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Jan 16, 2011 05:36 AM

Thoughts on lack of menu changes at Sorrelina/Mistral?

I'm a true believer of if it ain't broke don't fix it and I understand why Chefs/Owners would want to subscribe to this philosophy...think Sorrelina and Mistral are tops and two of my favorites but I'm slightly bored of the menus.

We've now been in Boston for almost four years and probably eaten at Sorrelina and Mistral about two dozen times - every time we go I enjoy them so much but how many times can you eat the same few things at the same restaurants? Seems like it is easier to be critical of restaurants that try new things every season as opposed to places that just stick with tried and true. Again, get it from a business standpoint but not sure how you can keep going back over and over and order the same things. What do you think?

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  1. I agree if restaurants stay packed while continuing to serve the same menu, you can't blame them for not changing it. Plus, as restaurants are around longer, they need to keep more and more of the favorites on the menu to keep their regulars happy.

    That said, the unchanging menu is why I don't often go to Mistral or Sorrelina. With so many restaurants such as Craigie on Main, Bondir, and Erbaluce, that often change the menu weekly if not daily, I find it hard to go to joints that offer the same options day after day.

    I also think a menu is indicative of a chef that is still in the kitchen, pushing his or her craft, working with the market and trying new things. I love eating something different every time I visit Craigie on Main, trying the specials at Coppa, or seeing where the market leads Bergamot. At the very least, I expect seasonal changes to menus.

    So I suppose I agree completely: I understand the unchanging menu from a business perspective, assuming it works for that particular restaurant, but my favorite restaurants all offer menus that change with the seasons, the market, and the chef's whim.

    Craigie on Main
    853 Main Street, Cambridge, MA 02139

    69 Church Street, Boston, MA 02116

    253 Shawmut Ave, Boston, MA 02118

    279 Broadway, Cambridge, MA 02139

    1 Reply
    1. re: rlove

      I'm with you. I have a new found respect for many of the places (and some others like Hungry Mother, Ten Tables, etc) you mentioned, especially Bergamot.

      Hungry Mother
      Cambridge, MA, Cambridge, MA

      Ten Tables
      5 Craigie Circle, Cambridge, MA 02138

    2. Put Stella in this camp, too. Virtually the same menu, going on six years.

      2 Replies
      1. re: MC Slim JB

        Let me start off by first saying I haven't been to either one yet (finally made it to L'Andana on Friday & it was outstanding), but I'll play devil's advocate & give them the benefit of the doubt. I look at Sorellina as an "occasion" restaurant - somewhere I'd go to once or twice a year. Maybe they feel that this is where most of their business comes from so as not to disappoint those diners, they keep the menu the same so the customers can order their favorites & not be disappointed if they don't have them. If they offer 2 specials a night, then I'd be fine with that. Like it was pointed out, if it's not broken (& the customers have no problem with it), then don't fix it.
        As for Mistral, it seems to me to be a bar & a place to be seen - food seems to be an afterthought. Thought they would at least update their menu or add seasonal specials but as I said, maybe the food is an "afterthought" (not meaning taste / quality wise but priority wise - the bar comes first). Haven't been there yet 'cause I'm not sure I have the "appropriate" black outfit to wear, nor do I know the "right" people. ; )

        1. re: southie_chick

          The food at Mistral definitely is not an afterthought. And I avoided Mistral for a long time, too, because of its reputation as being "hip." But in the early days of, when a prime-time reservation popped up I decided to give it a try. I was so glad I did, and it quickly became one of my favorite Boston restaurants. It remains a scene to this day --albeit less of a scene -- but it's certainly not a place where they treat you poorly if you're not a regular or not dressed just so. In fact one of the things that kept me coming back is the great service, in addition to the great food.

      2. It is frustrating as the food and service are so great, but this apparently how Columbus Hospitality chooses to manage their menus. Teatro, Mooo and L'Andana don't change a great deal either. It definitely limits how often we dine at Mistral and Sorellina, however that is not a bad thing for the wallet or dining variety.

