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Aug 25, 2009 10:17 AM

Bouillabaisse Virgin

Hey, all... hoping you can help me right a terrible wrong, here.

I've never had bouillabaisse.

There. I said it. I take no pride in this. It's one of those inexplicable holes in my dining experience that never really came up, and my lack of experience with it went on for so long and it became such a big deal that I wanted to be sure my first crack at it was worthy. Problem was, I couldn't find anyplace that purportedly did a good version in our previous 'hood.

But now we're in Boston. This is a seafood town. And I figure there MUST be a place that does a really good, straight-up traditional bouillabaisse. I'm not necessarily looking for something that dots every i and crosses every t that an overly-hardcore traditionalist would insist upon, but I'm looking for something that's pretty darn traditional, and I'm definitely not seeking the creative reimaginings that seem to constitute so many bouillabaisse offerings. What I'm seeking is a benchmark -- something I can try so that I can say, okay, I've had it, I know what's it's supposed to be like, and I know how it can taste when it's good.

Any recommendations?


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  1. Eeek. A bouillabaisse purist would tell you that you cannot have true bouillabaisse here in Boston because the fish are different varieties. Period! So anything that you do try will be some kind of re-imagining, if only with different varieties of fish.

    A bit OT, but my first taste of bouillabaisse came out of my own kitchen, and was based on a Julia Child recipe. I followed every detail, including making the optional rouille, and it was worth it. Heavenly. (The recipe is not difficult, it just has a number of steps.) If you are so inclined, I would suggest a visit to New Deal or Courthouse with a copy of the recipe. Either place should be able to set you up with what you'll need.

    Failing that, I hope someone here will have some suggestions. Personally, i don't think I have ever ordered bouillabaisse in Boston in all the many years I have lived here!

    2 Replies
    1. re: PinchOfSalt

      After looking atthe OP's profile, I think a trip to Courthouse or New Deal is a terrific idea.

      It's a great dish to make for a crowd.

      1. re: PinchOfSalt

        PinchOfSalt -

        I say this with all kindness and respect: Oh, FEH on the "real" bouillabaisse thing. ;)

        I take this position in part because this weekend I had the great fortune of stumbling across WGBH's rebroadcast of a very early Julia Child episode of The French Chef (black and white, and she looked so young!) on making bouillabaisse. Her point was that the seasonings were what was important in the evocation of Marseille, not the fish. Rather, being in a seafood-heavy area, as New England is, one should make use of the local and fresh fish available here. She even advocated for an all-lobster version if one were so inclined.

        Anyway, authenticity aside, I do not recommend the one at Legal Seafood. Very one-note.

        Brasserie Jo's is nice.

        I haven't had the one at Gaslight (Friday special, $26), but I've seen it go past and it looks quite pretty. Of course, so did the one at Legal, so that's not really a recommendation, I suppose.

        I look forward to trying the other rec's on this thread!

      2. Brasserie Jo offers a lobster bouillabaisse on Fridays:

        1. La Voile on Newbury has a delicious Provencale seafood soup that will give a hint of what a good boullabaise tastes like without all the fish..and does a boullabaise occossaionally as a special.

          Miel, in the Intercontinental lists it on their menu. I haven't had it, but Miel purportedly specializes in food from that region. I know reports on Miel haven't been great.

          I doubt you can get a straight up traditional (nor should you try)because the dish is from S France and is traditionally made with fish from the Med..but a version using local NE seafood could be great..think cod, haddock, mussels, clams, lobster, etc in a rich saffrony broth.

          1. Hmm, I'd look to traditional French places especially with a focus on the cuisine of Provence, whence bouillabaisse originated. The two restaurants most focused on this region are La Voile (which I like a lot) and Miel (which I don't). I don't think La Voile does a boullabaise, but has a soupe de poissons, which is a rather different, ahem, kettle of fish (and one of my favorite things there). Miel does one, but I haven't tried it: it's a pretty dull hotel restaurant, in my view, not great, and I don't like the room, either.

            There has to be another option at one of our traditional French bistros: Petit Robert or Pierrot or Beacon Hill Bistro or somesuch, but I haven't run across what you're looking for. I tweeted this question, and will report back if I get any new info.


            1. Thanks to Twitter, I have another candidate, Bouchee on Newbury Street, which does it for $34. Not my favorite, but not the worst you could do on Newbury, either, and it has a great patio.


              3 Replies
              1. re: MC Slim JB

                I've had it as a special at Neptune and it was rally good about $36 if I remember correctly.

                1. re: phatchris

                  They also have a Thai version at Kingfish that is servicable.

                  1. re: phatchris

                    I found it bland and tasteless, which was amazing given the amount of coconut milk that was in it. It was no better the second day.