Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Sandrine's Bistro: Relaxed Elegance
We slipped under the art deco Metropolitan sign, a replica of those extraordinary Parisian subway entrance markers, last week and stepped off quiet Holyoke Street in Harvard Square. I have always said that Sandrine's Bistro is the closest thing you can get to being in France without getting on a plane. Our latest visit only reinforced that notion.
The newly-updated decor re-emphasizes the warm, cozy, romantic, feel of being in a home in the French countryside, a very elegant and inviting home, indeed, where meticulous attention is paid to every detail. On my last trip to Paris I remember thinking how the French, to me, seemed to have elevated everyday living to a higher level, practically a form of art in itself and the sophistication is nowhere more evident than in the food and all that surrounds the dining experience.
My dining companions (starting left and continuing clockwise) were fashion chronicler Martini Severin of Beyond Boston Chic, Meaghan Malloy of Travel Eat Love, Brian Knowles of The Gringo Chapin, Emily O'Donnell of A Cambridge Story, well-known author of Confessions Of A Chocoholic, Bianca Garcia, moi, Boston PR Doyenne Chris Lyons and wine diva Melanie DeCarolis of Kiss My Glass Boston. It was a lively and interesting group. As we sipped Alsatian Trimbach Pinot Gris we discussed our favorite fashion blogs, the many places in the world (from Guatemala to the shores of Ireland) we had been to and what we had seen and eaten there.
We began by tasting numerous appetizers. The Tarte Flambée (Flammekuechel), or flatbreads, were offered in three varieties. The traditional featured bacon and caramelized onions. Mushroom Gratinée and Artichoke Gratinée followed. All were excellent. A full tray of Moules Marinières, P.E.I. mussels steamed in Riesling wine with garlic, shallot and onions made the rounds. Smoked Trout with warm fingerling potatoes, horseradish crème and salmon roe was yet another treasure.
Alsace-Lorraine is a region many gourmets are familiar with. Our server was a native of the Lorraine region while Chef Raymond Ost, who politely greeted all of us individually, is a native of Alsace. The cuisine was clearly of Alsatian influence, the much more German of the two, reflected in the Choucroute Garnie to follow, the frequent use of Riesling throughout the menu and the little touches, such as juniper berries and sauerkraut. The service was impeccable, with the strict adherence to formal etiquette the French are famous for, even in more casual dining settings. No gentleman was served before all the ladies had their plates in front of them. Every glistening utensil was replaced the moment it had been used. No wine was poured or plate removed without the diner's permission. Crumbs were instantly brushed off the fine white linen tablecloth.
The sparkling star of the appetizers was, of course, this sizzling (literally) tray of Escargot, traditionally baked, the Alsation way. Garlicky rich and oily bites, firm but not rubbery, it would be worth a return visit just for this alone.
The Gala Apple and Gorgonzola Salad was my appetizer choice. A nice blend of flavors with mesclun greens, spicy almonds and a Port wine vinaigrette, the slight sweetness was a great contrast to the previous Escargot.
The Pan Seared Maple Leaf Farm Duck Breast Magret was my choice of entree. Served with mushroom risotto and a perfectly-made brandied cherry reduction to intensify the rich flavor of the duck meat. Really exceptional flavors here. Duck breast has more flavor than perhaps any meat on the cold shelf of a typical American consumer. It's hard for me to resist whenever offered, although the Braised Organic Rabbit Leg (another gamier meat) was tempting.
Marinated Roasted Soy Glazed Tofu was the vegetarian fare enjoyed by Chris, on my left. Sauteed spaghetti squash, soy basil vinaigrette, arugula salad with shaved Parmesan and lemon vinaigrette. Absolutely beautiful presentation.
On my right, Bianca stepped up to the hearty Alsatian Choucroute Garnie au Riesling. Sauerkraut slow cooked in Riesling and juniper berries with bauernwurst, boudin blanc, wiener, grilled smoked pork loin, ham hock and hickory smoked bacon wrapped fingerling potato. Can it get any more hearty than that? Bianca brought half of this home for a brunch to follow. We sampled a few of the meats with flavors ranging from subtle to salty and consistencies from chewy to the smooth, almost buttery texture of that boudin blanc that sits atop that plate. A bold but rewarding choice.
Fresh fruit and sorbet was one of the lighter dessert choices.
The Chocolate Kougelhopf was much more rich: warm, dense chocolate cake, caramel coulis, vanilla ice cream and chocolate ganache. Again, a hearty nod to Germanic roots.
My Milk Chocolate Pot de Crème with peanut mousse and salted brittle. This was my favorite of all the desserts I tasted. The mousse was like an airy peanut butter that melted on the tongue and the brittle was somehow surprisingly light.
Profiteroles: Vanilla ice cream, fresh strawberries and Grand Marnier chocolate sauce. Another great option with more of a fine French pastry influence.
Needless to say, this long, leisurely meal laced with great conversation and enjoyed with people both knowledgable of and passionate about food was every bit the memorable meal. It was a happy reminder that the realm of formality and European elegance in a romantic, casual setting is not beyond the reach of Boston diners.
8 Holyoke Street
Cambridge, MA 02138-5014