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Entries in French (4)

Friday
Oct052012

Petit Robert Central  

Petit Robert Central

101 Arch Street (Enter at 34 Summer Street)
Boston MA 02110


617-737-1777

When you hear (Boston’s) Downtown Crossing….what comes to mind? 

Having worked in Boston for years, I think of Jordan Marsh and Filenes (when Filene’s Basement meant something) on Summer Street.  Holiday shopping was always a bit of a (last minute – don’t tell anyone) affair enabled by the area.  Sadly, Jordan Marsh is now Macys (on the first floor – the upper floors are a massive high end data center) and the Filenes building is literally a façade…on the verge of greatness.

The truth is Downtown Crossing is on an upswing.  Mayor Thomas M Menino has made the area a priority, pumping over $13M is improvements including LED street signs, repairs to crumbling sidewalks, and newly paved roads, part of a broader plan to revitalize the long-neglected area. 

Back in the day many a meeting was held at 101 Arch, in a second floor restaurant known as Dakotas.  Like so many businesses, it gave way to another restaurant, Vinalia.  While each were interesting, I always found each of them rather loud with just OK food.

A recent meeting afforded the opportunity to drop in at lunchtime, to a completely updated two year old  French bistro Petit Robert Central at the top of the escalator off Summer Street.

The first thing you notice is the feeling of openness.  HGTV’s designer Taniya Nayak   (also Restaurant Impossible) gets a big GREEN LIGHT from me on this design.  While the feeling is openness due to the uninterrupted sightlines to the windows, there are a number of smaller areas so you never feel like you are eating in an airplane hangar.

The food is styled by a Master Chef of France, Chef Jacky Robert.  He was chef of Maison Robert, Ernie’s in San Francisco, and of Locke-Ober Cafe. In partnership with Loic Le Garrec the pair have opened five Petite Robert establishments.

The lunch menu was varied with a nice selection of traditional and more continental offerings.

We both had the Crab and Lobster Bisque (crab meat, cream sherry, lobster bisque and lemon.)  While the amount of meat was to the thrifty side, the bisque was fabulous.  What surprised us was how light the bisque was…and filling.  The truth is we both commented how the bisque alone would have been a more than sufficient lunch.

My friend had the Central BLT.  “I normally wouldn’t have a BLT out, but it sounded good,” commented my buddy.  I noticed he finished every crumb.

As I was eyeing the BLT, and not wanting to disappoint the readers by duplicating, I asked for an alternative suggestion.  Our server immediately suggested the Chicken Schnitzel Sandwich, a huge affair as it turned out.  Buttermilk and flour encrusted chicken breast, Muenster, caper butter, and an over easy egg on an onion roll.  Suffice to say I skipped dinner.

With the holiday season just around the corner, if your travels have you around Downtown Crossing, check out Petit Robert Central.

Hours                          

Monday-Thursday          11AM-10PM
Friday                          11AM-11PM
Saturday                       5PM-11PM

 

Petit Robert Central gets a GREEN LIGHT…go and enjoy.

About the RAG scale:

       Green Light – Go and enjoy

       Amber Light – Use caution

       Red Light – Save your time and money

Friday
Jul132012

L'Espalier

L’Espalier

774 Boylston St
Boston MA 02199

617.262.3023

The enormously talented and ever witty Jon McGrath once commented on a Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse review, $700 for three people? Yikes. I’ll take the money and feed my family of five for a couple months, instead of blowing it on one meal. Thanks for the review, Gary, but I’ll just enjoy this one through you vicariously. I think you may need a new category for “Go and enjoy if you’ve got money to burn.””  Fasten your seatbelt, Jon. L’Espalier is by far the most expensive restaurant I’ve ever been in. And in a word, it is simply “Amazing.”

It didn’t start out that way. Having some fundamentally cheap genes, the daily email from Rue La La is always fun.  Rue La La is an “invitation-only destination for a life of style. Where Members delight in discovering private sale Boutiques that open daily – and stay open only for a short time.”  While the marketing spin is always fun, the mailings always come across to me like “clearance.”

So it was fun when they listed a $200 ten course tasting menu for $160. “We’re indulging in the exquisite tastes of New England and France with a decadent feast at one of Boston’s most celebrated restaurants.”  A buddy of mine lives large, and was a little down in the dumps. What a great way to bring someone out of the depths of despair!

Getting to L’Espalier required a trip down Newbury Street.

The entrance is a fairly low, key and elegant affair with no parking. Parking in the Pru, the short walk gave me plenty of time to contemplate the evening.

Entering the restaurant is actually through a small elevator lobby. In the lobby was a youthful gatekeeper, someone who would never allow the lumpenproletariat access. Impeccably dressed, she wouldn’t allow me to pass until the reservation was confirmed.

This was where my first observation around the service obsession of this restaurant got captured. Ms. Gatekeeper insisted on pressing the elevator buttons. To be clear, she didn’t so this in a controlling manner. There was no question she did this so my fingers wouldn’t be reduced to the level of touching buttons. (Or it could be they didn’t want my grimy hands on their pristine buttons, though it didn’t seem that way.)

