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May 4, 2011 10:21 PM

Disappointment at Chez Henri

When I am in Cambridge Chez Henri is one of the better restos close to where I stay. Over the years it has been a reliable local GoTo, so I was particularly displeased by the meal I had there on a quiet Tuesday night. My displeasure has been increased by the need to spend the two remaining Groupons I had bought a few months ago.

A friend and I met there for dinner. He had pea soup, and the scallop special. I had the grilled octopus and squid salad followed by the bouillabaisse. Only one of the four was worth ordering again. We also had two glasses of the Chateau Garsac Bourdeau and one of the Rioja.

His pea soup was good, but his scallops only fair. I tasted neither but looked at both. The pea soup was a sprightly vivid appealing color, but the scallops were uneven in size, decidedly unplump. Since the scallops were an off-menu special they ought to have been better.

I adore grilled squid and octopus. I often get the grilled squid salad from Russo's. A few months ago I had a superb version of grilled octopus that I could have eaten for ever (at the moment where I had the dish escapes me, but I will add it to the thread eventually, when that memory returns. It might have been at a tapas place in Montreal?). Chez Henri's version completely undermined the delights of grilled protein. One of the signal appeals of Russo's grilled squid is that the smokey flavor and a hint of the grilled crunch is preserved in the salad. The squid is not soggy. Chez Henri's version destroyed all that is good about grilled seafood. It was overwhelmed by dripping greens and other veggies, with no aftertaste of smoke or crunch of the grill. The vinaigrette and the salad ruined the crustaceans. What a waste!

As for the bouillabaisse, have you ever heard of a safran-free bouillabaisse? The single piece of toast was covered not with a rich garlicy red-peppered roux, but with dull mayonaise topped with scallions. In its defense the fish was reasonably fresh, excepting of course for the shrimps which are almost everywhere a farm-raised travesty perpetutally on the edge of emerging from an ammonia bath. The choice of fish was not distinguished, insufficient shell-fish, clams, mussels, too much salmon, but it was adequate. What can you expect for 28 benighted US dollars (not Euros), thousands of miles from Marseilles? All of that could be forgiven, if only the stock had been saffron-rich, perhaps with a touch of tomato. In retrospect, I should have left Chez Henri to fetch that five dollar bag of frozen ciopinno from the freezer at home, and asked the chef to add it to his dish. That would have improved the bouillabaisse dramatically, but we had limited time for dinner and I did not want to embarass my scallop-eating buddy.

I did tell the waitress that the dish was a disappointment. She lamely claimed that it was a traditional bouillabaise! I don't believe she knows that tradition. I should have made more of a fuss and sent the dish back to the kitchen for some saffron and roux, but time was limited and my friend is not as much of a food-fanatic as I.

Of course there still remains the problem of two more Groupons to spend there. Even I admit that the Trader Joe's ciopinno solution is not realistic. Forty bucks could easily be spent on the bar menu when a drink or two could be added to a Cubano and salad, but with the Mass ABC-enforced bait and switch I may have to add a creme brulee to go, on top of the mojito for which I pay full-price, not the bargan I was hoping for.

How have the rest of you spent your Chez Henri Groupons?

PS. I don't think that the groupon had anything to do with the inferior meal. It did not come up until I paid the bill.

PPS Mass ABC is the Massachusetts Alcohol Beverage Commission, one of the many enduring and annoying consequences of the Volstead Act, even after its repeal,

Chez Henri
1 Shepard Street, Cambridge, MA 02138

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  1. When that Mass ABC thing came about, Groupon sent out a 'because of this new ABC ruling,you can opt out of your purchase at ___ if you want .' (I was lucky and took advantage of that to refund our Tremont 647 coupons after no CH responded w/ any positives for us about Tr647).

    Try emailing them and tell them you want to refund your remaining ChHenri coupons because of the ABC thing.

    Tremont 647
    647 Tremont Street, Boston, MA 02118

    1. I emailed Groupon for a refund which they cheerfully gave me.

      1. I can't recall the last time I ate in the restaurant. The bar is just too good.

        We have a Groupon we need to use but since there are 2 of us and maybe 3 we still plan to spend it on bar food.

        Sorry your experience was so lame.

        5 Replies
        1. re: C. Hamster

          I have a groupon and look forward to using it for cubanos at the bar. I agree, no need to refund the groupons when you can use them in the bar. A couple of apps and cubanos should use up the $50 pretty handily.

          1. re: bear

            My groupon is $40. I assume you made a simple slip at the keyboard.

            I am amused that the responses have focussed on the framing groupon aside, rather than the substance of the food. Does that suggest that no one has had a recent positive experience at Chez Henri to counter mine?

            1. re: VivreManger

              Oops, I just double-checked and my groupon is indeed for $40.

              I haven't eaten at the restaurant, only at the bar, that's why I didn't comment on the food. It seems from reading the board posts recently that experience has been pretty mixed.

              1. re: bear

                A cubano at the bar is the way to go at Chez Henri. I was unimpressed by the dining room fare.

                Chez Henri
                1 Shepard Street, Cambridge, MA 02138

              2. re: VivreManger

                I can weigh in - had the grilled squid a couple of weeks ago - thought it was fine - no problem with the greens. Yummy, sort of standard.
                Had an even better special of cherrystones in a broth with some sort of sausage and fennel - was really fine.
                I think the ceviche there is a joke - you get a thimble full and it never has much flavor to me.

          2. There is no roux in a traditional bouillabaise. Perhaps you are confusing roux with aioli.

            4 Replies
                1. re: teezeetoo

                  Yes, OP misspelled rouille. And would have no doubt been even more upset had they been served roux on toast.

                  1. re: C. Hamster

                    hmmm,home-ec memories of chipped beef on toast, aka sh....t on a shingle.Sorry, but YOU brought it up ;-)

            1. Spent my groupons there long ago, but about three weeks ago had a terrific meal of oysters to start, and duck to follow. Duck so perfectly cooked, rare but not mushy. Ice cream to follow was nothing to write home about but man that duck was good. Have to say that other than the occasional service slowness, and one too-cool cassoulet, have never had a bad meal at CH.