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The Beehive

Boho chic never tasted so good
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  September 26, 2007
4.0 4.0 Stars
FAR OUT: Grilled Berkshire pork chop is a
blast from the past.

This is the kind of restaurant that I’ve always loved and haven’t found in a long time: a plain place with good food, and prices that let you explore the menu.

The Beehive is a maze of rooms and nooks and galleries under a dome that you can’t see from inside, a bit like an actual beehive. (The name is a literal translation of La Ruche, a vaguely circular building in Paris rebuilt in the early 20th century as a gathering place for starving artists and poets.) But with the right kind of food and service, this space has turned into something so comfortably bohemian and fun that it’s been crowded since it opened this past summer. It’s loud — all new restaurants are — but here the loudness feels right.

So what’s the right kind of service for the Beehive? Youthful, enthusiastic, quick, and not overly elegant. And the food? Bar snacks, small plates, and some moderately priced entrées of no particular theme but lots of flavor. My favorite was “sloppy lasagna” ($18), about the ugliest bowl of noodles I’ve ever seen, though it had nice ribbons of pasta in a sauce well-flavored with Italian sausage and ricotta. It’s comfort food of high order, and a classic illustration of how some of the best-tasting dishes cannot be made visually appealing.

The Beehive | 541 Tremont Street, Boston | Open daily, 5 pm–1 am (bar open until 2 am) | AE, MC, VI | Full bar | Valet parking, $15 | Sidewalk-level access to upstairs dining room; down full flight of stairs to large rooms | 617.423.0069

Essential to any place that hopes to attract young artists and poets is a large, refilled bread basket. Here slices of sourdough evoke Parisian bread and are complemented by sweet butter. A garlic, mozzarella, and tomato flatbread appetizer ($9) is not huge and is based on cracker bread so thin you couldn’t really call it pizza, but the tomatoes were fresh and seasonal. Tomato salad with basil and Greek yogurt ($10) is also fine, with three kinds of heirloom tomatoes and a dandy dressing with some fresh basil added. Fried calamari and oysters ($12) actually include some fried vegetables, plus a bit of hot pepper in the batter and a bit more in a dip. The kielbasa pig-in-a-blanket with sauerkraut ($9) comes with mustard, but the garlic sausage is so nicely selected and cooked with its pastry coat that I could devour it as is. The only weak appetizer I found was the summer-vegetable salad ($9), which treats long, thin batons of zucchini and yellow summer squash as salad vegetables. Even with a green garlicky dressing, I’m not buying that.

But don’t miss the bohemian platter ($23), a fabulous antipasto with some Middle Eastern influences that bow nicely to the old Syrian-immigrant quarter of the South End. Its most amazing ingredient is a heap of roasted grapes (you’ll just have to try them), but there’s lots more: a slice of eggplant stuffed with parmesan cheese; a slice of Spanish potato omelet; pea tendrils; Armenian string cheese; an aged cheese like Asiago; Italian-antipasto-style Genoa salami, mortadella, and prosciutto; fresh tomato salad; slices of a French-style garlic sausage; pickled Middle Eastern cucumber; and several kinds of olives. It’s an abundance of interesting flavors that is truly appetizing.

Since the Beehive has both lively bar and restaurant crowds, some people may never get to entrées. The choices are solid nonetheless. Grilled swordfish with Persian lentil salad ($24) is a superb piece of fish, cooked right and served with frisée and an unobtrusive lentil salad. Spicy shells ($19) seem to wrap themselves around morsels of mussel, clam, shrimp, and a little zucchini, with just enough hot pepper to move things along. And steak frites ($23), the Paris bistro classic, is very nicely done with tender, cooked-to-order meat that is thinly sliced and served with oddly shaped fries and another tomato salad (of which one cannot have too many at this time of year).

Grilled Berkshire pork chop ($20) reclaims the flavor of ’60s pork chops, if not all that this heritage breed of pig can deliver, and is aided by a garnish of creamed horseradish and bacon-stewed greens. Grilled chicken with halloumi cheese ($21) achieves full cordon-bleu flavor from the salty-melty Arab cheese, and comes with a simple bread salad of arugula and croutons. But what more would anyone need? A side of roasted corn ($5)? Perhaps not. Mine was one ear of seasonal corn, just decoratively charred and served with a lemon–hot butter sauce and some hot pepper, which I’d rather have with lobster. This is the one time I think the chef let his ego overrule his instinct for home-style cooking.

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