French enough, without the fuss
French enough, without the fuss
Last fall, chef Jason Bond left Beacon Hill Bistro to open his own restaurant, Bondir, in Cambridge. We’ve heard a lot about Bondir since, with plaudits rolling in locally and nationally. But what has become of Beacon Hill Bistro? It’s one of those restaurants that quietly keeps on keeping on, always busy but without too much buzz, which is likely just fine by the patrician patrons.
Since May, the kitchen has been helmed by executive chef Richmond Edes, who previously worked at Menton, Gibbet Hill Grill, and Salts. (He was also opening chef for Meadhall in Cambridge, now overseen by Matt Molloy, who briefly held Edes’s position at Beacon Hill Bistro right after Bond left. Welcome to restaurant-world musical chairs.) Edes’s menu is just French enough to keep the restaurant solidly in bistro territory without falling into cliche. You’ll find pate and steak frites, but the most Gallic things about Beacon Hill Bistro are the cooking techniques and the atmosphere.
Some dishes remain the same. Who would want to tinker with the bistro’s beet salad? It features greens topped with shavings of farmers’ cheese beside a slice of crimson pie - thin-sliced roots layered with an eggy mixture and cut into triangular wedges. It’s a dish everyone loves, and if it went away, the complaints of the many regulars would soon see it back again. Same with steak frites, a plate of tender sirloin with herbed butter sauce, thin golden fries, and sprigs of peppery cress for virtue.
Fruit plays a big role in Edes’s more innovative dishes. White gazpacho is a smooth, creamy bowlful, almonds, bread, milk, and cucumbers whirled together with mellow garlic. Edes adds a bit of sweetness and surprise with lychee juice. Then, more surprise: the tart flavors of green tomato and gooseberry. There is also a little floating island of foie gras mousse, and the bowl gets a light dusting of Moroccan spice blend ras al hanout. It’s a lovely and original creation. “This is so much better than regular gazpacho,’’ one diner says.
Duck breast is nicely cooked, if slightly rare. What makes the dish stand out are sweet and spicy pickled plums, flavored with allspice, bay leaf, fennel, and more. Chanterelles bring in an earthy element.
We hope for similar success from a chicken dish with peaches. But it lacks balance. The glace coating our breast is extremely salty, and the peaches are cut in a tiny dice that looks lovely but fails to impart much flavor. Jammy fruit is what is missing here, to counter the glace and the bite of accompanying turnips and kale.
The inclusion of pluots and avocado in a fluke crudo can’t save the dish, which lacks acid and seasoning. Sweetbreads, however, are sweet indeed. Crisp on the outside, with a pleasingly springy texture, they are enrobed in glistening honey gelee. Humble carrots get the royal treatment. They appear here prepared four different ways: baby carrots cooked with carrot juice, honey, or fennel, as well as a white carrot puree. Edes wants each bite to taste subtly different.
Monkfish is roasted until it’s tender and juicy, simple and delicious with glorious hen-of-the-woods mushrooms and rings of delicata squash. A dish of scallops is less successful. They come with farro, delightfully nutty and chewy. A slice of candied lemon lends perfume and tartness, an excellent complement. But there’s not enough of it; one ends up trying to cut a tiny piece to eat with each bite. Diced candied lemon interspersed throughout the dish would make it easier and tastier to eat. The scallops are topped with sea urchin, an interesting idea, although the flavor feels slightly out of place. Most puzzling, there are hunks of barely cooked red onion lying on the plate. Are we supposed to eat them? We don’t.
End the meal on a French note with profiteroles, filled with garden-mint ice cream and drizzled in dark chocolate sauce. But skip the abysmal apple tart from the dessert cart - it’s terribly dry, and there aren’t many apples.
Dinner at Beacon Hill Bistro is a leisurely affair, pleasingly European (until you want to leave, and then it’s not always quite so pleasing). It can take a while for a server to check in, but when he does, he is courteous, attentive, and well informed.
The restaurant has a lively bar scene in the early evening, with younger patrons drinking cocktails and noshing on reasonably priced snacks. The dining room crowd skews a bit older, with well-coifed women and men wearing outfits that hint at second homes on Nantucket - red elbow patches here, hints of madras there. Everyone is friendly and smiling, having a jolly time. It feels convivial and neighborhood-y.
Beacon Hill Bistro has a classic look. It’s a narrow strip of a space with black and white tiles, tables on each side, and a runway down the middle to be negotiated by servers and diners trying to reach the restroom at the end. There are no faux antiqued finishes. There are no self-consciously, slavishly Gallic menus offering “huitres’’ and “lapins.’’ Prices are reasonable. There’s attention paid to the wine list, but it’s not fussy or precious. In other words, this remains one of the few Boston restaurants that actually feels like a real French bistro.