        Have you tried Sunday brunch at Mistral? One of the best high end brunches in the city. The food is absolutely delicious, and other than the occasional pizza overlap the menu is completely different than the normal dinner fare.

        It is always a fine line between a menu that is too static and completely mutable. I think Hamersley's is a place that really nails the mix with the menu being about half fixed with the other half changing on a seasonal basis. The old favorites (roast chicken, mushroom sandwich) are always available, but the seasons best (e.g. produce and seafood in summer; casoulet right now) are featured and available as well.

        SC's perception of Mistral's dining room is pretty off base. Yes, the bar takes center stage when entering and is quite lively. However, when one eats in the dining room it becomes pretty clear that the food and formal dining is not at all an afterthought to the bar. I own very few black clothes and don't feel compelled to wear then at Mistral, and I certainly don't run with the in crowd. Mistral is comfortable and welcoming for all in the dining room. Also, the bar scene at Sorrelina offers people watching every bit as interesting and lively as Mistral.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Gabatta

          Just have to agree that their brunch is OUTSTANDING. We went there with our 4 yo for my birthday a few months ago, and the service and food were really fantastic. They were also really nice to our (well-behaved) daughter.

          1. re: sallyt

            Yup definitely agreed, they are great with kids there. The service is always consistently warm and professional at Mistral.

            I am finding most area restaurants, regardless of price point, to be pretty good with kids as long as they are well behaved and the parents have enough sense to avoid peak times. We have had great experiences with our infant at ICOB among others lately.

          2. re: Gabatta

            We have been to Mistral for brunch and love it. Find it to be reasonably priced for really good food and service. Not much you can do to change up a brunch menu but it is nice to go back without eating the same thing for dinner. They are also very kid friendly as sallyt mentioned, which we appreciate!

          3. Jamie is a believer, much like Thomas Keller, that once he's come up with a good menu item, the job's done. Most of Mistral's menu remains the same as the day they opened. And they're not all Jamie's ideas. The tuna's John Delpha's; the crab ravioli is Steve Gennodie's. And I know I'm in the minority in that I find the foie gras one dimensional and lacking finesse.

            3 Replies
            1. re: almansa

              I think that a lot of restaurants, once they're confident that they've launched successfully, take the attitude that "We'll stick with what got us here until it stops working." I think places that get a lot of business entertaining also have a motivation to be conservative: hosts want a set of dishes they can reliably recommend to their guests.

              The Aquitaine Group restaurants are another set where menus might vary seasonally, but often look pretty much the same year in and year out. One exception is Union, which I think lost some steam after a strong first few years, so they started tinkering, moving the menu in a simpler and less-costly direction. Compared to Aquitaine and Metropolis and Gaslight, that menu has seen more overhauls, more experimentation, more toying with formats. The recent introduction of a new chef is now bringing a bunch of new menu ideas. It's good if you're a local; they keep working at giving us reasons to come back in. I suspect that locals are much less important to Mistral and Sorrelina's customer mix.


              1. re: MC Slim JB

                I really think they care about 'regulars' and have a consistent group that keep coming back to all of their restaurants. It did take me 2 dozen times to realize I was eating the same thing over and over, so maybe they are just slower than me!

                1. re: MC Slim JB


                  I was acquainted with the Asst. Mgr. of Sorellina.

                  His take: "Our nut is huge and we do stick with what sells. We are commercial fine dining, not innovative cuisine. For us to risk losing our base there would have to be a smaller nut or a huge economic upswing."

                  He said this to me in 2008.

                  Innovation is a luxury that came into vogue during the booms of the mid-80's and mid-90's as the newly well off flocked to restaurants.

                  Those clienteles have aged into parenthood and predictability.

                  Gen Y, born between '75 and '81 have not aged into cuisine driven dining.

                  They will.

                  The restaurant racket is very cyclical.

                  The high rents and scarcity of liquor licenses make Boston what it is and relatively resistant to change unless there is a dramatic change in economic reality.

                  This is further compounded by the topography of the city and BRA requirements that demand a zoning variance for virtually everything.

                  MC Slim JB this was among your most acute posts.

                  Thank you.

                  1 Huntington Ave, Boston, MA 02116