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,
1 Shepard Street, Cambridge, MA 02138