’Espalier fine dining. You can call it high-flying cuisine of New England.”
McClelland also noted that he's working on a new project, but refuses to note the details.
L’Espalier’s final night of service will be this New Year’s Eve, December 31st. MClelland has prepared a farewell menu designed as an homage to the restaurant’s 40 year history, including chef Moncef Meddeb’s original vision.
L’Espalier is located at 774 Boylston St in Boston. For more information, please visit www.lespalier.com