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State of the French Bistro - 2013?

We haven't had any threads about Traditional French Bistros in a while and with the weather about to turn cold, I can think of no better fortification than a heavy red and heavier classics like escargot, salad lyonnaise, Steak-Frites, duck confit, beef burgundy, etc.

Over the year's I've tried them all: Petite Robert, Chez Jackie (horrible), La Voile, Brasserie Jo, Pierrot, Gaslight, Aquitaine, Bistro du Midi (although, I really don't think of this as a the same as the others).

All have been meh to good with nothing ever truly standing out, even if from time to time, I could've sworn one was better than the others. It's been a couple years since I've read anything about any of these restaurants and at least a year since I've been to any of them. Any recent experiences/recommendations? Any other places I might be missing?

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  1. Cognac Bistro was pretty good, but recently closed. Gaslight (run by the same folks as Aquitaine) is similar in style to Aquitaine, lower in price, and has a great atmosphere--food is "good", not great, free parking is a plus.

    1. Les Zygomates is my favorite spot in that general category. I really like their steak frites. They also have some of the best shrimp in town.

      4 Replies
      1. re: mkfisher

        I haven't tried Les Zygomates, but for some reason I thought I read they had closed a couple months ago. Clearly, I was mistaken. Did they switch ownership though? I could've sworn I'd read something about them.

        Anything else you'd recommend in addition to their steak/frites?

        1. re: Klunco

          maybe it was the article about them opening the Italian place?

          1. re: Klunco

            Change in ownership a couple months back. Owner sold Sorriso and Les Zygs and then opened Society on High.

            There's a Middle Eastern style chicken my wife likes. Also a salmon dish she likes. Burger is solid. Raw bar is good. I usually go with the steak frites though so not that well versed in other parts of the menu sadly.

            1. re: mkfisher

              Minor nitpick, Ian Just actually opened Society on High before the sale of the other two restaurants was initiated. I don't believe the sale has completed, though I hear it is close to doing so and Just is supposed to remain employed by all 3

        2. I love Marliave, purportedly the oldest restaurant in Boston proper. They used to market themselves as French but now have a much more varied menu. However, I visit every time we see a matintee in the Theater District. The Croque Madame is sentational, and so is the escargot. Past what you've tried, there's not much in Boston for French bistro cooking. I visit my daughter in Chicago often, and our favorite lunch and dinner haunts are French.

          1. Don't know what you tried at Aquitaine but they have been consistently consistent since we started going there years ago. I always get the mache warm boucheron? salad and the steak frites with truffle vinaigrette. I always have a big smile on my face.(Once or twice i tried a diff entree but it was never as good as the steak frites.)

            In Marblehead, Five Corners Kitchen is a wonderful spot owned/chefed by a former Aquitaine chef. I haven't had his steak frites but his frites are equal to A's, and his brunch is better imo (eggs benedict etc.) and he does alot of delicious french dinner entrees diff from A.

            While Steve Johnson's Rendezvous in Central Sq. is not limited to French, he does many French bistro classics on his menus and they all are really French/ French colonial in orientation. IMO you're not likely to find a better cassoulet in the city.

            11 Replies
            1. re: opinionatedchef

              i second Rendezvous; I am not sure that a restaurant has to do only bistro classics to be a bistro.

                1. re: cambridgedoctpr

                  Agreed, the word "bistro" can be linked to almost anything these days, but in this case I am looking for a classic/traditional French bistro doing the classics.

                  There are certainly better "bistros" in Boston, but I'm curious if any of the ones serving traditional French food are firing better than the others these days.

                2. re: opinionatedchef

                  Love Johnson's cassoulet. Also just tried the cassoulet at Sycamore. A bit drier than Rendezvous but a seriously satisfying funkiness.

