Monday, May 7, 2007

Aquitaine Bis is a slight miss

This secret reviewer rightfully holds lofty expectations for Aquitaine Bis, sister restaurant to its beloved flagship establishment in Boston’s South End. Located in a small plaza off of busy Route 9 in Chestnut Hill, Paul’s Palate wonders if the buzz over this bistro is warranted. Besides, its previous occupant, Bella Luna, was a staple of fine dining for years in this community. Would Paul’s Palate find a worthy heir apparent in Aquitaine Bis?

Arriving a few minutes early, my wife and I meander to the bar area, where we dejectedly learn that no martini menus exist. I request an espresso martini, which is rich in taste, not too thick, and does not possess a surplus of vodka, which often ruins this mixed drink. My spouse orders a margherita, whose potent tequila flavor emerges without being overly sweet. Along the way, we soak in the restaurant’s intimate, if not somewhat gloomy atmosphere, which includes dimmed lighting and dark leather seating. We are informed that our table is now ready and we quickly proceed to our seats, hunger pangs and all.

We are bewildered to learn from our server that my wife cannot delve into any of the appetizers due to each item containing dairy products. This is particularly troubling because this reviewer has called ahead of time and is told that the kitchen can in fact accommodate patrons who have this particular allergy. Even more exasperating is the fact that our server brings us what appears to be a zesty plate of sage gnocci dusted with cheese. We ultimately decide upon the escargots de bourguignonne with garlic and herb butter and brioche toast, and the snails’ buttery squirminess assuages whatever frustrations we have about the aforementioned culinary faux pas.

We carnivorously devour the flesh from our meaty entrees, mine being the highly regarded steak frites. The thinly cut steak strips are perfectly cooked, succulent and sweet, given that they are drizzled with meat juice and perigord black truffle vinaigrette. The accompanying watercress shallot salad is rather bland in comparison, and seems to be the dish’s lone oddity. The dish’s other side, however, the slightly salty, crispy frites (special take on french fries), proves to be more memorable. In lieu of the ketchup bottle, this reviewer contently dips his fried friends into the meat’s juices. My wife’s veal osso bucco is equally delectable, falling right off the bone and melting into the mouth, though she cannot resist taking sporadic bites of the irresistibly scrumptious steak dish that rests across the table.

Dessert, however, is an utter disaster. The warm chocolate pudding cake is overcooked, the cake dried out and the hot pudding center itself evaporated. For a bistro that prides itself on simplistic takes on elegant dishes, how, pray tell, do they manage to botch such a simple concoction as warmed chocolate cake?

Dining at Aquitaine proves to be a rather expensive proposition for my money’s worth. Although the quality of the fare is above-average, it is not strong enough to sustain a hefty price tag ranging between $26-$34 per entrĂ©e. Also a factor: medium-sized portions that leave us licking our plates and yearning for one or two additional bites of each dish. Does Paul’s Palate enjoy an evening at Aquitaine? Sure, but you certainly won’t see this caped critic doing somersaults to return there any time soon.

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