Beau Nash is a Crescent Court bauble, a patinated little room enclosed in glass and attached to a stylish bar planked with marble and squirted with brass. Tightly arranged works of art embroider the walls. Requisite white cloths hang from the tables.
The main dining room, walled on one side in glass, invites a healthy leer into an adjoining courtyard plumbed with fountain nozzles that squirt streams of water among lush greenery and flowers.
Opened in 1986, Beau Nash is named for 18th-century bon vivant Richard Beau Nash: a dandy, a coxcomb, an epicure who raked in riches mostly by gambling before he became master of ceremonies at Bath, a city in southwest England known for its hot springs. In this position, Nash threw balls of such monumental splendor that when he died a pauper in 1762 (the rubes of Bath outlawed gambling in 1745), the town buried him in pomp at Bath Abbey anyway.
Good roots, this. And I was pondering these foundations while glossing over Beau Nash's menu when over the sound system came a barely recognizable song; a blast from the past, an oldie but goodie, a tune most certainly not heard at Bath Abbey. It was "Head" by Prince from Dirty Mind.
This was unexpected. English madrigals? Maybe. But "Head"? In all fairness to Beau Nash, they may have been paying tribute to Prince's uncanny prescience. "Head" is a poignant song about marital ambivalence and a stained dress written when Monica Lewinsky was entering grade school. Tyrants are right to persecute the poets first.
Still, this isn't to take away from the restaurant (we heard a lot of other Prince songs before the night was over, though none as racy as "Head"). It's still a stylish haunt, and it infects its food with enough visual style to kill.
Smoked salmon timbale (a high-sided, drum-shaped mold) is a precious menu installation: a sculpture you dread to pierce with a fork, lest the thing cave in on itself and you're exposed as a culinary idiot before the smiling gaze of your server. Like any good sculpture or cinder-block edifice, this little appetizer is composed of layers: a layer of chopped salmon on a layer of chopped salmon, with lemon crème fraîche, spinach and caviar sandwiched in the middle. This pink belfry with a white midriff is mounted on a loose carpet of chopped egg. Good placement. The salmon is cool, clean, moist and tacky, and the delicately smoked fish melds exquisitely with that center stripe, giving it a briny edge and a creaminess it wouldn't otherwise possess. The dish is then nudged onto a tuft of sprouts, well-dressed, with a dispersal of halved grape tomatoes that were unfortunately hard and under-ripe. As an option, this host of ingredients can be greedily smeared on slices of freshly crisp grilled toast.
Grilled corn and smoked chicken soup is articulate, too, only this warm wash gets its diction from a dust storm of black pepper that forces you to cough out its praises instead of clearly enunciating them. The clean broth also had an exhilarating ghost of smoke from a flurry of grilled corn kernels, and it floated chunks of tomato, avocado and moist chicken, all dodging the drifting crisp tortilla strips. This is a delicious soup that works as well in summer as it might in winter.
Pan-fried crab cakes were less rewarding. They were good, but not necessarily what you would expect from a place with such pedigree. Two dark brown little patties are floated on a mattress of sweet corn kernels and bits of tomato. The cake exterior is brittle, with a darkness that almost renders the fried coating bitter. Inside, the crab is moist but not with the rich sweetness you might expect. Though they were fine, these cakes are nothing dazzling or gripping, just solid.
Rosemary-scented grilled half chicken (a mouthful, however it gets in there) was served in a large white bowl of light herb-spiked chicken glacé. In this clean, vivid fluid was a littering of oven-roasted carrots, squash, zucchini, onion and potato and sprigs of rosemary providing the scent. The browned chicken was juicy and clean, though it hungered for more seasoning. Still, this was a well-tended bowl.
Poached turbot was also a well-tended bowl, maybe too well-tended. Square folds of white fish were neatly draped over a pinch of wilted red chard. Strewn around this raised entrée altar in the center of the bowl were fava beans, white carrots and these peculiar yellow globes that looked like melon balls. They weren't. They were potatoes stained with saffron. Despite the artistic potential of doing such a clever thing to a simple spud, they were hard and undercooked.
The turbot fell from grace as well. The sheets, visually as elegant as cream velvet, were rubbery, cold (strange, because the chard beneath them was warm), bland and spongy. It had all the markings of a piece of flesh that had previously been frozen.
But Beau Nash isn't all froufrou high jinks. This hotel outlet serves burgers at lunch, thick ones served on blond buns with a choice of cheeses. They arrive with two little toadstool columns of segmented pickles: deli dill and sweet. Plus, the burger is shuttled with a saucer holding little single-serving bottles of ketchup, Dijon mustard and mayonnaise, short-circuiting the embarrassment of overshooting your burger with a ketchup spurt from a typical dispenser. Ordered medium rare, our patty arrived with an interior that looked like a swatch of gray flannel. No rosy crimson. No red juice. Not quite parched (when squeezed hard there was a little clear juice), the meat lacked that gush of richness you expect to find in a really decadent burger at a restaurant named for a bon vivant. Perhaps to compensate, there was a lavish dike of crisp seasoned fries nudged next to that burger, which made it hard to find the tomato slices.
Still, lunch at Beau Nash often takes on the elegance of dinner, even if the menu labels go downscale. Soft-shell crab po' boy, hardly casual at 17 bucks, was a dramatic display of food striking a menacing pose. Stuffed backward into an open-face roll smeared with tartar sauce, the crab beast spilled out of its stunted hoagie with its claws lurching forward as if to take an aggressive swipe at a french fry. Though a little greasy and soggy, the crab was moist and flavorful. Pieces of tomato helped anchor it in the po' boy genre while a pair of oddly clever sides kicked it over the tracks into the exclusive neighborhood it seeks. French fries were arranged in a vertical sheaf, fused together at the bottom to help them stand up straight. Coleslaw was packed into a hollowed onion half that was battered and fried, making it look like a fingerbowl rendered from a midget coconut. This is clever stuff.
We thought dessert would be clever, too, or at least as intriguing as it sounded. The meringue with stone fruits was a little hard to figure out. A disc of meringue held down the center of the plate and held up a sugar cookie and a bracingly pert scoop of delicious apricot sorbet. Around this was a puddle of pink fruit sauce and a few measly strips of fruit. The "stone fruits" were sparse and the meringue inconsequential, sort of nullifying the title of the dish.
Beau Nash is directed by Jeff Moschetti, a refugee from San Francisco who studied at the California Culinary Academy and worked with Dean Fearing at The Mansion before he was installed at the Crescent in March of last year. And he shows a lot of skill and daring across the menus with which he fiddles, though maybe not as much as those who program the sound system.
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