Meritage, the iconic Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star restaurant at the Five-Star Boston Harbor Hotel, has long been the place to dine in the Hub, especially for oenophiles. After a three-month reboot, the first since it opened in 2002, the new Meritage Restaurant + Wine Bar reopened in April with a brand new look and fresh spin on its menu. We spoke with chef Daniel Bruce, who has been at the culinary helm of the hotel for the last 26 years and is also the mastermind behind the annual Boston Wine Festival. He told us about the dining room changes, his epicurean inspirations and his favorite places to eat around the city.
You have introduced a new vineyard-to-table menu concept at Meritage. Could you explain what that means?
Vineyard-to-table is, in essence, the ability I have to work with vintners from around the world to enhance the Meritage offerings and to deepen the connection between wine and food, which has been a long-time passion for me. I have been fortunate enough to establish very close relationships with winery owners and winemakers. At Meritage, I am presenting products, in addition to the wines we serve, that come from wineries. For example, each month we feature select wines by the glass. In addition, we offer olive oil for our bread service produced at those wineries. We are working with another winery to produce cabernet barrel wood-smoked sea salt. I have guinea hens being raised between rows of zinfandel vines in Napa, which I will have on the menu at the end of May. I am working with several others growing different vegetables, herbs and specialty items at their wineries to supplement what I already purchase from local farmers.
What will people find surprising when they go to your newly redesigned restaurant?
The bar and dining room display over 1,000 bottles of wine under proper refrigeration. The walls are American oak (what some wineries use to barrel age wines). Mirrors reflect the beautiful view of the harbor. The tables are topped with Italian white linen to set off the food and wine. The room has been reconfigured to include two private dining rooms (Napa with 16 seats and Sonoma with 50).
What inspires you?
I have always been inspired by the interplay of wine and food. I begin with the wine, understanding the flavors, nuances and characteristics of the wine is critical and has become my launching pad to create dishes to complement both the wine and food. The development of long lasting relationships with winemakers through the Boston Wine Festival and their pride in the fusion I create between the wine and food confirms the value of that philosophy and process.
You’ve been at the Boston Harbor Hotel for more than 25 years, which must be some sort of record. What keeps you happy and excited about being there?
It has gone by so quickly. I have been very challenged over the years. There are many outlets for my creativity, from Meritage, the [Rowes Wharf] Sea Grille, private events, summer series, the Rowes Wharf Bar, as well as the wine festival, both here in Boston and those that I ran in Washington D.C., New Orleans and Berkeley in conjunction with the launching of two other Meritages. I am very proud of my team and it has become like family to me. I always am excited about being here, and have been given an incredible amount of freedom over the years to deliver the best we can.
What are you most excited about in the Boston food scene?
The opening of so many good restaurants is remarkable. It has marked Boston as one of the top culinary destinations in the world.
When you go out, where do you like to go?
I love to cook at home on my day off and it’s nice when my wife, Julianna, cooks for me. We enjoy trying all the new venues. But my favorite restaurant in Boston is Sorellina.
What’s one thing you always tell first-time visitors to Boston?
The fish and seafood are the best available anywhere.
Name a destination you’ve never been to but would like to visit.
Bora Bora. I have always been fascinated with food and ingredients from the region and I have always been a fan of seafood. Also I hear it is absolutely stunning. It would be an exotic getaway for my wife and me.