Sunday, April 01, 2007

We'll always have Pigalle
(and so will everyone else)

Last night we ate at Pigalle on Charles Street South, because a) we hadn't eaten there in a while (not since, wow, last May, according to OpenTable, though we did stop in for a cocktail over the summer) and b) chef Marc Orfaly is nominated for a 2007 "best chefs in America" James Beard award, which means chances of a future table may be slim.

As it was, the only available time was 5:30, so we had an early lunch and then took the T into town. By the time we'd wandered down Charles Street (oo, new artisanal chocolate store!), through the Public Gardens, up Boylston for a spot of robo-shopping in Marshalls (The Boy's term: it's where I zip rapidly through the racks, making split-second decisions about each item--no-no-no-yuck-no-maybe-no-orange-no-yes-no-no ...) and back down to the Park Plaza, it was time to eat.

The last couple of times we were at Pigalle, I'd ordered their Garden Party cocktail; Hendrick's gin, lemon juice, muddled cucumber and lavender simple syrup. It was so good, it inspired me to harvest lavender from our front yard, and we spent the summer making our own syrup and experimenting with variations on the theme.

When I went to order it this time--gasp! Not on the menu! That made sense, as it's really a summer drink (crisp and sweet and tart and fragrant all at once), but our waitress offered to check whether the bartender could fix me one anyway. And yay, yes she could. So I had that, while The Boy chose the British Invasion: gin, lemon and Earl Grey tea, with a citrus-sugar rim. Something else we can try at home.

For appetizers, I went with the tuna Martini--melty-fresh sushi in a cocktail glass with tobiko roe, seaweed salad and a creme fraiche that ended on a just-enough wasabi note. The Boy ordered the duck liver terrine, a light and creamy wedge served with toasted brioche, cornichons and harvest berry jam--each ingredient contributing a different note (soft/crunchy/sweet/acidic) that matched the others nicely.

For the entree, I ordered the cassoulet, and it was among the best I've had: fabulous homemade pork sausage, falling-apart braised lamb shank and a confit duck leg nestled together in a fresh, deep, herb-tomato stew with white beans. Usually, servings of cassoulet are ridiculously large and overloaded with beans (cheap and filling!), but everything in this cast-iron serving dish was perfectly proportioned.

The Boy went for the special: halibut en croute with Asian greens, asparagus and coconut rice. And, as it transpired when the dish arrived, a generous garnish of lobster. Uh-oh.

The waitress was very apologetic when The Boy explained his seafood allergy, and promised a non-crustacean version would appear shortly. In the meantime, she brought him a small plate of Greek salad to snack on (or, more importantly, to stop him stealing all my beans).

While we waited for fish 2.0 (and I ate slowly), we remembered that this wasn't the first time The Boy had been ambushed by lobster. Doesn't it seem strange that a menu would neglect to mention it? Wouldn't you think a restaurant could charge a little more by noting the inclusion of the L-word?

When the fish came out (it was also sans croute--perhaps the lobster was a last-minute alternative), accompanied by more apologies from waiters, busboys and anyone else who happened to be passing, it was delicious; firm, flaky meat on a bed of pleasantly bitter greens and sweet rice. The Boy had chosen a Riesling that blended perfectly with the latter, and was more than happy with the outcome.

And then some cheeses (sheep! Goat! Water buffalo!) and 10-year-old tawny port, and then espresso, and then we rolled out, full an' happy.

The place was pretty crowded when we left at around 7:30; these were not pre-theater diners, but rather people who had discovered (like us) that the area's food choices are not limited to Bennigan's, Rustic Kitchen and mammoth fish-steak-pasta places. If Orfaly gets the James Beard nod, it's gonna be even tougher to get a spot.

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