Since I was a little early, my arrival on the third floor was met with a decision…sit in the “Salon” and wait, or be seated at the table.

Well, frankly, my first choice was the restroom. Normally I don’t cover restrooms in my posts. L’Espalier is different. You have to use their restroom. First, they won’t let you touch the door. Every time I went near the door discreetly labeled “WC” a staff member bolted to the door and opened it. As a full sized male, I’m pretty sure I could open the door almost as easily as the petite young woman opening it the first time for me. And this wasn’t a restroom attendant; this was a female staff member holding the door for me. No $$ were spared on the fixtures and the towels were real towels…

The Salon is a smallish waiting area aside the main dining room. It has a variety of tight seating, the ideal place to have a cocktail and prepare for a feast.

The main dining room, with seating for around 90, is made up of a variety of private tables where you never get the sense the people at the next table are waiting on your words. With the exception of a nearby young couple, the majority of the diners appear to be, well, “old money.”  Did I say Boston Brahmin?  No, and I wouldn’t be surprised.

The obsession with my not touching things continued at dinner. While we had signed up for the 10 course Chef’s Tasting Menu, I lost track of the courses with the multiple opening “gifts” from the chef, and different kinds of dessert. After every course, glasses were swept away with silverware changes to match.

The chef and proprietor is the award winning Frank McClelland. You might remember him as a partner & chef in Sel de la Terre (located at the same address in Boston.)

Most of the night, the details were handled by Louis Risoli, whose description from the website is perfect, “Mâitre d’ hotel and Fromager Louis Risoli instills the philosophy of “chasing perfection” into the front of the house by way of his diligent and meticulous orchestration of L’Espalier’s three dining rooms. In doing so, Risoli ensures a dining experience that far surpasses guests’ expectations night after night.” 

And yes, there was food. Small portions, perfectly matched to the wine.  There was something for everyone:

 

  • Apple Street Farm Egg Custard with Siberian Sturgeon Caviar

  • Wellfleet oyster with samphire, bone marrow, and vermouth cream

  • Casco Bay lobster with white asparagus and vanilla, bitter almond and brown butter

  • Roasted Hudson valley foie gras with macerated ning cherries, anise-sesame feuille de brick, smokes cacao milk and walnut butter

 

Intermezzo

 

  • Slow poached Nova Scotia halibut with Apple Street Farm kohlrabi and white turnips, marigold and geranium

  • Veal sirloin and roasted tomato, burrata, white anchovy and roasted garlic puree

  • Tasting of Lovejoy Brooks Farms lamb with anise and farm herbed sausage; roasted figs, caramelized fennel and olive oil puree

  • Grand Fromage

  • Grand Dessert Tasting

 Nitrogen Chilled Dessert

I’m not good enough to remember all this, so had to refer to the special card prepared for you as a remembrance. Heck, the Cheese gets its own menu.

Did I mention they do tableside science?  I have never been in a restaurant where liquid nitrogen is brought to the table to freeze fruit for immediate consumption. Un-freaking believable.

While the portions were generally small, we both protested when leaving as we were presented with a final gift from the pastry chef.

What is amazing about experiencing a dinner like this is the total absorption in the event, the total attention to detail paid by the staff, and the wide array of new & unique flavors experienced.

As it was the mid-week during summertime, we both went tie-less with sport jacket or suit. The website says, “Jacket and tie most comfortable, but not required.”

Total bill for the evening?  An equally amazing wallet draining $900 with tip, reduced by $80 due to our Rue La La coupon.  This includes $260 for the accompanying wine flight and $30 for three opening beverages. I find it unbelievably hard to justify $900 for two and yet share for the impeccable service and array of flavors it may actually be a good value.

L’Espalier is clearly not a daily diner kind of place, or a first date choice (you would never be able to repeat the stature.)  It’s a place for the rare celebration, the new job, the big promotion, or the grandkids graduating Harvard prepared to healthily contribute to your personal endowment.

As Robin Leach says, “Champagne wishes and caviar dreams.”

Hours                          

Lunch:

Monday - Friday, 11:30am - 2:30pm
Saturday & Sunday 12 noon - 1:45pm

Dinner:

Daily 5:30-10:30pm

Tea:

Saturdays & Sundays 1:30pm - 3:00pm

Salon:

Cocktails & small bites, Sunday - Thursday 5pm-10:30pm; Friday & Saturday 5pm - 11:30pm

L’Espalier gets a GREEN LIGHT…go and enjoy.

About the RAG scale:

       Green Light – Go and enjoy

       Amber Light – Use caution

       Red Light – Save your time and money

 

Friday
Dec092011

Sel de la Terre

Sel de la Terre

1245 Worcester Street
(Within the Natick Mall, facing Speen Street, between Neiman Marcus & Nordstrom.)
Natick, MA 01760

(508) 650-1800

It’s the holidays. Time to go out in the most miserable weather New England can muster, and spend until your credit card cries. Or, you can do like I do and comparison shop from the comfort of my home and have the product wrapped and delivered.

If you like heading out for a “big ole’ shop”, it’s easy to work up an appetite. At the upscale Natick Mall (yes, they’ve dropped the “Collection” from their name and gone back to what everyone still called it anyway) they have a bunch of restaurants in and around the place, with one being visited on a recent chilly night.

