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Photo Credit: Nicole Popma

Asana
Mandarin Oriental, Boston, 776 Bolyston St., Boston | 617-535-8800 | mandarinoriental.com/boston/fine-dining/asana

Named for the sanskrit word for a yoga position, Asana found its culinary tranquility—or perhaps complacency—stirred when Rachel Klein took over the role of executive chef last March. Prior to Klein, who helmed Om’s kitchen at its peak and previously served as executive chef at Aura at the Seaport Boston Hotel, Asana offered safe, swanky hotel food—the equivalent of a fancified P.F. Chang’s for the masters of the universe staying at the Mandarin Oriental. There was the $50 steak, the $30 chicken, the $30 fish. The dishes, like the polished wood and drapery, reflected a generic Asian-ish sensibility. While those stand-bys remain, Klein has introduced an elegant, confident sense of place with a menu shifted to a more seasonal, local focus.

Take the outstanding New England clam chowder ($9), a tureen of minced clams, cream and chives with a subtly briney stock evocative of a satisfying day on the ocean. It’s an ideal lunch when paired with the exceptional bread basket, comprising rolls and crisps so airy that they melt like spun sugar in your mouth. The gnocchi ($15, appetizer; $27, entrée) was hearty winter fare, with tender potato pasta topped with salty gouda and duck confit, sweet diced apples and sautéed Brussels sprout leaves. Earthy and savory, it tasted delicious despite lacking the advertised duck cracklings. In contrast, the moulard duck ($33) looked beautiful—with a perfectly crackled scored breast surrounded by Brussels sprouts and a sweet date sauce—but was inedibly undercooked (although ordered medium rare).

On the other hand, the ridiculously priced Brandt strip steak ($46) arrived medium-rare as ordered, but the meat proved on the chewy side. Sizable at 14 ounces, the slab of rather bland beef lacked marbling and was a workout for the jaw. The black cod dish ($29)—a visually stunning canvas of white and red—embodied the best of Klein’s cooking. Tender cod and root vegetables floated in a dashi broth with red fish roe and a topping of sesame-chili kale crisps evoking nori. Like the chowder, it was reminiscent of the sea without being overbearing.

Not every seafood dish impressed as much. The hamachi sashimi ($16) overreached, the fish being overwhelmed by pickled shiitakes and spicy dried-cherry togarashi, while the ubiquitous deep-fried Brussels sprout leaves made this appetizer a study in superfluity. The most disappointing item was a yellowfin tuna melt with truffle cheese ($15) at lunch. The meat was so generic it could’ve been stuffed inside a blue plate special.

If you’re at Asana for lunch, pay a little more and get the gooey, luxurious, fork-and-knife short rib sandwich ($18), a slow-braised concoction served with caramelized onions over sourdough. Unlike some of the more truncated openers—the beet appetizer ($14), for example—the sandwich was very generously sized, and it arrived overlaid with arugula, negating the need for a vegetable starter.

Klein oversees the dining operations of Asana, M Bar, the Mandarin and its residences, a job that requires the juggling of competing demands. She has to meet the expectations of traveling CEOs looking to conspicuously consume a strip steak with a $18 cocktail (the Stately Romance, with its Earl Grey–infused gin, is a pricey treat). She has to appeal to food nerds hoping to see the flashes of brilliance she showed at Om, along with turning out more value-conscious, neighborhood fare for the after-work crowd. Asana’s food, under Klein, is better than ever. Yet the patches of unevenness on the menu suggests that a hotel restaurant, even a fine one, isn’t always the best setting for her gifts.

B.N.’s Picks
• Clam chowder
• Short rib sandwich
• Gnocchi
• Black cod

Hours: Lunch: Daily, 11:30 am-3 pm. Dinner: Sun.-Thu., 5:30-10 pm; Fri.-Sat., 5:30-11 pm
Reservations: Yes
Credit Cards: Yes
Handicapped Accessible: Yes
Parking: Street, Garage, Valet
Liquor: Full