Monday, March 2, 2015

Adieu, Petit Robert Bistro

After many years in Kenmore Square, the Petit Robert Bistro closed on Saturday. We often went there when we were in the mood for an especially nice lunch... or were wishing we were in Paris rather than Boston. The dining room was simple but elegant, comfortable, and quiet — a rarity these days. The service was always charming and professional.

Not having fancy palates, we often ordered the "Parisian Hot Dog," a long, tasty frankfurter on a hot, house-made baguette with an excess of melted cheese, served with perfect fries and mustardy mesclun salad. (They'd bring us a little boat of fresh mayonnaise for the fries, which we loved.) The onion soup, roasted chicken, steak frîtes, tart tatin, chocolate mousse, and many other classics were equally delicious.

Bistro tables covered with white paper to protect the linens and set with classic French tableware.

We were there last weekend for hot dogs, onion soup, and tart tatin, and I went again with friends this past Friday (onion soup, a creamy chicken-and-leek crepe, and tart tatin) and again on Saturday with my husband (onion soup, croque monsieur because they were out of hot dogs, and — how stupid in retrospect! — no dessert).

Onion soup, alcohol-free but marvelously rich, in a traditional crock.

A perfectly toasted croque monsieur, with our favorite fries and salad.

Once, a few years ago, we were having breakfast in Paris and reading our pink International Herald Tribunes when we spotted this headline (approximately): "If You Want an Authentic French Meal, Go to Boston." It was a rave review of Petit Robert. We saved a Trib and brought it to Petit Robert the next time we had lunch. They were delighted to read it and we were happy to make them happy for a change.

The thing is: that article was not an exaggeration. It is not easy to find very good versions of classic French dishes in Paris. At least we rarely succeed, but then we are always trying to pay American-style prices rather than, you know, 30 to 40 Euros apiece for a simple lunch without wine.  (I dare you to locate an equally delicious roast chicken in St. Germain as was served in Kenmore Square, and you may double the price. Good luck.) Even the "Parisian hot dogs" of Paris, while affordable, aren't anywhere close to as elegant or delicious as the ones in Boston.

Since even tiny amounts of alcohol and large amounts of cream disagree with me, I can't have most of what's offered in Paris restaurants since both ingredients are integral to so many French dishes. This is why I'm always hunting for a simple roast chicken, etc. But, somehow, at Petit Robert I always had plenty of choices.

There is still a Petit Robert Bistro on Columbus Avenue in the South End, although we heard they are redecorating it and changing the menu. Here's hoping they don't tinker too much... we never loved it as we did the one in Kenmore Square, but we're grateful for it now. There's another PRB in Needham but that will be a last resort.

Our waiter told us that a "contemporary" French restaurant, will open in the Kenmore location later this month. "Contemporary" might sound appealing to you, but I'm wary. To me, it often translates to "weird," as in, "take a perfectly nice dish and then do something bizarre to 'update' it." I will bet that the PR for this restaurant will include the phrase "...with a twist." Run away.

Hmm. I just did a little Googling and found this. It's called Josephine... and note the fourth paragraph! What did I tell you?

Bostonians are going to miss their coq au vin.

We also heard that there will be "family-style" seating in this new restaurant, meaning diners will share long tables and sit next to strangers. Conversation at meals has been a basic shared human experience since we first began breaking woolly mammoths and, later, bread together eons ago... but when you're stuck next to unknown quantities, it's by no means guaranteed to be convivial. There is plenty of casual restaurant seating like this in France, of course, but the French are used to it and understand how to conduct themselves accordingly. In general, Americans are not brought up to have such manners, especially when it comes to treating strangers graciously. Witness the recent parking-spacer saver dramas, the way people behave on crowded buses and the T, and the collective style of driving in Greater Boston. This new restaurant may need to provide haz-mat suits instead of linen napkins.

We will try out the new restaurant but I'm feeling a bit less than optimistic. Adieu, Petit Robert.

Update: Check out the Facebook page.  Oh dear god. It looks like an upscale university dining hall. It also reminds me of Shake Shack. Revisiting my upbeat, "we'll give it a try" thinking.


  1. Actually, the FB pic looks more like they renovated the school gymnasium and locker room. Given how little experience the owner has, it sounds like it may well be "adieu, Josephine" before long. Although those tables made in the Berkshires look nice.

  2. What about Central Bistro in Downtown Crossing (across from Macy's, hidden on the second floor of an office building)? I know it used to be Petit Robert Bistro, not sure when they changed the name. I just checked the menu, they still have a roast chicken on the menu


    1. Thanks, Angie! I'm going to have to check out Central Bistro. I hadn't heard a peep about it until recently. Fingers crossed!

  3. It is always a bit sad when a favorite food place (or any favorite business for that matter) shuts down, and there is not any real alternative. I don't find the "family style seating" idea very appealing either. There are some places in Calgary with this style of seating, but I don't recall reading any reviews about them yet. I think it will probably end up being another fad that will eventually get replaced by something new.

  4. I'm so sad. I didn't go as often as I'd like, but I always loved the food there, and the chef and dessert chefs were so fun to talk to.


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