We've eaten rellenos de papa from a truck parked around back of warehouses in New Haven. We've had scotch eggs from Greggs in Billingham (where they do an eight-item breakfast, and nine of the items are fried). We've sampled moonshine poured out of a metal can in Hatillo (sipping a little at a time ... not blind yet ... so far so good ... not blind yet ...).
The point is, our palates are not so sensitive, so delicately refined, that we can only truly appreciate haute cuisine.
But that doesn't mean we don't recognize a crap dining experience when it's haphazardly dropped on our table.
Tonight, we went to Bouchee, a self-described "urban brasserie" on Newbury Street in Boston.
The address alone is a toss of the dice: the restaurants on Newbury aim to attract the young, hip and well-heeled who make up much of its traffic. But just because the clientele has disposable income, that doesn't mean it knows what good food is--just where the cool kids hang out.
So while there are standouts like Tapeo and 29 Newbury, there are also way too many locations that surely survive on their looks and personality, because their skills in the kitchen aren't much to write home about.
Bouchee is a perfect example. The design is pure French brasserie: long zinc bar, pressed-tin ceiling, hand-tiled floor, leather booths. The waitrons wear the French-waiter uniform of black pants, white shirt, black vest. The menu offers steak frites, coq au vin, cassoulet.
Well, let's start with the service. We had a waiter, of course, who took our order, topped up our water, brought bread, cleared plates. And then there were the busboys/girls, who topped up our water, brought bread, cleared plates. And then there were the people who brought the food, topped up our water, cleared plates.
It was a little like being served by obsessive-compulsive amnesiacs: every five minutes, someone else was hovering at the table, bringing something or taking it away. Or coming by with water, realizing we hadn't touched our glasses since the last visit, hovering until we drank some.
I haven't spent much more than a couple of weeks in France, but I know that's not the way things are done there. In Paris, you pretty much have to stand on the table and insult the guy's mother before he brings the check; otherwise, you can stay all evening, lingering over coffee, discussing Rimbaud, shrugging your shoulders and pursing your lips and saying "boeuf alors" in a resigned fashion.
At Bouchee, it was as though they were in a hurry to get us out the door so they could re-use the table (not that the place was busy; we arrived before 7, and only five other tables were occupied). And despite the abundance of larger spaces, they sat us at a cosy (in real-estate terms, i.e. cramped and narrow) table for two--and then sat the next incoming couple at the four-top right next to us.
Let me back up to the wine. A pretty good list (nine--count 'em, nine--Rieslings alone) with plenty of good offerings by the glass, though the serving sizes were a little Scrooge McDuck. I had the 2004 Trimbach Riesling; The Boy chose the 2004 Olivier LeFlaive Pinot Noir. His was soft and very cherry: mine had a nice edge of acidity. It was also served at room temperature. Feh.
The food got off to a good start: we shared a plate of melted raclette, studded with chunks of pear poached in wine, served with crusty bread and a simple heap of salted frisee.
But then came my salad. It sounded good on paper: greens, asparagus, haricots verts, lardons, hard-boiled egg, fennel, "blistered tomatoes." But everything was chilled: all of the above, plus the plate. I'm all for freshness, but sometimes cold is not the way to go. Not when it means your romaine is more like iceberg, your lardons are chewy and your tomatoes have no flavor. I mean, not even the Cheesecake Factory gives you salad out of the fridge!
The Boy had the coq au vin (which the waiter rhymed with "tin"). Not hard to get right. This version was okay, though, frankly, The Boy does it better. It's supposed to be a deep, rich, hearty dish (authentic recipes use cockerel and involve its blood, which admittedly is hard to come by) rather than chicken in a light meat-tomato sauce. The lardons made another appearance, adding just enough smokiness to lift the flavor, but the texture was still kinda tough.
And so to espresso and a hasty retreat. We'll keep an eye on the reviews and maybe try again in a few months. But then again, maybe not. We have Brasserie Jo and Sel de la Terre to sate our snails-and-frites needs. Why did we ever stray??
(It turns out Bouchee is managed by the Back Bay Restaurant Group, who also own Abe & Louie's, Joe's American Bar & Grill and Papa Razzi, among others. Which explains a lot--Bouchee is to French as Papa Razzi is to Italian: a reasonable enough Disney-esque approximation, if you squint your eyes and look at it kinda sideways-on and pretend you'e never experienced the real thing ...)
*"Barely adequate" is a trademark of Kyle Pepe Enterprises.