While the space has been beautifully transformed, and an outdoor dining courtyard is certainly a rare gift in a neighborhood such as Roslindale, Birch Street Bistro has work to do if it's to keep it's clientele coming back in all seasons.
The large mirror over the bar, in traditional bistro style lends authenticity and spaciousness to the bar and the relatively smallish dining area, and the choice to keep the far wall exposed brick was a wise one. It simultaneously conveys a blend of old worldliness and contemporary chic to the entire dining room. The oversized wrought-iron lantern chandeliers balance the scale of the room nicely and contribute to the feel of modern chic with soft, subdued lighting.
The heart of the matter- the food- however, needs some improvement. Although the combinations and manner of presentation are promising, once one bites into the creation, each dish falls flat.
A promising three tomato cold salad with balsamic dressing and fresh mozzarella, for instance, was fine, but lacked punch to really exercise the dimensions of sweet, sour and salty that could've easily been dramatized in this perfect summer combination. The tomatoes had not been fire roasted, the balsamic had not been reduced and there was not a depth of dimension to the thing as a whole. It was fresh and satisfactory though with tomatoes that had flavour but nothing out of the ordinary. No heirlooms here, merely garden varieties.
The Ahi tuna tartare was dressed with a light wasabi and was perhaps the best balance of flavours of the evening. It was light and fresh with just enough heat to keep it interesting but not so much as to overpower the delicacy of the fish. Nice presentation as a cylindrical island with shaved pickled ginger atop.
The truffled fries were a bit starchy and thick for my taste. I personally prefer the true bistro frites, thin, skinless and tender and flavourful inside yet crisp outside. These were not that. They were thick- nearly steak fries- and had skin on. The truffle oil was a pleasant and aromatic addition and was not so much to drown the whole boat. The addition, or at least option, of coarse sea salt would've been appreciated as well.
The "wild" mushroom strudel contained mushrooms less of the "wild" nature and more of perhaps the "zoo" variety. They were tame and the lack of variety was underwhelming. I had hoped and expected to taste a variety of truly wild cultivars such as chanterelle, trompets du mort, oyster, lobster, hen of the woods, or honey mushrooms even. But when the two asymetrically cut, piercing towers of phyllo standing upright on my plate arrived, they contained only crimini...or so our waitress "thought". She didn't seem sure of the contents of the dish, nor of how to effectively describe the characteristics of a wine we inquired about. She merely claimed it was "medium to full bodied, and you can really drink it without food!" Was that a Freudian hint that the lackluster offerings weren't exciting enough to pair with the wine?
But the truly inexcusable culinary offense came with the timbale of quinoa. Upon tasting, the pervasive chicken broth flavour only temporarily masked the intense bitterness than indicated that the quinoa had not been sufficiently washed, leaving the toxic saponins in the grain. Not only did this make for an unpleasant taste sensation, but lead to the inevitable gastro-instestinal distress later that evening. The beets accompanying the strudel were cooked to the perfect tenderness, but here again lacked anything to bring out or enhance their natural flavor and they ended up tasting rather bland in comparison to the streudel and its red pepper coulis.
The chef should instruct staff better as to prep and either taste the preparations that are leaving the kitchen or hone his/her taste buds.
Finally, the desert I selected was the mango lemongrass creme brulee. Given what I had already experienced, I felt this was probably the best bet as to this kitchen's culinary leanings, although it certainly wasn't the only tempting thing on the dessert menu. The brulee was very delicately prepared with a balanced blend of fresh fruit and smooth vanilla flavours, without being cloyingly sweet or heavy as some desserts can be. It was a sweet, but not too sweet, ending to a mediocre dinner, and I was glad to end it on a happier note.
If there was as much attention to the cuisine as there is to the decor, this could really be Roslindale's own little gem. Until then, sip wine and enjoy any excuse to dine outside while we still can in a little oasis in Rosi square.
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