Diner: Well Orchestrated

Service, menu and price create harmony at The Symphony Hotel

Tucked midway down the block of 14th Street just north of Music Hall is a European-style surprise. The Symphony Hotel and Restaurant is nestled among other Victorian brownstones and discreetly marked with a punched metal flag over the doorway, just as you would find throughout Bavaria.

We were welcomed at the front door by the manager, who addressed us by our last name and immediately escorted us to a table in the rear dining room. We were dressed a bit more casually than others in the dining rooms, as we hadn't planned to attend the evening performance of the symphony. But it did seem as though we had dropped in on a festive atmosphere among the 10 tables of music lovers.

We settled in and the manager asked if we would like wine or cocktails with the meal. When asked for a Chardonnay, she suggested an Australian they had found to be particularly nice. We ordered a bottle and agreed with the recommendation. I enjoyed the paperless atmosphere of the fixed-price menu, but my partner would have liked a wine menu to review.

I scarcely had time to survey the beautifully restored Victorian rooms when bowls of Potato Leek soup showed up within 10 minutes of our arrival.

The buttery smooth potage had a subtle and delicate flavor, but would have benefited from more salt and white pepper.

Deep purple walls, white woodwork and burgundy draped shams were an unexpected design detail that likely reflected the owners' previous career. Karen Blatt had an elegant knitwear studio in Hyde Park that tempted the eyes with color and texture. She's accomplished that and more with Symphony Hotel. Through the keyhole-etched, frosted glass pocket doors, we admired the large painting of Karen with two friends that hangs over the front fireplace.

Launched three years ago, the restaurant is open Friday and Saturday nights and offers breakfast to its hotel patrons. There are four rooms upstairs, called Mozart, Schubert, Bach and Beethoven. Each room includes Victorian accouterments and displays a bust, sheet music and paintings reflecting the composer.

The soup was cleared and rolls arrived, with the salad appearing within a minute. We needed to ask for butter, also delivered promptly. The tossed mesclun was paired with halved grape tomatoes, drizzled with bland balsamic vinaigrette and topped with grated Parmesan. The fresh greens needed some extra punch, in the same vein as the colorful walls.

We chose each of the entrées offered for that particular weekend. A full soup plate of linguine was tumbled with mildly spiced shrimp, fresh leaf spinach, quartered grape tomatoes and the sharp tang of English Stilton. The al dente pasta was savory with the Stilton coating, which was nicely complimented by the cooked, ripe tomatoes. The only thing that slowed me down from this pleasing dish was extracting the tails from the shrimp.

The pork tenderloin was tender, baked with apples, raisins, onions and walnuts. I enjoyed the textures and subtle flavor blend, bringing to mind fall comfort food. There was a striking lemon flavor to the chicken breast, which was braised with artichoke hearts, mushrooms and red peppers. The vegetable flavors were too subtle to add much substance to the dish, perhaps accounting for the heavy splash of lemon. The chicken and pork were both accompanied with limp, overdone broccoli and a pleasant couscous with pine nuts.

The staff moved seamlessly to get the patrons fed in a calm, unobtrusive way, assuring arrival before the opening bells at Music Hall. When we admitted we weren't trying to make the performance, they encouraged us to take our time and dessert arrived at a leisurely pace, while the other patrons departed. The menu included four courses for $29 per person, with our choice of entrée, dessert and coffee or tea. The four-course meals are also offered before opera performances and three courses before Pops concerts. Wine is charged additionally.

Once again, we chose one of each offering for dessert. My chocolate cravings were well catered to with a full-flavored, moist chocolate cake and dark, creamy frosting. The raspberry pie had an excellent, flaky crust with a dusting of powdered sugar, but its filling was unremarkable. The New York-style cheesecake with cherry amaretto topping over a graham cracker crust was rich and dense with no aftertaste.

Our meal at Symphony Hotel was very harmonious in terms of service, atmosphere and menu selections. With a bit more use of herbs and spices, they should soar to hit the high notes. ©

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