Sel de la Terre (Salt of the Earth) is one of three locations (Natick, Back Bay, Long Wharf) for this eleven year old chain. I parked (for no charge) in the underground garage and took the Nordstrom elevator to the ground level. A swift walk through Norstrom and I was staring at Sel de la Terre.

I “Checked In” on Foursquare and was quickly informed I could get Rosemary Pommes Frites with my meal. Nice!

You enter a large bar area. The place is tastefully decorated, and the bartender quickly served our party of three. After enjoying an adult beverage, we walked over to the main dining area and were quickly seated without reservation.

The dining area was made up primarily of couples having wordless conversations. There were the “Get a Room” couple in the corner area, the “Get out of the Room” unhappy couple and the grandparents. No matter, our booth afforded a great opportunity for conversation without anyone feeling uncomfortable.

Each Sel da le Terre kitchen is chef driven, with an emphasis on New England.

We had some simple appetizers, including a complex mushroom soup with enjoyable flavors new to me. The dinner menu was interesting and simple at the same time. We went with a roasted chicken, cod with toaster farro, and a fluke special. Each was very good.

The Rosemary Pommes Frites were some pretty tasty French Fries, and went reasonably well with our meals.

Desert consisted of some cappuccino drinks and a pumpkin cheesecake, declared so so.

Overall, we had high expectations for Sel da la Terre as a French restaurant. It’s a fine restaurant, and we all left after an enjoyable meal. So if you are at the mall, and want to enjoy some French cooking, it is a good alternative. Don’t expect a unique high end French meal, or you’ll be disappointed.

Hours

Tuesday - Saturday 11am-10pm
Sunday - Monday 11am-9pm

Sel de la Terre gets a GREEN LIGHT…go and enjoy.

About the RAG scale:

       Green Light – Go and enjoy

       Amber Light – Use caution

       Red Light – Save your time and money

Friday
Sep022011

Les Zygomates

Les Zygomates

129 South Street
Boston, MA 02111

617.542.5108

I was fortunate enough to make it to Paris one time in my life.  A business trip to London put me close, and a weekend allowed for a quick Eurostar Chunnel Paris day trip.

We never really got to sample a French bistro, as running to see the real Mona Lisa at the Musée du Louvre, the river Siene, Notre Dame Cathedral, the Eiffel Tower, and…kept us very occupied for the jam packed day.  When I imagine an authentic French bistro, Les Zygomates comes to mind.

Les Zygomates (the muscles on your face giving you the ability to smile) is located in the Leather District in Boston, and is about as easy as a restaurant in The Front Window of Les ZygomatesBoston can be for a MetroWest diner.  It is one block away from South Station on South Street.  Follow the signs for South Station, making a left on to Essex.  The next left places you on South Street, and Les Zygomates is on your right.  If parking is a problem, we go past the restaurant and make the next right (Beach Street) and park in the Garage at Beach and Surface. 

Or take the commuter rail into Boston, and walk over to the restaurant from South Station.

The owner/chef is Owner/Chef: Ian Just, who (according to the website) “went to the prestigious École Superieure de Cuisine Française cooking school in Paris where he graduated at the top of his class. After graduation, he worked in the 2 star Michelin restaurant Michel Comby and at the famous brasserie, Aux Charpentier. He started working at Les Zygomates in Paris soon after it opened and became the Sous Chef under Chef/Owner Patrick Fray. He worked there nearly 3 years and then returned to Boston to cook at Maison Robert.” Ian has owned Les Zygomates Boston for 17 years.

The Entry has a European feelLes Zygomates offers a little something for everyone.  When you enter, you walk into one of their two bars.  Seating can be for quiet, romantic couple dinners, as the restaurant has a number of couples tables.  Larger groups are seated in one of the numerous “areas” within the restaurant, with each area having its own feel/vibe.

Their web presence says a lot about one dimension of their business, www.winebar.com.  They are known for their Tuesday wine tastings.  Their wine menu is extensive, with a mix of regions including France, of course.

They also have a small stage, and a jazz presence every night but Monday.

For a recent lunch, we went with the specials.  I had a smoked pork sandwich, and while the sandwich didn’t hold together for eating with hands the flavors and tastes were welcomed by me under the knife and fork.  My companion had a fish special, and enjoyed same.

We finished lunch with a cappuccino.  It was a hot day, and I prefer mine iced.  The waiter saw no reason not to provide me with a specially made iced cappuccino I found delightful.

Hours are:

Monday - Thursday 11:30 a.m. - 10:00 p.m.The Second Bar, showing the linen tablecloths
Friday 11:30 a.m. - 11:00 p.m.
Saturday 5:30 p.m. - 11:00 p.m.
Dinner Hours begin at 5:30 p.m.

So, for a trip to a Paris bistro, with a nice wine list and some nice jazz, head to Les Zygomates.

Les Zygomates

 gets a:

       Green Light – Go and enjoy

About the RAG scale:hen

       Green Light – Go and enjoy

       Amber Light – Use caution

       Red Light – Save your time and money