>> Tuesday, March 25, 2014
A beloved French bistro in Boston is getting a makeover.
Well, sort of.
A few months ago, Petit Robert in the South End welcomed Chef Stefano Quaresima from France as its new executive chef. Stefano, who is originally from Italy, trained in Italy and France, as well as did stints in the UK, Maldives, and Greece.
Most notably (and perhaps what got me excited about his arrival), Stefano has worked at multiple Michelin star restaurants in Europe. He worked at two Michelin star La Tour D’Argent in Paris, one Michelin Star Hotel Chateau de Bagnols in Lyon and restaurant Quai Ouest in Lorient, and Raymond Blanc’s two Michelin star Le Manoir aux Quat’Saison in Oxford, United Kingdom.
It's only been a matter of months, but Stefano has been hard at work changing the menu. Not only that, he has been redoing many of the basic dishes, incorporating his own cooking techniques that he's acquired through his years of training in Europe.
Although Bryan and I had been to Petit Robert before (years ago!), this was our first time trying out Stefano's new menu.
I forgot to take a photo, but we actually both really loved the bread. It's no surprise that a French bistro would have excellent bread. Nevertheless, it was a great way to start the meal.
I got the Saumon Fume $13 (Smoked Salmon) starter, which seemed to be a creative take on the classic lox and cream cheese combination. Creamy, decadent burrata took the place of cream cheese, and pomegranate seeds replaced capers. It was a fun and unusual combination that actually worked quite well. The fruit added a nice pop of sweet and tartness that balanced out the rich and creamy burrata and the salty cured salmon. The salmon was just a tad too salty for me. Part of me wished for just a bit more burrata to balance it out.
Bryan ordered the Tartare de Boef $11 (beef tartare) as his starter, and it was huge - definitely a generous portion considering the price. I felt like it could almost be an full entree. The tartare had a strong, intense mustard flavor and was quite salty. For me, it was borderline too salty, though it was OK with the toasts and actually paired quite well with the wine we got (Chateau Pipeau 2010 St. Emilion Grand Cru, Grand vin de Bordeaux).
Next, we tried one of the specials they were serving that day: Fish Croquettes. These were essentially crunchy deep fried fish "sticks" with a fancy "tartar" sauce. The fish was nicely fried with a hefty, crunchy batter. The creamy sauce had a lovely burst of flavors from the sweet raisins, salty capers, refreshing tomatoes, and herbaceous creamy base, which worked great with the hot and crispy fried fish.
Bryan usually hates to get his hands dirty, so he tried in vain to eat out of a martini glass with a fork and knife.
Chef Stefano said that while he was in France, he made tons of duck magret (breast). The version at Petit Robert, called Magret de Carnard Epice ($28) consists of seared duck breast served with a sesame and honey crust.
Chef Stefano took the sesame honey crust idea from a French dessert, the croquembouche. The duck breast was cooked perfectly - a beautiful medium rare which was super soft and tender. I found the sesame honey crust to be a tad sweet and I wished for just a bit more umami to balance it out.
We asked our server what he recommended, and he told us that his favorite dish was the Boeuf Bourguinon, a classic French dish where beef is stewed in red wine with vegetables. Chef Stefano's take on this traditional dish involved marinating the beef in port wine for 48 hours. The resultant meat is extremely tender and deeply flavorful. The overall flavor is sweeter and full of that deep raisiny fruit flavor from the port.
The lightly sauteed vegetables on the side (a small pile of carrots, green beans, broccoli, and cauliflower), was a nice healthy balance to the meat but otherwise not particularly memorable.
We got a side of Brussels Sprouts Provençal, which was a simple dish. Brussels sprouts were sauteed together with tomatoes, and carrots in olive oil. It was OK, but nothing particularly exciting.
I love French fries, so I couldn't resist getting a side order of these. They were average - simple, but not super crispy.
My favorite dish of the entire evening? Definitely the made-to-order Soufflé ($12), which was phenomenal. It was light, fluffy, melt-in-your-mouth spongy, and warm. It was definitely worth the 25 minutes wait. This was served with a simple vanilla cream, which was fabulous.
We also got the signature Chocolate Gâteau Petit Robert, Chocolate Eiffel Tower ($10), which comes with an adorable chocolate Eiffel Tower alongside a mousse-like chocolate cake. This was also quite good, though my favorite was definitely the soufflé.
All in all, Petit Robert is a quaint and lovely little French bistro that feels (and tastes!) really authentic. Although Chef Stefano has definitely put his mark on the new menu (he told me he re-did every single dish), the place still feels very familiar and definitely maintains its feel as a cozy neighborhood spot. It's still the warm, casual French bistro that everyone grew to love. Chef Stefano has kept many classic French bistro dishes, such as French onion soup, coq au vin, steak frites, and boeuf Bourginon.
Of course, he's putting his own signature spin on other dishes as well. Some of these work better than others, in my opinion. He's only been here for a few months, so I'm sure he's still trying to figure out the Boston palate and what works best. I know he has plans to change the menu often depending on what's seasonal, so definitely look out for some new menu items coming soon!
Petit Robert Bistro
480 Columbus Ave
Boston, MA 02118
Disclaimer: I did not pay for this meal. All opinions are my own.