Banq Restaurant + Bar

Put your money where your mouth is
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  March 26, 2008
2.0 2.0 Stars
BRAISED SHORT RIBS: Falling-apart tender, but bring a hearing aid.

Banq | 1375 Washington Street, Boston | Open Mon–Sat, 5:30 pm–1 am; and Sun, 5:30–11 pm | AE, DC, DI, MC, VI | Full bar | Valet parking, $16 (operates in front of Union Bar & Grille) | Sidewalk-level access | 617.451.0077
It’s hard to say we’re in a recession since bank buildings are being made into expensive restaurants. We’ll know we’re really in deep yogurt when bank lobbies are being remade into homeless shelters and expensive restaurants are being converted into cafeterias. Banq (pronounced “bank”) took over the old Penny Savings Bank building in the South End, gutted the interior, and gave it a fancier façade. Most restaurants in former bank lobbies keep some of the trimmings, but here every possible reference to thrift has been expunged. They even redid the floor (unless the bank had a zebra-striped floor) and erected a complicated overhead structure of plywood ribs that gives one the feeling of being under a forest canopy. There’s also a rainforest vibe to the zebrawood-plywood tables, chairs, and wall sections. It’s all visually intriguing until you walk into the remarkable wall of sound that it reflects.

The readers, in unison: how loud is it?

Banq is so loud that I had to write my notes twice as large on the page to be able to read them. It’s so loud that it cleans your jewelry while you dine. It’s so loud that the background music, which pounds at the other noise like a fullback hitting the line, sounds like disco even when it isn’t. But seriously, folks, Banq is so loud that you can’t understand anyone across the table, and it’s hard even to taste the food.

And that’s a shame, because some of it is quite good, and all of it looks terrific — or would if you were sitting in a brighter place. Did I mention that it’s dark, too? Banq is so dark that at some tables you have to use bigger gestures in sign language.

The readers, in unison: never mind about the dark jokes. How was the food?

The food is not-really-fusion with a generally French technique and some careful Asian flavors. The meal starts with veggie chips and a dip, perhaps cheese-based. The breadbasket features a novel fried cracker bread, round like a mini-pita but crisp and bubbly.

The menu has two kinds of appetizers: “Asian Amuse,” which is a couple of bites, and “Yin and Yang for the Soul,” which are small plates. Of the former, my favorite was coho salmon ($4.50). It’s impaled on a stick of sugar cane and looks like a tiny orange popsicle with a bit of sauce on top. It had a nice, fresh flavor and half of a golden-pear tomato as a garnish. The “Fire-Charred Sea Scallop” ($5.50) wasn’t all that large or charred, but it, too, was tasty, and its bed of black lentils and a bit of frisee gave it the look of a micro-entrée. A duck confit samosa ($5) is two pasties instead of the classic pyramid shape, and I couldn’t taste the duck over the Chinese five-spice powder.

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