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New England Regional | Tastes and Tables

Freshly French

Dinner at Lumière brightens up a winter night.

January-February 2007

Chef Michael Leviton is sometimes called a perfectionist. “Not true; I don’t think perfection is attainable,” he explains. “That being said, I do want things to be very, very good—every single day.” And so they are. Rarely is a restaurant as seamless—from the spare, but warm, whiteness of its interior to the diamond-fine clarity of its French fare—as Lumière, Leviton’s fiefdom.

The clean lines shine, along with the food, in Lumière’s elegant dining room.
Photograph courtesy of Lumière

 

The walls are bare but for a long strip of mirror that reflects the candle-lit tables. White muslin hangs like low-flying clouds from the ceiling, along with a few copper-mesh lamps, which give the restaurant an appealing glow—especially on a cold, windy night. (Lumière, which sits across the street from the West Newton Cinema, means “light” in French; the name also pays homage to the Lumière brothers, pioneer filmmakers in the late 1800s.)

Leviton and his then-wife opened the restaurant in 1999, shooting for “a sophisticated little two-star downtown New York restaurant” in the Boston suburbs. “Back then, people had a lot of money,” he adds, and they spent it on things like truffle vinaigrette and foie gras—neither of which is now on the menu. The dressing he dismissed as “laboratory-created perfume.” And the luxury liver was nixed after a trip to the relatively humane Niman Ranch hog farm in Iowa. “I saw happy pigs running around in the field,” Leviton says, “and it occurred to me that a goose will naturally fatten itself, but is not going to fatten itself so much that its liver weighs a pound and a half.”

These days, his constantly evolving menu reflects what is freshest, local—and naturally raised. A Long Island-bred duck was turned into a pistachio-laced terrine with caramelized apple mustard, parsley salad, and sourdough toast points ($10). The soup of the day ($10), which featured heirloom “Georgia candy roaster squash” spiced simply with cinnamon and nutmeg and dashed with a little cream, was a pure, earthy essence.

The Moroccan chicken with roasted peppers and black olives ($24) fell off the bone, mingling with the broth-soaked couscous and just the right amount of salt. And the tender Northeast Family Farms hanger steak ($30) rested on a mélange of roasted carrots, capers, pine nuts, and a few raisins. Each dish was stylishly arrayed on plain white plates alongside a basket of hot, house-made white bread (so good that we asked for more). “The fundamental aesthetic of many cuisines, if not all,” Leviton says, “is that you want something simple and pure and in harmony with the season, so that’s what I try to do.” With more than 80 wines on the menu, some pairings are recommended: the Spanish Artazuri went beautifully with the stewed chicken.

Lumière
1293 Washington Street
West Newton
617-244-9199
www.lumiererestaurant.com
Open daily for dinner.
Reservations recommended.

For dessert, we’d suggest the buttermilk panna cotta with dried-fruit maple compote ($8) for its subtle sweetness and flawless texture. The caramelized apple tart, with small cubes of soft, sugary apples and raisins atop chewy pastry, was a clear nod to late fall, and was served with a dreamy cinnamon ice cream ($9).

“If I had my choice,” Leviton says of the food he loves, “I’d drop myself in the south of France and eat there the rest of my life—with occasional forays into Southeast Asia.” Maybe this winter we’ll just travel back to West Newton.

~N.P.B.