I took Mrs.Jimbob out for dinner and a concert on Friday night in belated celebration of Valentine's Day. We made reservations at La Voile through OpenTable a few weeks in advance, and I made arrangements through the OpenTable service to have a dozen roses delivered at the restaurant at the time of the reservation.
Before going into nitty gritty on the restaurant, I'll warn that the flower service was OK -- the reservation was at 5:30 pm, so at opening time and the flowers did turn up, but about half an hour late. Still made for drama as the maitre d' turned up with a vase of flowers in tow, but I would have preferred to have them at the table before we sat down. I suppose timed delivery has some liabilities.
We both adore the decor and the ambience of the place. The restrained decor and the general ambience and friendliness of the staff give the vibe of a cozy, homey bistrot type place -- reminds us of two of our favorite places, Oviedo in Buenos Aires and La Finca de Susana in Madrid, where the food is really good, there's no snootiness or pretention, just that sense of your own living room, only much much much nicer.
Sparkling water is a bit pricey at $6.50 a bottle, but it's Badoit, which brings us back to our stays in Paris. The amuse-bouche on Friday consisted of a small square of puff pastry with escargot embedded in the middle (interesting food and presentation and nice flavor) and a mousse of cauliflower with some sort of breadstick-type thing in it, also quite good and different for both of us. Bread is a batch of sliced baguettes and country loaves, served up in a canvas sack with a layer of hot rocks underneath the bag designed to keep the bread warm. We tried two different glasses of wine; Mrs. had a Guibot merlot which wasn't bad, and I tried the Alphonse Mellot pinot noir, which was interestingly fruity up front and complex in the finish.
We had one appetizer between the two of us, and this was the major find of the evening. The foie gras crème brûlée was a stroke of inspired genius -- the creamy earthiness of the foie gras works well in a custard, and the crisp caramelized sweetness of the top makes for a sharp and effective flavor and texture contrast. The combination was quite addictive, my top was not overcrisped as it was for the Boston Globe review. This may now be one of my favorite new things in the Boston area.
My wife's entree was a steak frites with a peppercorn sauce. This was accompanied by a small frisee salad and some roasted potatoes. The potatoes and salad were both decent, the steak delivered with a perfect "a pointe" (rare to medium rare) doneness, but the cut of meat itself was a shade on the mediocre side. My entree was a "moules marniere," more or less a straight up moules frites with french fries that were not bad (I have Vlora still in my memory from a few weeks ago) but an enormous pot of some of the best steamed mussels that I've had in a while, and quite reminiscent of the divine versions of this that I've had in Canada and in Paris. We also kept the broth at bottom around for quite a while to dip bread into, and eventually scooped it up like soup. Exquisitely well done, and one of the best values on the menu at $16 a pop, considering how many mussels get piled into the cast iron serving pot.
Desserts also ranged from very good to inspired. My wife had an apple tart, done with many fine slices of apple fanned over a very thin crust. Expertly done though not overtly memorable. I decided to try the "Ile flottante" which turns out to be a giant hunk of meringue coated with a gooey caramel sauce and floating (the dish's title means "floating island") in a sea of creme Anglaise (vanilla ice cream pre-freezing). Wouldn't normally be the sort of dessert that I would gravitate to, since I'm not normally a meringue fan, but this was again an intriguing result -- the meringue was just right in flavor, not sickeningly oversweetened, and blended well with the gooiness of the caramel and the unctuousness of the creme Anglaise (with little flecks of vanilla bean visible in it).
Total bill worked out to $128 for two, with three glasses of wine, a cup of Illy espresso, tax and tip. So it isn't the cheapest date in town, but after years of French dining which was either way too stuffy and self-important for our tastes or not quite good enough in terms of food quality, it's refreshing to have a place that reminds us of the great bistros and brasseries of Paris, but with no pretentions and food that ranges from solid to inspired. We'll definitely be back again.
261 Newbury Street, Boston, MA 02116