As a dedicated frequenter of restaurants, I have tremendous respect for the industry’s entrepreneurs: The business is brutally competitive, suffers razor-thin margins and inhabits a fickle market that favors the predictable over the innovative. So give credit to the audacity of Ruta Laukien, who left a lucrative career in investment banking to open Liquid Art House, a novel combination of fine-dining restaurant and art gallery in Back Bay. She may be a novice restaurateur, but she was smart enough to hire Rachel Klein, a veteran chef whose penchant for modernist-leaning, exquisitely plated food was honed at bygone restaurants like OM and Asana.
Typical of Klein’s pretty plates is a farmer’s market salad ($17) that architecturally arranges red quinoa, sweet peas, pickled and charred mushroom, feta and thin slices of fatty, intense Mangalitsa ham in a semi-circle on the far side of a mostly empty plate. Asparagus ($17) is sauced with a bit of mayo-like truffle emulsion, showered with fine romano and fresh tarragon and crowned by a poached egg niftily jacketed in a crisp bread-crumb coating. Hamachi crudo ($17) is presented with almost Japanese austerity, its slips of raw yellowtail curled around papaya, black garlic, smoky lemon and ginger, each of its few bites unfolding new flavors. Handmade dumplings offer a lovely mid-course with echoes of the owner’s and chef’s Eastern European heritage, as in a row of small cylindrical dumplings ($16 half-order, $24 full) filled with Lithuanian farmer’s cheese, their tenderly chewy mildness given perfect, piquant contrast by Brussels sprout leaves, Asian pear and grain mustard.
Entrees similarly bedeck costly central ingredients in elegant array, like roasted local scallops ($35) connected by painterly smears of sunny pomegranate gastrique and creamy labneh, spiced curry-like with vadouvan. Australian lamb loin ($39) largely lets the flavor of its all-natural meat shine in three plump, rare medallions barely sauced with roasted grapes alongside potato puree, green olives and fresh mint leaves. Customers resistant to the eye-catching charms of tweezer food can order more conventional proteins like a simply grilled 10-ounce prime, boutique-ranch skirt steak ($38) or a fabulous crisp-skinned rendition of duck confit ($17)—though the kitchen can’t resist tarting up that plate with Medjool dates, aioli and blue cheese. A French rotisserie produces an extraordinary rotisserie Green Circle half-chicken ($25), a heritage breed raised on vegetable scraps from five-star restaurants. It’s an amazing bird, with even its breast meat tender, rich and almost faintly gamy; the accompanying chicken jus is likewise exceptional. As these plainer dishes are a la carte, you’ll need a side or two, like Jack’s Mămăligă ($8), a soft-polenta-like corn porridge infused with honey and sour cream and flecked with cubes of brynza, a creamy, tangy sheep’s-milk cheese—another homey nod to Eastern Europe.
Brilliant pastry chef Giselle Miller’s desserts alternate between mad-scientist creations, like a pastel-pretty Thai young coconut semifreddo ($14) atop crumbled tres leches cake with lemon verbena ice cream and coconut lime snow, and more sedate French-inspired classics, like dark cocoa-nib chocolate soufflé with peppermint anglaise ($16), which I imagine is what Girl Scout Thin Mints taste like in heaven.
An accumulation of fine details helps justify the steep prices, like terrific complimentary breads, including a Parker House roll that rivals the original, accented by superb cultured butter and sea salt. The cocktail program is ambitious and carefully executed, with original, complexly flavored cocktails like the Armada ($15), combining the Irish moonshine poitín with syrupy Pedro Ximnéz sherry, lemon, hawthorn-fruit essence and celery bitters. Wines by the glass are interesting and decently priced (mostly $10-$17), a good cheese plate is offered ($6 for one cut, $16 for three, $26 for five), and the check arrives with a plate of winsome little macarons. The circular bar is stunning, dominated by a dramatic Murano glass chandelier. With few exceptions, the art provides a lovely, serene backdrop to the dining rooms. But service sometimes undershoots the price point, as when a request for sequencing of a large order is unfulfilled by the kitchen, resulting in a pile of dishes awkwardly arriving at once, unnoted by the server. The occasional kitschy artist or less-than-polished waiter aside, both gallery and restaurant are probably too esoteric and pricey for most middlebrow patrons. But for aesthetes who can appreciate and afford its determinedly modern, exquisitely wrought creations, Liquid Art House offers a singular experience.
-Rohan duck confit
-Lithuanian farmer’s cheese dumplings
-Australian lamb loin
-Green Circle half-chicken
-Thai young coconut semifreddo
Hours: Sun.-Wed., 5-10 pm, bar till midnight; Thu.-Sat., 5-11 pm, bar till 1 am
Parking: Valet, street, validated parking in nearby garage
Liquor: Full license
Liquid Art House 100 Arlington St., Boston (617-457-8130) liquidarthouse.com