Sunday, August 30, 2015

Troquet a Cozy, yet Sophisticated Dining Delight

A view of a what was once a peasant cemetery lining the outskirts of Boston
Common doesn't necessarily scream out 'romantic dining experience.' Across from this morose setting, however, lies the illustrious Troquet, a Theater District treasure of a restaurant now 14 years young in its existence that delivers the liveliest of dining experiences. Somehow lurking inexplicably in the shadows of more publicly talked about French-inspired establishments such as L'Espalier, 5-time James Beard award semi-finalist and GM/Owner Chris Campbell's bistro has consistently delivered modern, French-New American cuisine in a polished, yet casual setting (its name is apt, as Troquet is French slang for cozy bistro). You may have also heard about Troquet's nationally recognized wine program, which Campbell developed an affinity for when he first frequented France's Burgundy region in the mid-eighties while crafting his hospitality skills. And like a fine wine, Troquet has aged well. Executive Chef Scott Hebert (who had worked with the likes of acclaimed chefs including David Burke in New York City) joined Campbell back in 2001 during the restaurant's opening, and in Troquet's small, yet bustling kitchen he has loyally remained, as have some quirky, pleasant, polished, attentive, and dare I say fun waitstaff. In fact, Troquet may offer the most enjoyable, yet least talked about dining experience in all of Boston.

And before I get back to the restaurant's sterling wine selection, what better way to begin one's meal with butter - lots of it, by way of an enormous bucket of Normandy's finest? The butter is creamy, yet not too heavy, and melts inside of a piping hot roll whose crispy exterior belies a wonderfully fluffy interior. Just be careful not to have too many of these, unless, of course, one intends on taking the time to enjoy the entire meal over several hours and pours of wine.

And there are several pours to be savored, more than forty by the glass, conveniently made available by either 2 oz (half glass) or 4 oz (full) options. The extensive wine selection leans heavily on varietals from France and Italy, rounded out by several from Napa, Germany, Australia, and Spain. Even more attractive is Campbell's willingness to make difficult to find wines more accessible and affordable to the masses, as evidenced by the fact that all bottles are sold at only $10 above retail. Troquet prides itself on pairing all courses with select wines, and all glassware is served with oval paper discs at their base baring the restaurant's name along with the ID number of the wine you've ordered. And similar to Kai Gagnon's intriguing wine program at Somerville's terrific Bergamot, all wines are served at exactly the temperature they require for maximum sipping pleasure (45 degrees for whites, 58 degrees for reds).

That German Kabinett Riseling ($7.25 for 2 oz, $14.50 for 4 oz) is a fruit forward, light, yet not overpoweringly sweet white wine that pairs beautifully with highly recommended sushi specials that include a tuna terradito served sashimi grade-style topped with avocado and tomato along with a soft shell crab tempura with avocado and edible flowers. They're both lovely to look at, even lovelier to eat.

A subtle Spanish tempranillo from Bodegas Volver La Mancha Single Vineyard ($7.25 2 oz, $14.50 4 oz) compliments the roasted suckling pig ($39), Troquet's signature dish. "It's as if you read my mind," our server jokes upon requesting the wine. The tender meat is cooked to perfection, meticulously executed and uniquely presented as a trio of loin, rillettes, and ribs, with crackling skin atop the loin. Chipotle glaze accentuates the pig's smokey flavors. It's literally a feast for a king, and fondly brings me back to my college year abroad in Spain when sampling my first suckling pig under the aqueduct of Segovia. The dish is accompanied by long, pretty glazed baby carrots along with a  small skillet of corn spoon bread infused with spicy pepper succotash that is innovative, fun, and quite delicious. Slow roasted Vermont lamb ($38) also impresses in both taste and complexity, the tender meat rubbed in spicy mustard (in lieu Lebanese yogurt due to my wife's dairy restriction) and served with eggplant and faro with heirloom squash.

For dessert, the Valrohna chocolate soufflĂ© ($13) is Trouquet's piece de resistence. Pastry Chef Sarah Woodfine's decadent concoction is moist gooey goodness, exacerbated by pouring in grand Marnier anglaise and blending with a small dollop of espresso gelato. Those with dairy allergies need not fear: the chocolate itself is non-dairy, while the kitchen will swap out both the Grand Marnier with more of that incredible chocolate melted into a sauce as well as the gelato with one of their interesting sorbet selections (in this instance, coconut, which my wife attested nearly rivaled Mistral's heralded chocolate sorbet).

Troquet's first floor hosts a small bar and Le Patissier, the restaurant's much ballyhooed dessert lounge. You can either walk up a slight of stairs - or even take an elevator - to the second floor where the real action takes place in Hebert's small, yet bustling kitchen that leads to the main dining room lined with dark red walls and mirrors.

You're likely coming to Troquet prior to attending a Broadway show in Boston's Theater District. The real show, however, resides in the restaurant itself. From its sterling waitstaff to its impeccable food and wine options, Troquet certainly won't come cheap, but is definitely worth the price of admission.