If you’ve ever walked into a Boston restaurant and had no idea what it was about from the look of the place, you’re not alone. There’s no such confusion on entering Cultivar, the new fine-dining establishment in the Ames Hotel from veteran chef Mary Dumont (ex-Harvest). Her worship of the fruits of the earth is evident everywhere, from the moss-ball garden hanging in the dining room rafters to the hydroponic garden-in-a-shipping-container on the patio, which generates crates full of fresh produce every week. Alongside chef de cuisine Brian Young, she applies that bounty to plate after Instagrammable plate here, showering them with headily fragrant fresh herbs, sharply flavored microgreens and pretty edible flowers.
That whiff of the garden appears immediately on the complimentary board of terrific rolls with a schmear of cultivated butter dusted with a streak of anise-scented fennel pollen. Elegant, subtle crudos—Italian-inspired dishes of lightly dressed raw fish—get individual verdant accents: spring garlic and pea greens in the Arctic char ($15), English peas and nasturtiums in the mild Jonah crab ($15), Southeast Asian coconut, cilantro, citrus and lemongrass in the albacore tuna ($15). Vivid greens provide the centerpieces of sizeable appetizers like strawberries and prosciutto ($14), a big salad of tender green and white asparagus and lily-pad-shaped miner’s lettuce dotted with verjus-pickled strawberries and a few salty strips of prosciutto. The meatier plate of octopus a la plancha ($18), a skillfully tendercooked big tentacle, gets lovely uplift and balance from summer squashes and fruit, plus acid and brine from yuzu kosho and green-olive crema. In the case of snail toast ($18) with country ham, the vegetal counterweight to the umami intensity is provided by whole and pureed chickpeas plus garlic and Pernod.
Pastas in generous portions offer significantly more richness. Nettle bucatini ($16 half/$28 full) gets more color than pepperiness from the wild green that tints its hollow strands of pasta, but that might reflect the depth of the lamb neck sugo (actually a ragù) and thick dollop of sheep’s milk yogurt crowned with mint and pecorino that sauces it. Squid ink messinesi ($17/$30) is similarly intense, its glossy ebony ribbons loaded with tender, big mahogany clams, squid and lobster, with sea beans for crunch and confit tomato for sweet tang. More subtle is the rabbit mortadella agnolotti ($17/$30), a smaller dish filled with a fantastic, meltingly tender variant of the great, fatty Italian lunchmeat, sitting in a pool of superb, lemony rabbit consomme and adorned with shreds of cured egg yolk. Where Dumont’s other pastas shout lustily, this one grabs attention with a whisper.
Entrees take big proteins and lavish them with picturesque platings, silken sauces and choice little vegetables. A hefty filet of striped bass ($30) sits atop pan-browned herb gnocchi, fresh fiddleheads and favas, a scoop of ocean-redolent caviar and a creamy chamomile beurre blanc. The substantial, beautifully roasted whole chicken for two ($48) leaves the claws on, fills the white-meat spaces with herby, fine-textured bread stuffing, flanks it with a mess of marsala-braised wild mushrooms, creamy polenta and caramel-toned jus, and showers everything with snipped fresh herbs. Only braised pork cheeks pressé ($28) misses the mark. Gaining an unpleasant grainy/ rubbery texture under pressure, it’s incongruously paired with a refined Bordelaise sauce.
In addition to his fine savory breads, pastry chef Robert Gonzalez produces beautifully modern desserts, many resembling miniature skylines of geometric solids; he also exploits exquisite local produce, as in his wild blueberry semifreddo ($12) with huckleberry granita and Sambuca-soaked black pluots. Beverage director Dan Lynch likewise takes cues from the herbarium for the stellar bar program, lacing his specialty cocktail list with small-producer, floral backyard gins, as in his Improved Gin-Gen ($14) of genever, gin, maraschino liqueur, absinthe and bitters, served over a big ice ball. Wine director Nick Daddona’s list shows admirable range, with usefully modest options like a pleasantly off-dry 2015 Château Belá riesling ($45) from Slovakia, the more familiarly bracing Provençal charms of a 2016 Domaine du Bagnol cassis blanc marsanne rosé ($68) and the silky, legless refinement of a 2001 Domaine Couly-Dutheil Clos de l’Echo chinon rouge ($85). Expense-account diners can find their trophy bottles here, but we mere mortals can find plenty to sensibly accompany a weeknight dinner.
The horticultural theme extends to the restaurant’s beech leaf logo, the live-edge wood of the bar and the chandeliers’ evocation of winterbare trees. Service in the 88-seat dining room is uniformly on-point and polished, while noise levels are comfortable for conversation even at peak hours. The roomy 55-seat patio has an uncommonly urban edge for Boston outdoor dining, surrounded as it is by historic old buildings and modern glass-cube skyscrapers at the busy intersection of the Financial District, Downtown Crossing and Government Center. In all, Dumont has accomplished a remarkable feat in her first independent outing: breathing life and fire into the shopworn cliche that is farm-to-table. As it happens, transplanting a carefully cultivated slice of the country into a sophisticated hotel-restaurant setting turns out to be a really, really good idea. ◆
Arctic char crudo
Albacore tuna crudo
Squid ink messinesi
Rabbit mortadella agnolotti
Whole roast chicken
Wild blueberry semifreddo
Cultivar, Ames Hotel, 1 Court St., Boston (617-979-8203) cultivarboston.com Hours: Dinner, daily, 5-10 pm, bar till 1 am; lunch, Mon.-Fri., 11:30 am-2 pm; brunch, Sat.-Sun., 11 am-2 pm Reservations: Yes Parking: Valet, nearby private garages Liquor: Full bar