Restaurant Review: Deuxave
AFTER THREE DINNERS AT DEUXAVE and a long conversation with the very American chef, Christopher Coombs, I still don’t have a clue what the name means. You’d think it was French for Second Avenue, even though that would be Deuxième. Certainly the voice on the answering machine, like the menu, is French-accented. The garbled message sounds like it’s saying “Gérard.” The chef and most of the staff pronounce the restaurant’s name more like “doo-wah.”
I’m not simply picking on people for their inadequate French diction; the name is more or less impossible to pronounce, anyway. But all this perplexity hints at the confusion over just what Deuxave is aiming to be: French, for sure, and high-toned. Coombs is also the chef behind Dorchester’s Dbar, and he and co-owner Brian Piccini have made it one of the go-to places in that neighborhood (where admittedly the competition isn’t steep). But as friendly and accessible as Dbar is, Coombs said in an interview, it wasn’t giving him the artistic scope he was after.
And that, I think, is most of the problem. Deuxave’s menu is fancy, with over-burdened dishes that can be as tiring to hear about as they are to eat and comprehend; there’s at least one flavor too many in almost every dish.
Coombs does have real technique, as he’s too eager to show, and he’s particularly good with meat. And I’m ready to see the restaurant’s grand space on Commonwealth Avenue, across the way from Clio, succeed after several food halls and dining concepts (most recently a too-big outpost of Panificio, the Beacon Hill sandwich standby) have failed there.
But that will take some real overhauling. Coombs needs to simplify his menu and highlight the deep flavor that his technique brings to the best dishes. Like the nine-hour French onion soup ($10) — a dish I didn’t know I missed so much till I had his. It’s served in a small version of the white ceramic bowls you might recall from your first trip to France. The beef-broth base tastes like beef, not like some generic stock; the onions have been carefully caramelized but not burned, which takes constant watching and a ridiculous amount of patience. The crouton on top sports lots of real Comte, my favorite French cheese, though there’s actually so much that it’s dull and soft. To add crunch, Coombs puts a sliver of toasted baguette on the side, slathered in beef marrow. Even with the plasticized cheese, this is an appetizer you wish came in a bigger portion… except for all the salt.
In fact, along with the general fussiness of the menu, salt is a big problem at Deuxave. There’s too much of it everywhere, and it makes enjoying a meal there a real challenge. A so-called “crispy” duck confit appetizer ($14), flabby and soft one night despite its name, was way oversalted, as was the heirloom-cranberry coulis underneath. On another visit, the duck skin was wonderfully crisp, the meat as melting and full of flavor as you could wish, but salt still overwhelmed the coulis. Oversalted lentils under a somewhat chewy entrée of duck breast ($28) made them a no-go part of the dish. Luckily, there was plenty else going on, such as the foie-gras-stuffed prunes soaked in port, and nice, plump, fresh turnips that were sautéed just right.