Review: Storyville

Jazzing it up with old-school cocktails
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  December 7, 2011
2.0 2.0 Stars

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There must be some readers out there who remember the original Boston Storyville, a jazz nightclub. The picture on the Web site is from 1957, when cars had tail fins, and Exeter Street ran the other way. By then, two of the great artists George Wein brought in had made live albums there: Billie Holiday in two of her last years, 1951 and 1953; and Dave Brubeck, already with Paul Desmond, in 1954. About the same time, Wein had this other idea about a jazz festival in Newport, and that's where it all ended up. The restaurant does not play anything from these great live LPs, but the acid jazz they do play isn't half bad.

More people will remember the basement space as Café Budapest, of which a few stained-glass murals are still in the decorative scheme, and then as Saint. Now the owner of Saint has decided to rebrand with a stronger emphasis on sin, so there is even more bordello red, red lights, and various fleurs-de-lis to indicate the bad districts of New Orleans, like the restaurant's namesake, where jazz was developed. These fleurs-de-lis are not for St. Joan, if you catch the restaurant's drift.

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LETTUCE ENJOY Storyville’s Salad Nicoise puts in raw ahi tuna where the French would use canned — it’s not authentic, but it’s fun.

The cocktail program is at this point more advanced than the snacks, small plates, and a few bigger plates, but there is some fine eating around the bar, and it can be a good before-theater spot, as the nightclub doesn't really start humming until after curtain times. Drinks are nicely taken back to fundamentals: sours, smashes, and fizzes, with a selection arranged on the menu by theme: Tiki Hut, and Stories and Libations. We set to work on the latter, with a near-classic Sazarac ($11) producing in a small cocktail glass successive impressions of anise, sweet-sour rye whiskey, and a slight bitter finish. The Lady Day ($11) is a new composition, but the mix of gin, Campari, passion fruit, and honey comes out remarkably fullflavored and wellbalanced without domination by any of the components. It also has some foam and a stenciled fleur-de-lis on top. You can make a modern classic if you study the old manuals. The Red Dress ($11) is described as a "New Orleans–style raspberry gastrique with Champagne." Make that a sweet red-raspberry version of a kir with a dry finish, and I'll have another.

For snacking, my favorites is chickpea frites ($8) — redescribed from earlier menus where they were "chickpea panisses." Panisses they are, the classic French-fried Lincoln Logs of creamy garbanzo puree, smaller than traditional (so the portion is six logs, or 12-15 bites), but arranged traditionally by stacking. They come with a bit of lemony dip you don't need. The server's favorite is Westfield Farms goat-cheese mousse ($9), which is layered with something sweet so you spread it on a slice of sourdough bread and it is like the world's greatest cream-cheese-and-jelly sandwich. Grilled oysters ($16) are served tumbling out of a galvanized bucket — fun, but not in the theme. They also come with a lot of peppers and salad, so there aren't so many oysters.

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