BRAISED SHORT RIBS: Falling-apart tender, but bring a hearing aid.
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.
|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|
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.
In the other group of appetizers, the yin might be gray sole ($12) rolled around wild mushrooms and black rice, with a garnish of excellent beet and carrot. Yin and yang seemed in balance in the small but impeccable lemongrass-scented mussels ($9) and the flash-seared Vietnamese shrimp ($12). The shrimp aren’t really wok-seared, but are nicely undercooked with cellophane noodles and a tortilla-chip cup of lively shredded-coconut salad. A rice croquette with veal breast meat and cheese inside ($11) was one of the better arancini I’ve had. This kitchen can fry. The only appetizer that doesn’t work yet is “Tea Smoked Quail and Date Cigar” ($12). It’s really a pair of mini-enchiladas, but the wrapper masks the stuffing flavors.
Entrées are pretty much yang. My favorites were the pan-seared Muscovy duck breast ($25) and the char-grilled haddock ($24). The duck breast wasn’t seriously seared either, but it was lean and delicious, with snow peas, a bit of mashed cauliflower, and a heap of shredded bell pepper and mushrooms. The haddock was a superior piece of fish, cooked just below the flake point, as it should be, with a crisp crust, a “chestnut” ragout (actually stewed water chestnuts), and a tomato-olive cream sauce that just wouldn’t quit.
There’s also grilled cod ($26), but it wasn’t as great. It’s garnished with beautiful slices of lotus root and some nice bitter greens. Braised short ribs ($22) bring a boneless chunk, falling-apart tender and quite good with sweet potato “fries.” Zucchini and tofu steak ($19) is more like a burger, served on a bed of noodles with chopped tomato (real ketchup might have been better) and a sprig of anise basil. As vegan entrées go, it was stodgy but acceptable. But with a South Asian chef, how about some aloo chole and a salad? Or, in the Southeast Asian style Banq is mostly using, one of the Vietnamese coconut-milk vegetable curries?