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Brasserie 40-A ( will always be the Baystate to me) in Northampton

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Brasserie 40-A ( will always be the Baystate to me) in Northampton

Fargo | May 12, 2003 08:16 AM

So, I finally got there for dinner on Saturday, and here's the report.

Things like physical space and ambience matter to me, so my comments on those:
1.) The entryway was a little wierd. If it weren't for the big kitchen window looking out over the street and being able to see the cooks working the range, you'd be hard pressed to know you're in the right place. You step off of the street and into what looks like an office building hallway, a discreetly marked door to your right leads you to the restaurant. Once inside, the front bar area is warm and inviting, but I couldn't get past that initial "going to the chiropractor" feel of the hallway.

2.) For those of you who remember the old Baystate hotel...fear not. The years of skank and grime have been effectively sandblasted away and the interior space is now welcoming jewel tones, velvet drapes and warm woods. In spite of the warm look, I found the dining room in the rear quite loud -- noise ricocheted all over the place and the booths/banquettes were a little on the rigidly uncomfortable side.

Service is abundant. It seemed that they had way too many more staff on the floor than they actually needed -- bread boys, water boys, even a separate boy for the butter (adorably scooped into melon ball shapes in a tiny ceramic pot). All staff were unfailingly nice, helpful, not overly-fawning and in spite of the fact that they were everywhere trying to look busy and useful, they did not seem to be tripping over eachother.

Bread -- chewy parmesan toasts and soft sourdough/rosemary rolls, replenished frequently (thanks Bread Boy!). Drinks -- strong and generous. They pour an amply filled tumbler of Scotch. Didn't spend too much time with the wine list, but could have used a better and broader selection of wines by the glass -- if you're only offering one Chardonnay and one Sauvignon Blanc, might I suggest that the Sauvignon NOT be the oakiest one around? Minor quibble.

Appetizers were a seared steak tip salad with potato gaufrettes and a roquefort dressing that I suspect was dabs of Marie's -- but there's really nothing that tastes wrong about blue cheese dressing and steak salad. The seared sea scallops were just as one would hope -- that feeling of eating "fish candy" -- sweet, carmelized crunch splitting open to that lush, velvety aura of the ocean. There was a sauce, I think it was citrusy, but I was too busy trying to scarf more than my fair share of the order we agreed to spit to really notice!

For my entree, I ordered the roasted halibut with a citrus beurre blanc, rice pilaf and "Sauteed Vegetables". My issues: rice pilaf was unimaginative and had the feel of sitting too long under a heat lamp. Disappointing. Now here's a quibble that might just be my own issue, but when I hear sauteed vegetables, I am expecting something like carrots, beans, squash, asparagus -- I mean for crying out loud we live acriss the bridge from the Asparagus Capital fo the World (Hadley, MA) and it's SPRING!! So imagine my disappointment to be served roasted brussel sprouts. Now, I am not a fan of brussel sprouts, although I was told that as brussel sprouts go, these were perfectly delicious, but I really think that a significant enough number of folks out there dislike brussel sprouts enough, that if that's what the vegetable du jour is, one ought to be told so that one has the option of asking them to be ommitted from the plate -- they have a funny way of permeating everything around them. Also, they're just not in season. Feh, on the brussel sprouts.

My halibut was quite good. Slightly overcooked for my taste, but nicely crusted on the outside and tender, large flakes on the inside. The lemon beurre blanc was fabulous -- buttery, lemony, perfectly balanced,nicely amalgamated, but just not quite enough of it, as I wanted to swipe bread through it and suck on my utensils until I just couldn't take it any more. That's how good it was.

My friend ordered the lobster and pasta napoleon and never even let me have a taste. Bastard! He hoovered right through it making raptuous slurping noises and rolling his eyes, so I can only assume it was really terrific.

The dessert menu, I thought, was just right -- just enough variety to satisfy whatever your palate still hasn't tasted by the end of the night, but not over-the-top with "Screaming Chocolate Orgasm!!!" type offerings. I has the frozen coconut panna cotta with a ginger/lime/mango compote, which was the highlight of the evening. Sadly, the frozen aspect of the panna cotta didn't work for me -- most of what does work about panna cotta for me is the luscious creaminess on the tongue, which one gives up for a slight graininess and a dulling of flavor when one eats it frozen -- but the compote was great -- spicy and exotic/tropical tastes coupled with a homey feeling of really good applesauce -- oddly exciting and comforting at the same time!! Again, I had to be physically restrained for picking up my plate to lick it!

I had a bite of the chocolate/caramel cake offering -- quite good, but too recently out of the fridge to fully apreciate it's full tastiness.

All in alll -- I'd give the place a solid B for opening week. I think the menu is solid, well-balanced and appealling, although I hope the chef starts to feature more local, in-season produce and develop more interesting sides. In time, I think they'll work out some of the kinks and settle on what they do best instead of trying to do it all. The third floor balcony deck is lovely place to have an after dinner drink and a smoke (horror of all horrors -- get off my back!!) Reminds me of New Orleans-- wrought iron overlooking the bustle of the street below and the roofline of the old train station -- the part that hasn't gotten corrupted into that monstrosity of Union Station and Spaghetti Freddies -- On a beautiful Spring evening, after surviving The Winter From Hell, it's a nice place to remember why we live here and love it.

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