Dining Out: Bistro du Midi
More great seafood comes to Boston. Only this time, it’s by way of Provence
THERE ARE FOUR basic rules for dining at Bistro du Midi: 1) Order fish. 2) Have the warm chocolate fondant for dessert. 3) Save room for the complimentary jar of nougat squares that arrives at the end of your meal. 4) Make sure everyone in your party shows up on time (they’re strict about seating groups in full). Follow all of these, and you’re likely to leave happy.
In fact, Bistro du Midi just might break what I’ll call the “Biba curse.” Over the past several years, the restaurant space in the posh Heritage on the Garden building — despite having practically the prettiest views in town — has come to be synonymous with expensive defeat. Ever since Lydia Shire’s legendary Biba, with its tandoor oven, bold design, and limitless salt and butter, closed in 2002, the Heritage hasn’t recovered. After Excelsior failed in two fully realized incarnations, I thought nothing else could succeed there.
But restaurateur Kenneth Himmel, who created Excelsior, has had too many successful restaurants to cry uncle for long. (His other Boston spots are Grill 23, Harvest, and the new Post 390.) So now he’s joined up with Marlon Abela Restaurant Corporation, the force behind a string of London restaurants and two A Voce restaurants in New York, and the new partners have taken a spare-no-expense approach to creating a Provençal restaurant.
The early crowds at Bistro du Midi imply a lifting curse, and a fair bit of the food and service makes me see why. Not the décor, though — truth be told, with every redesign the space has gotten uglier. Bistro du Midi’s interior is strangely stodgy, as if following a brown and cream Mistral template with wrought-iron fixtures and rich woods. It looks like a hotelier’s idea of bland, safe taste, and the hard tiles, plaster walls, and low ceiling make for awful noise. If ambiance is what you’re after, the bar downstairs might be a better choice.
The menu reflects the restaurant’s namesake, the Midi region of France, which includes Provence and the Côte d’Azur and is known for its seafood. I was knocked out by the bistro’s fish dishes, which were so expert that I was puzzled why so many nonfish dishes were blah. The fish mastery makes sense: Executive chef Robert Sisca was formerly executive sous chef at Le Bernardin in Manhattan. He trained at Johnson & Wales and worked in New England, and now he’s back. Follow him wherever he’s cooking fish.