Monday, August 8, 2016

The Beehive: What is the Buzz All About?

Back in early 2007, Boston’s South End was buzzing about a new Bohemian eatery and bar that also provided live entertainment. Rated as one of the top 100 jazz clubs in the world by Downbeat Magazine (other evenings, a variety of other music concerts feature Blues, R&B, Reggae, Latin, Country, and even Burlesque), The Beehive’s festive ambience made quite an initial impression on Boston’s dining scene. But does its kitchen’s casual comfort food ultimately make beautiful music as well?

                The Beehive’s atmosphere is unmatched, harkening to an intimate, albeit larger college coffeehouse I often frequented years ago to watch a capella groups perform onstage. Here, exposed brick, crystal chandeliers, low-hanging glitter disco balls, and red velvet paintings bring to mind the eclectic, uninhibited world of Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge. There are two floors, the ground floor quieter in nature with a lively bar to its right, while a hostess escorts you down the stairs to a livelier subterranean level where a hip jazz trio performs (another lively bar resides in the back) in what feels like a secret club. Several young couples can be seen intimately conversing, along with groups of ladies out for a pleasurable girls’ night out, and even some families peppered into the crowd. Some customers are dressed more formally (ladies in Depression-era dresses akin to The Great Gatsby), while others don more casual attire. While there is no cover for nightly entertainment, diners should expect to be asked for their credit card when reserving a table, as there is a $25/person surcharge if reservations are not honored.

                Like the ambience, Beehive’s menu does not fit one size, consisting of offerings influenced by the Middle East (i.e. Za’atar spiced chicken and lamb moussaka), Eastern Europe (schmaltz fried rice, anyone?), and America (baby back ribs, cheese and gravy frites). Selections are also split into portion sizes, while price points veer slightly above what one would expect for said portions. Bar Snacks include a “Bacon + Eggs” deviled egg ($5), which is split into two and nicely seasoned. My dining companion and I devour our ½ egg in 2 bites. “Did this only take $.12 to prepare?” she half-joked, yearning for at least another couple of forkfuls.

                Hors D’Oevres feature an extremely underwhelming, under-seasoned order of crispy calamari ($14), our least favorite course of the evening that possessed heavy breading, and seemed to replace the promising heat of jalapenos with subtle green and red peppers. Much better was the BBQ Salt + Pepper Lamb ($15), served over red slaw (would have benefitted from being served warm in lieu of cold, and was a tad vinegary) and whose meat was tender and candied in texture. My only complaint? A handful of small pieces of meat do not justify the $15 price tag. A well-seasoned fluke crudo was appreciated by our entire table, with just enough lime juice to almost label it a ceviche and accompanying thinly sliced potato strips that leant a nice, crunchy texture that balanced against the fleshy softness of the fish.

                Main courses fared the strongest, led by duck au poivre ($29) accompanied by the aforementioned schmaltz fried rice (a German staple that is cooked in chicken fat that gives the rice its rich flavor) pickles and mustard jus for dipping. Like the lamb, the duck was succulent and had a nice sear that provided some heat (jerk rub, perhaps?) and that did not require the jus. And unfortunately like the lamb, 8 small strips of duck vanished from our plates in a moment’s notice and made for costly dish that seemed more appetizer than main in portion size. A heaping portion of vegetarian couscous, Farmstand vegetables and tzatziki proved a much better bet price-wise, while grilled swordfish over black rice, farro, and favas ($26) earned raves from another dining companion.

                Pass on the desserts, which go unlisted on the menu (for a reason, perhaps?). A dry, overcooked maple bread pudding elicits nothing more than shoulder shrugs from the table.

                Cocktails ($9-11) are relatively solid, including the playfully named Blood and Whiskey ($11), a concoction of Irish whiskey, blood orange, and passion fruit that makes for a potent, sweet, summery beverage that goes down smoothly. The bar’s sangria ($9) is prepared with white wine and cucumber. “Interesting,” one says between sips, approving of this unique version.

                Our server was knowledgeable and friendly enough, unobtrusive during the jazz trio’s set. She neither added great value (i.e. little requests such as spoons for sharing larger plates would have been automatically factored in with more polished fine dining establishments) nor detracted from our meal.

                Although the Beehive’s vibe is unequivocally fun, all the buzz I’ve been hearing about this place appears to have faded given its slightly above average, yet overpriced cuisine (a $25 valet charge does not help matters). There are other exciting, new restaurants across the city worth exploring whose cuisine my stomach is eager to make sweet music with.

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