Bistro du Midi

Fine, but not necessarily French
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  February 10, 2010
2.0 2.0 Stars

GRAND FINALE: The Grand Marnier soufflé is exquisitely light and on-point — a bravura finish to any meal.

Bistro du Midi | 272 Boylston Street, Boston | 617.426.7878 | open Sunday, 5–10 pm; Monday– Wednesday, 11:30 am–2 pm and 5–11 pm; Thursday and Friday, 11:30 am–2 pm and 5–midnight; and Saturday, 5–11 pm | AE, MC, VI | Full bar | Valet parking after 5, $16 | Sidewalk-level access
Bistro du Midi purports to serve "authentic Provençal" cuisine, but Midi actually refers to all of southern France. So right off the bat there's a bit of confusion with this upscale bistro's menu, and it only unravels from there. The owners of the restaurant are British; the chef is American with a background in a fine French restaurant in New York City. (Lose that Yankee cap, mon ami!) And the room, which formerly housed Excelsior and Biba, has been redone with fake ceiling beams and a fake fireplace. Is that Provençal bistro or alpine lodge? And what's up with the techno soundtrack? Onsait jamais.

What is clear is that some of the dishes here are not only neither Provençal nor Southern French, but not even French at all. So what we get is a string of clever ideas that don't quite hang together.

That said, some of Bistro du Midi's clever ideas are quite tasty, like the complimentary basil bread with a pour of extra-virgin olive oil (even if it does come from Sicily). The oil transcends the usual "flowery" and "nutty" categories to hit hard in the "grassy" group of olive-oil receptors. And I'll pay $5 for a little plate of green and black olives, since the green ones are bright green and mellow-cured.

But some of the clever ideas here are just plain expensive. Take the prawns Provençale ($17) appetizer: just two thin-shelled giant prawns, the kind you can sometimes get out of the live tank in Chinatown, served in a petite cast-iron pot with a buttery tomato sauce. Likewise, stuffed calamari with lobster jus ($14) gives you just three stuffed and sautéed baby squid tail sections — a reminder the chef worked at the seafood-specialist restaurant Le Bernardin in New York.

The value appetizer, sure to be famous, is barbajans ($6), described as "Provençal parcels." My favorite filling was pumpkin; the goat cheese and honey variety was too salty, and so, really, was the lamb and tomato. But with two of each, a crowd can afford to eat quite a few of them. It should be noted, though, that the usual spelling of this Monaco treat is "barbajuans" — and so we begin a series of substandard regional dishes.

A Niçoise salad, with house-made confit tuna ($15), for example, replaces the usual olive-oil packed tuna with slices of sushi-grade tuna tataki oiled up like a body-builder. (This is several removes from, say, confit duck, which is salt cured, cooked in oil, and stored that way to mellow into something pickled and fried crisp.) The rest of the salad is anchovies (over-salted by the standards of Nice), peppered egg quarters, arugula, corn salad, field greens, and onion.

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