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Chez Henri (dining room): A big let down

Chez Henri disappoints

The long-standing disconnect between the dining room and the bar (to which the famed Cubano sandwich is restricted) was evident by the mass of people crammed into the bar side when we first arrived at 8.

Though the quoted 1.5 hr wait time at the bar ruled out any chance of experiencing the wonderful Cubano again, I was initially glad we'd made reservations for the dining room. Unfortunately, the experience was a bummer, especially for the prices.

My DC and I shared three apps and an entree: goat cheese arepa, bistro salad, "Cuban fries", and the banana leaf-wrapped red snapper with coconut rice, the latter of which I was totally excited about.

The arepa was so very average. It came as a sloppy, unidentifiable disc it was drowned in a tomato-y sauce. A few teaspoon scoops of goat cheese were placed on top of the thing in a circular fashion. The wetness of the tomato sauce made the arepa indiscernible and soggy; the pair of shrimp and the goat cheese were both fine, but I found the tomato ratatouille covering to be too acidic to allow any corniness to shine through.

Now here's what really was an omen to a bad night - "Cuban Fries". They'd finally brought out a serving dish of limp, super oily specimens, with no crispiness. I suspect that the oil wasn't hot enough when frying, so the poor fries soaked it up.

Our entree finally arrived after a wait. Coconut rice had very separated large grains, somewhat box-ricey. What I mean is, it lacked that silky, fluffy coconut-scented goodness you'd find at a good Thai place. The red snapper was just OK; its blandness reminded my DC and I of a hunk of cod. A few coconut rice grains were crunchy hard from undercooking. Thiny sliced mango slaw was underwhelming, as mangos have been tasting to me

While they graciously comped us on the fish after I spoke up, I was pretty disappointed in general by the experience. From looking around, we noticed many folks ready to present their groupons; the deadline for Chez Henri groupon is tomorrow (or today, I believe?). We too had a groupon, the $40 from $20. This may be an explanation for why the dining room became ultra packed as we were heading out.

I wonder if the days at a restaurant before a Groupon expires feel much like Restaurant Week?

Man, I reallly want that Cubano now

Chez Henri
1 Shepard Street, Cambridge, MA 02138

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  1. I have NEVER like their regular menu. Shockingly mediocre the 3 or so times I was dragged there.

    1. I think the dining room menu took an upturn when the chef/owner returned to the premises regularly some years ago after closing down his other venture, but I have never liked that French food nearly as much as the Cuban-inflected bar menu.


      1. Not as an excuse...But I believe the Groupon that they sold last year is expiring this week, so performance may have somehow been effected, and certainly played a factor in the wait time.

        I still don't understand the purpose of allowing you to order from the dining room menu in the bar, but not vice versa. I could see if the dining room was completely banged out, but I have been there on occasion where the dining room side was a ghost town, and still would not bend the rules. The only time was when I went there in a snow storm.

        Anyway, the cubano was excellent when I used my Groupon *last* week, but for a few dollars less and less hassle of getting a seat, the Cuban Reuben at HK hits that jones in a big way too.

        1. Yes, Groupon expired yesterday, and the bar was full and waiting - for patrons like me - who were cashing them in. Still, busy restaurant is no excuse for poor service and execution. FWIW, the Cubano at the bar was excellent, really enjoyed the Rhum Cocktail Marilene, and the oysters (Island Creek) were very tasty with a mignonette and tomatillo salsa.

          1. We went on Tuesday (also with the Groupon - I hate waiting this long to use it, but somehow always manage). We ordered the cucumber soup, the mixed grill and also the red snapper. While admittedly Im sort of glad we didnt pay full price as there are several places you can get just as good food for less money, I actually really enjoyed the Red Snapper dish. The Red Snapper admittedly needed the sauce it had on top, or the sauce that was on the side, but that is true with many white fish dishes. For me, the coconut rice was excellent. It was perfectly cooked, but somewhat light with perfect gooey flavor. But we went at 5:30 on a Tuesday. My guess is that it may depend upon the chef and how busy the place is... though that is sort of sad, as you would expect a place that expensive and small to be consistent in their quality. For me, I think I will definitely go back, though likely not without a groupon (before the week its due!) or on Restaurant Weeks. One of my biggest reasons for being in love with this place is the last time I went it was on Restaurant week and I had this amazing bouillabaisse, that is easily the best I've ever had. I'm waiting for that to return to the menu :)

            1. They just need to serve the cuban in the dining room already.

              6 Replies
              1. re: Gabatta

                They'd double their business cause cocktail consumption would triple and more then make up for the lower food tab.

                1. re: Gabatta

                  Sounds like they should simply become a high-throughput cubano and booze machine and be done with it.

                  1. re: Nab

                    Heck, they should chuck the furniture in the dining room, lounge the place up, and focus on easier to make bar/lounge food, NICE wine by the glass and bottle... Bet they'd double their sales.

                  2. re: Gabatta

                    I've always wondered this. Surely they have a reason why, but what could it be? I envision a full dining room of people, every single one munching on a Cubano (Malkovich, malkovich, malkovich, malkovich!). Are they afraid that orders for Cubanos will displace ordering more expensive items on the menu?

                    1. re: Prav

                      I'm not sure either, but prime time 4 tops are available via open table at the last minute virtually every weekend. I haven't personally been there in awhile, but any time the bar is full there is always a dining room table available. Empty seats can't order more expensive menu items or cocktails.

                      1. re: Prav

                        When both the bar and the dining room are reasonably full, I heard that it messes up timing or expediting or something when people order from the bar menu in the dining room... I don't know if that makes sense, it's just something I heard once. And I don't know if that should really be an issue if the dining area is half-empty.

                        I once went to Gargoyles, which has a similar policy (no bar food in the dining room). There was a long-ass wait for a table in the bar area. The dining area was not full. I explained I really just wanted the duck-fat fries off the bar menu, and that our party would order everything else from the dining menu. They were OK with that (since we were waiting a long time and the dining room was emptying out). So sometimes there is flexibility. But I can see where Chez Henri doesn't want to open the floodgates with people ordering their Cuban sandwich in the dining room, as that is such a popular item.

                        Chez Henri
                        1 Shepard Street, Cambridge, MA 02138