                  1. re: MaxEntropy

                    have never been disappointed at rendezvous.

                    also love brasserie jo.

                    the others? meh. gaslight is a concept 1st, restaurant 2nd. not to mention the ear-shattering din. had a couple very embarrassing evenings at aquitaine when dining with famous winemakers. the servers were just awful and the food is just ok. i have wanted to like pierrot, but can't get past the owner and overall mediocrity of the food. petite robert is just ok also. i'd rather have bistro-style food and sterling service at eastern standard.

                    anybody have gossip on soon-to-open merchant bar? perhaps more a brasserie, but raw bar, lots of taps, big space...

                    1. re: hotoynoodle

                      I do like Rendezvous, but it's also in a different category, from what I'm looking for, a Traditional French-style Bistro. I suppose Hammersley would be in the same vein as Rendezvous, strongly French influenced, but not necessarily doing the classics (besides the Cassoulet at Rendezvous).

                      I love ES and we do go there a lot, and it does hit the classics and I still think they have one of the most fun (and well priced) wine lists in the city, BUT it really is a brasserie and I'm searching for something smaller and more intimate.

                        1. re: Beachowolfe

                          embarrassing in that i was with vp's from wholesaling companies-- big whales in the industry. they were taking out some buyers from preferred accounts, of which i was one. we had reservations and were with very well-known wine-makers. their names were noted in the reservations, because the group carries the wines. this is the kind of situation where servers and kitchen up their game and a lot of $$$$$ can get blown. they utterly dropped the ball, both times; the wine makers were astonished and the vp's were horrified.

                          it was so rank amateur it might as well have been applebee's.

                          the food had always seemed formulaic, rather than authentic, so i don't miss going.

                          years later, i remain in touch with said vp's and the winemakers. we can joke about it now, but at the time they were ugly uncomfortable nights.

                      1. re: MaxEntropy

                        ha! funny you'd mention that. When I was writing my post, My Love said, "where did we notice cassoulet on a web menu recently? Oh yeah, Sycamore! " Can't wait to get back there.

                        1. re: opinionatedchef

                          Tempts me to opine about Sycamore. My SO was a devotee of the Ghost of Mary at Great Bay. Needless to say she was thrilled to see it at Sycamore, thanks to Scott, the inventor, landing there.

                          Don't want Steve Johnson to think we love him any less, though. For her 9th b'day dinner, our daughter requested Rendezvous.

                      2. re: opinionatedchef

                        Thanks OP; I've always liked the atmosphere of Aquitaine and that may be the best place to satisfy this craving because they really are exactly what I'm looking for (traditional French bistro).

                        I think, like others, I've just always felt a little disappointed in corporate feel. But that said, they check off all my boxes and it sounds like no one is standing up for Pierrot, La Voile, or PRB.

                      3. I miss Cognac Bistro! I like Petit Robert Central (not Petit Robert Bistro) for a lot of reasons, although I feel like Les Zyg is a bit more authentic.

                        Honestly, I can't stand Marliave. I live near it and really want to love it, but have had nothing but terrible service and meh food there.

                        Pierrot was good, but unbelievably expensive for the quality. I definitely won't be back there.

                        Has anyone found a good bearnaise sauce in Boston? That would be a huge win for me.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: addiez

                          I do not find Aquitaine or its sister restaurants anything to write home about at all. I miss Cognac Bistro which came close to my idea of a neighborhood French bistro joint. I like La Voile's sweetbreads and Brasserie Jo isn't bad. Eastern Standard Kitchen is probably closest to my idea of a French bistro, though I'm not a fan of the damn hazelnuts in the frisee salad. Still, the bone marrow will bring me back every time. And I'd kill for a plate of solid veal kidneys in mustard sauce or veal with cream and morels.

                          1. re: teezeetoo

                            <And I'd kill>.....
                            oh man, tz, you must have French in your blood.

                            1. re: teezeetoo

                              teezeetoo- i agree 100% on all your points. Brasserie Jo will satisfy an onion soup/ garlicky escargots and a creme brulee. Cognac was a higher tier that will be missed. The Aquitaine Group has always felt" soul less " and has missed on multiple occasions. -thanks for your reply