I have a long standing love affair with Beacon Hill Bistro. Like any good clandestine affair we only see each other occasionally. But the meetings were always passionate and incredibly satisfying. The long tiled dining room with its banquettes and bistro chairs setting the stage beautifully; the efficient servers with their crisp button down shirts and long aprons to lovingly guide one through the experience; the classic, elegant and delectable menu that welcomes you like an old friend. We were good together. Like any good secret affair the Bistro didn’t draw too much attention to itself. It was just there, waiting for me to return to its comfortable embrace when I had wearied of the newness or shenanigans other restaurants.
So when my mother and I ventured into the Bistro last night on a whim I expected to find the same fabulous experience I had had for the last several years. But much like finding out your lover has decided to cover his bald spot with a bad comb-over or gained twenty pounds since your last meeting I was, in a word, disappointed.
From the moment we started conversing with our server I knew I was in for a bad night. A casual, “how’s it going” turned into hearing the saga of how the marathon traffic had confounded our server’s commute, replete with eye rolling and physical demonstration of what sitting in traffic was like. This isn’t Waffle House, honey. I didn’t expect you to slide into the booth next to me and get comfy. A simple, “fine, thank you. May I answer any questions about the menu?” would have more than sufficed. I was then given to understand, through grimaces and squinting, that the fondue was not a wise choice. Because, “a bowl of cheese is too much cheese for one person.” Not for me, thank you. Back up the truck and pour the melted, delicious cheesiness all over me. But thank you for editorializing my selections. It was about as comfortable as an old lover telling you you had cellulite or pointing out the zit on your chin. I ended up asking for a side of Brussels sprouts and asparagus (not on the menu). I expected a plate of golden & green pan roasted deliciousness. I received a soupy bowl of green and past-golden-to-almost-black vegetables. Swimming in a brown bacon broth. Which, frankly, was weird.
My mother ordered the beet salad with farmer’s cheese to start, which, thankfully, was as wonderful as ever. This has been consistently good for both of us for at least 2 years.
For our entrees we both opted for pastas. Mine was duck and swiss chard (again, in a bowl of soupy mess – if you’re going to serve the dish “in brodo” then perhaps you should specify that on the menu) and while the flavors were good, the pasta was tough and doughy and the chard hadn’t been cleaned properly and was gritty. Really BHB? Seriously? Sandy, soupy pasta? C’mon! I literally couldn’t eat it for fear of grinding down the enamel on my teeth. The management was very considerate of the situation, however, and took the dish off the bill. My mother’s pasta was also a glue factory. I greatly appreciate that the manager came over to speak to us and that my dish was taken off the bill. I appreciate that. But perhaps the lesson here is that if you do something well (classic French bistro food) don’t try to do something else (modern Italian pasta).
Maintaining consistency is a challenge for every restaurant and the lack of consistency is quite often the death knell of a stalwart. The seasonings were over-wrought and the prep wasn’t accurate. Either BHB has a passel of newbies in the kitchen or it doesn’t care anymore.
I think I will wait a while before going back. Perhaps my old flame needs a little time apart to figure out his mind and what he wants. When he's ready to be as good as ever I'll be back. Until then... well... as the saying goes, "there are more fish in the sea" and in Boston you can't walk 20 feet without darkening a restaurant doorway.