The awards keep coming. In 2008 owner and chef Frits Huntjens was a semifinalist for the James Beard Best Chef award, and recently his restaurant, 1 North Belmont, was designated a AAA four-diamond restaurant for the fourth year in a row.
Serious credentials mean serious food, and at 1 North Belmont you'll find classic French dishes side by side with ones that reflect a less traditional, more contemporary take on French cuisine.
I have to confess: I've never had dinner at 1 North Belmont. It's so expensive, there's never been an occasion quite special enough to lay down a few hundred bucks for a meal. I've wanted to go, I've proposed to go, I've pleaded to go. No dice. Didn't happen.
Then the restaurant started serving lunch, and suddenly I can afford to find out for myself what all the fuss is about.
It's a golden cave filled with fancy chairs and big painted panels on the walls, along with a plethora of smaller paintings in gilt frames. White tablecloths, lots of silverware and numerous glasses alert you that dining will be a leisurely pleasure and the silent wait staff will always be at your elbow even before you realize you need them.
There are no hors d'oeuvres at lunch, which is a shame, because I would love to have a few little tastes from the dinner menu. Fortunately some dinner items have been reimagined for earlier in the day.
The duck confit has been transformed into a smoky duck barbecue, wrapped in an airy puff pastry. Traditional cole slaw is reinterpreted as red cabbage, sautAced and sweetened with tiny diced apples and raisins. Together they resemble a barbecue you might be served at Buckingham Palace to make you, the American, feel more comfortable. It's a contrast between hearty and delicate, savory and sweet, with each bite melting effortlessly from fork to mouth until a completely bare plate startles you.
The tartare de Thon masquerades during the day as a sashimi-grade ahi tuna, roughly chopped into small, meaty chunks and piled on top of each other in a wide, low column. On the side there's a creamy remoulade sauce spiked with wasabi, as well as a small green salad.
Pommes frites accompany all lunches, it seems, in a silver cone lined with a twist of white paper, but there aren't enough of them and they could be better: Duck fat for frying is right next door at the Belmont Butchery. I like my frites thin and deep brown, but maybe they don't want me hogging a bar stool and eating them with wine and nothing else in the future. I can understand that.
Soups are limited to two choices, but they're good ones. A hot, tomato-y bisque, fragrant with sherry, is stuffed with seafood. The cold vichyssoise is traditional potato and leek, but ultrasmooth and sprinkled with a hay of fried leek slivers that snap and crunch unexpectedly. Excellent bread, doled out a piece at a time, but replenished just as you finish the last bite, balances and augments the flavor of every dish.
An outstanding pear sorbet — so cold, so intensely flavored that it tastes like pure, frozen pear essence — dominates a pair of sorbets so completely that the other one, a mixed berry, can't keep up. Its unfortunate seeds don't help. Also good is the fruit tart, comprised of a homemade crust filled with chunks of strawberries, blackberries and kiwi lapped by a wide pool of crA"me anglaise.
Even at lunch, 1 North Belmont is a special-occasion kind of place. It's the perfect spot to take a favorite relative, a valued client or just about anybody else you'd like to impress. Or, take yourself. You deserve it, and besides, you know you want to. Just send me your regards with a scoop of pear sorbet on the side. S
1 North Belmont Restaurant
1 N. Belmont Ave.
Lunch: Monday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; Dinner: 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.