Review: Artisan Bistro

Not the old Ritz, but still very useful for many needs
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  November 22, 2011
3.0 3.0 Stars
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The drinks are interestingly limited, but some are choice. The "Artisan Bistro Mojito" ($12) has some sophisticated touches without losing the sweet refreshing quality of the classic rum mint julep. The "Uncommon Black & Tan" ($12) carefully layers drafts of Geary porter (from Maine) with Samuel Adams lager, and puts a shot of Berkshire Mountain New England corn whiskey on the side. (The common black and tan in Boston barrooms is Bass ale mixed with Guinness stout.) My take on this is that it really sets up the rum-ish sweetness of the Western Mass answer to bourbon. On the other hand, if you leave the beers layered, you may find the Geary Porter less than fresh, as I did, and even the blended drink is not up to the bitterness level of either the old blend or the new-school IPAs. The wine list (by the glass) is solid, and the short list of drafts and bottles has something for all levels of beerists, but not a lot of depth for repeaters, who will seek out one of the pubbier gastropubs. Decaf coffee ($6) is worth the high price.

Desserts are fairly casual. A "galette of seasonal fruit" ($6) was not a pancake or wafer but a wedge of puff pastry, with whipped cream and slices of lightly cooked apple, and a few wedges of plum. I think pears are in season. Chocolate lava cake ($10) is what it is, undercooked flourless cake or stodgier soufflé, an American classic, with surprisingly ordinary vanilla ice cream. Profiteroles ($11) had excellent pastry (stale pastry is the great enemy of fine profiteroles), the same ice cream, and a chocolate sauce that wouldn't have made it at Bailey's, but will do for the new century (so far).

Service is better than any gastropub or bistro in Boston, and one of the reminders that there is still a smidge of Ritz-Carlton DNA in this place. What's gone is the calm and view of the original Ritz dining room. Even the trappings of that grand restaurant — the famous blue goblets, the heavy flatware, the vast stacks of linen, the aging waiters who treated everyone like Jacqueline Onassis, the endless wine list of splurge bottles, the seasonal rarities like shad roe and real imported Dover sole — are not coming back. We are in a different building, opened as the Millennium Ritz in 2001, and now officially the Ritz-Carlton Boston Common. At the sale of the original Ritz, the durable parts of my list were carted off to corporate headquarters, intended perhaps for a museum. Maybe there is a grace period required by the terms of sale before they can be returned to Boston use? I cannot object to this little loud restaurant with a TV set over the bar (Brahmins are spinning in their graves in all the tonier cemeteries about that) and, as a traveler, would welcome it in any hotel. Some things, like the bread, are better than either Ritz ever had in pricier rooms. The waiters understand about theater times, and it is already doing a good weeknight business. ^

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

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