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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: http://www.brasseriejoboston.com/tl_f...

        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.

              2. I had a delicious bouillabaise at Ten Tables JP a few weeks ago!

                1. It's been a while, but I had a wonderful bouillabaisse at Chez Henri a few years ago. I don't see it on their current menu.

                  I would expect Pigalle to do it well, but I've not tried it, and I've heard such dismal reviews of Pigalle recently, I don't know...

                  I love La Voile's Provencale soup, but I do think it's a completely different thing.

                  1. Heh... yes, I've heard some say that you might as well not bother if you don't live on the Mediterranean, which strikes me as an extreme position. Which is why I say "pretty darn traditional." Naturally, the exact fish won't be available, but presumably one could cobble together a pretty decent approximation using available fish. It's really the rest I was more concerned with -- the flavors in the broth, the rouille, the croutons, etc. I was looking for someplace that's at least attempting to approximate the traditional version rather than making any old seafood stew and slapping the name bouillabaisse on it.

                    Also, I DEFINITELY intend to attack this myself. I just thought it would be nice to have it out somewhere first so that I have some frame of reference. Lo and behold, I have that same Julia Child recipe on my own bookshelf. Thanks for the heads-up.

                    As for nabbing it while out on the town, some great suggestions here. Thanks, folks. Will report back as soon as I manage to get to one of them!

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: Dmnkly

                      Pssst... page 52, Mastering the Art... or at least that is where it is in my 1979 edition... Good stuff....

                        1. re: Dmnkly

                          The 90-minute "Julia Child Memories" running as a pledge drive special on PBS stations this month contains the entire early B/W show wherein she makes bouillabaise. I generally don't mind B/W TV and although it doubtlessly made the cleaving of huge fish heads less ghastly for the 1960's homemaker to contemplate, the finished soup was not as visually appealing as it would be in color.

                          1. re: greygarious

                            This is what immediately came to mind when the OP raised the initial question. I caught the Bouillabaisse episode and it looked dead easy but time consuming. Friends of mine had also seen the special and wanted to order it out. I've never seen it on a local menu but I haven't really looked -- because I've had it in Provence and although it's lovely, it has a slight anise flavor that I don't totally dig (JC uses Pernod). The garlicky aioli and croutons almost make up for that, but not entirely. For me.

                      1. re: Dmnkly

                        Tried it a couple of times years ago while traveling in France, got my benchmark. Later had it one or two times in the US, don't recall where, it was an utter disappointment and not the same at all, and not only because it didn't have the same fish. I have been making it myself for a long time, always for a crowd (not Julia's recipe, I've worked out my own) and I think it is often as good as anything I had back there in France....using local fish/shellfish is fine IMHO.

                        1. re: Zatan

                          Good for you, Zatan. I make it every year for Thanksgiving instead of turkey, I've had it many times in France and it's always a little different. It's not difficult to make but to get the variety of fish it's not worth it unless for 8 or so guests. I get the fish from Courthouse. Julia's is a good master recipe, but even in Provence they can't get exactly the same fish every day, so it has to be flexible. It's a lot of fun to make and to eat!

                      2. Also learned (via Twitter) that Hamersley's has offered it (not on the current menu) and that there's a very good recipe in Gordon's cookbook.


                        1. Just noticed that the bouillabaisse with lobster, clams, mussels, and monkfish is back on the menu at Hamersley's, where I'm guessing it would be terrific. Only $25, too.