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May 13, 2009 03:46 PM

Best casual French in Boston?

Just got back from an amazing trip to Paris (including meals at several Michelin 3-stars!) and are now longing for delicious, authentic French here in our own fair city. Of Gaslight, Aquitaine, Brasserie Jo, Bouchee, or LaVoile, what do you think is the best French bistro? What other places do we have that am I forgetting?

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  1. None of those are what I'd call traditional Parisian bistro. La Voile is Southern/Nicoise, Gaslight and Brasserie Jo are brasseries and hence lean Alsatian, Aquitaine is more New American accented, and Bouchee seems kind of Epcot Center France to me.

    More dead-on traditional are the Petit Roberts, Pierrot, Beacon Hill Bistro, and Les Zygomates. These come closest in feel, menu, and price to the Parisian ideal.

    Also worthy and fairly moderately priced: Sel de la Terre (kind of upmarket country French), Sandrine's (more purely Alsatian), Troquet (wine-centric), Chez Henri (restaurant side, which has some South American accents), Kingston Station, and Jasmine Bistro (half the menu).

    French in technique but more local/New American focused and pricey but not formal-feeling: Salts, Lumiere, Hamersley's, Craigie on Main, T.W. Food.

    Not really casual, but since we're at it:

    Upscale and New American accented: Radius, Pigalle.

    Nouvelle, fancy and pricey: L'Espalier, Sensing, Aujourd'hui.

    French-ish, fussy, fusion-y, and pricey: Clio, Mantra, Banq.

    4 Replies
    1. re: MC Slim JB

      Thanks for the nice summary - I can see this becoming a reference post. But it's odd to see Clio and Mantra mentioned in the same "breath". The former is one of the best meals I've had in Boston, the latter probably the worst.

      1. re: Eatin in Woostah

        Yeah, I'm not so sure I'd put Mantra and Banq in the same category as Clio. Haven't been to Clio in ages so maybe something has changed, but from what I remember it belongs alongside spots like L'espalier and Radius.

        1. re: twentyoystahs

          Not a comment on Clio's quality (Mantra has really slipped, and while I like Banq, it's nowhere near Clio's league), but the presence of Asian fusion elements, primarily Japanese in Clio's case.

    2. Of the places you mention, I like Brasserie Jo the best for French authenticity. I would also add Petit Robert to your list.

      I used to like Sandrines very much for French/Alsatian food, although I found that it went downhill so precipitously from when it first opened that I haven't been back for some years. Maybe it's gotten better again?

      3 Replies
      1. re: lipoff

        Agreed on Brasserie Jo's authenticity. I have not had good luck at Petite Robert, but other disagree. La Voile is fabulous, especially if you are fluent in French. And I like Sel de la Terre, especially the newest location. Nice energy and vibe there, and very good food.

        1. re: SuperFineSugar

          I also like Brasserie Jo, and agree that it leans towards the Alsatian side. However, it definately has the feel of a french brasserie and the food is very well done. Actually the worst thing i have had there was the most alsatian of dishes- choucroute. It seemed like a heap of saurkraut served with some grilled meats. It is supposed to be meat stewed in the kraut with beer, wine, juniper, etc. EVERYTHING else i Have had there has been spot on though. Classic steak frites and amazing Coq au vin. Great selection of French and Belgian beers too.

          Hammersley's Bistro is also an option- amazing food, but you won't necessarily find straight up bistro favorites. Chef Gordon Hammersley puts his flair on all of the french classics. In my opinion, this is what makes it authentic. Regardless of what is technically a bistro or not, Hammersley's is a great place to eat French inspired food.

        2. re: lipoff

          re: Sandrines: no, it hasn't. It's fine, but there are such better options these days. I don't know how the place stays open.

          I like Petite Robert for casual French and Sel de la Terre for slightly more provencal-leaning French.

        3. I did a similar search after a trip to Paris last year.

          IMO, Petit Robert, LaVoile and Brasserie Jo come closest. I have not been to Pierrot, but it's supposed to be quite good.

          I used to eat at Les Zygomates fairly often (before they opened their Italian sibling) and IMO the closest it comes to a real French bistro are the decorations.

          Avoid Bouchee. "Epcot Center France " is spot-on commentary.

          1. Brasserie Jo, Gaslight, Petit Robert Bistro (Needham) in that order. BJ, particularly, is where I've always had good meals, professional service and reasonable prices.

            1. Probably more brasserie than bistro in style (but a bit too expensive to really count as one) is Eastern Standard. Either French with New American accents or vice versa.

              All the bistro classics, good oysters, great cocktails, solid wine program.