Bistro du Midi

Fine, but not necessarily French
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  February 10, 2010
2.0 2.0 Stars

On to the three pâtes (looks like that liver spread, but that's the same word as "paste," and thus also "pasta"). The ringer is lobster macaroni gratin ($19), which anyone with a grasp of high-school culinary French can tell you is just mac 'n' cheese. Okay, okay: there is a brown sauce, real cheese, and al dente ziti involved, with plenty of lobster meat. But this is not French food of any region. (And yet it's no travesty, since the lamented Biba restaurant once in this space is where Lydia Shire served lobster pizza and set off the "gourmet" ruination of Italian food that is still going on.)

What is an interesting travesty is "classic" bouillabaisse ($27), distinct from a special our night on "American" bouillabaisse with all shellfish. The true stew of Marseille features a broth scented with fennel, anise liqueur, and saffron. The protein, both little bony fish and shellfish, is served on the side.

Bistro du Midi's "classic" version has boned chunks of three imported fish in a bowl: rose fish, bronzini, and swordfish. The broth — which has none of the usual aromatics — is then added, and topped with parmesan cheese. The garlic mayonnaise and toast are traditional, and the chunks of fish are small and nice. But it ain't bouillabaisse.

Seared venison with quince, root vegetables, and chestnuts ($32) actually is what it says it is. The lean venison has a slight gamey taste, and plenty of fun on the trimmings, including a mystery root vegetable that was finally classified as a white carrot.

Bistro du Midi has a mostly French wine list, with some scary prices on top. We splurged on a 2005 Château Coucy ($47), a merlot-based blend calculated to turn the movie Sideways right-side up. There has always been a lot of serious merlot on the right bank of the river in Bordeaux, but this one is from a hot-summer vintage, made by Jean-Luc Thunevin, the founder and leader of a bunch of wine geeks called "garagistes." These guys have the spirit of the '80s California "black-teeth" zinfandel crowd, making wines bigger, stronger, and heavier than ever before seen or tasted, quite different than the elegant historical view of claret. Up from the garage to an actual property, Thunevin has made a purple-black merlot that smells like a cask sample of cabernet sauvignon (complex, deep, vegetative, oaky, and fruity) and tastes like a bag of wet cement. "Astringent" doesn't begin the story.

The best part of Bistro du Midi is the desserts, which are all French and the real deal. A Grand Marnier soufflé ($10) was the perfect combination of air and exquisite orange-scented eggy-ness. A chocolate soufflé ($10), served right from the oven with a pastry cream, was nearly as impressive. Warm cherry clafoutis ($8) was more like bread pudding than a sweet omelet, but when has this column ever complained about bread pudding? Pistachio ice cream might work better than the fluffy pistachio crème it's served with, but that's a quibble. Even the rosé wine-poached pear ($7) was an outstanding object of its type. With these desserts came a complimentary jar of house-made nougat candies.

If everything was as bravura as the finish, this would be one of the top dining destinations in Boston, and no one could afford to go there. But there is a great fish restaurant hidden inside this do-all "bistro" in Provençal wrapping paper.

Robert Nadeau can be reached at robtnadeau@aol.com.

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