Stephi's Gets Familiar with Us

Ever on the lookout for restaurants that tweak our preconceptions and beguile our palates, we at Chowder must admit that—especially on unseasonably bitter March nights—we sometimes have a weakness for places that simply coddle us to the core.

Such a place is the newly opened Stephi’s on Tremont, the South End sibling to see-and-be-seen bistro Stephanie’s on Newbury. The premeditated coziness starts with the BFF-ready “Stephi” on the sign and continues through the warm chocolate-and-cream décor and plush banquettes (here the humble bistro chairs get padding, too), but really kicks in when it’s time to order.

As it treads in the well-worn footsteps of Stephanie’s—which for 15 years has been supplying Newbury’s tourists and pretty people with upscale comfort food—the Stephi’s menu feels familiar: gourmet mac and cheese, clam chowder, slow-roasted chicken.

And the over-the-top portions have also made the journey to the South End, with the meatloaf looking more like a bath pillow in a pool of gravy and mashed potatoes, and the signature salads tucking thick blankets of meat and cheese around their greens. Yet don’t mistake size as a tradeoff for lesser ingredients or technique. Our double-cut pork chop, for instance, was an ideally juicy slab that arrived hot through and through and with the skin delicately blackened. These folks are pros, and they use the good stuff when they cook.

The unexpected hit of the night was a comparatively daring appetizer of hoisin-marinated pulled chicken. Its chili-flecked carrots and sweet-and-sour cucumbers spark brightly, and make the dish a must-order for every visit (even despite the stodgy earthiness of the tag-along bean sprouts—fewer of these, please!). The low point—also unexpected—was dessert. The one thing on the menu we secretly yearned to be gargantuan, the brownie bread pudding, was just life-size, and tipped the balance of hot fudge to crème anglaise too far to the latter. And while orange-flavored blueberry cobbler might grow on us eventually, it presented as mere fussification of a classic flavor.

Interestingly, the prices seem to be a bit lower here than on Newbury. It’s not cheap-cheap, with signature salads hovering around $15 and most entrées going for $20 and up, but Stephi’s on Tremont is good value. Especially if you don’t want cooking that will set the world on fire, so much as food that warms the soul.

571 Tremont St., Boston, 617-236-0990, stephisontremont.com.

Jennifer Johnson