Sunday, June 5, 2011

Mistral, Boston MA

Of all the places I’d marked as likely visits in Boston Mistral’s brunch was the only one that raised some red flags with a few trusted opinions stating it was not worth it, yet aside from being part of a dreaded ‘restaurant group’ never was a reason stated for this opinion save for “Craigie on Main is the best Brunch in Boston.” With the detractors noted but having already pegged Craigie (perhaps mistakenly) for a dinner it seemed senseless to overlook favorable reviews by many national publications because of a couple naysayers and aside from the reviews – both positive and negative – Chef Jamie Mammano’s menu contained pretty much everything I love about big city brunch


With reservations made well in advance after hearing the French-Mediterranean bistro could often present a substantial wait at the bar for walk-ins I arrived just on time for my 12:30 reservation and having walked from the convention center in dress shirt, slacks, and jacket I was glad to find the room cool and my table ready when I checked in – what I wasn’t ready for, however, was just how jammed packed the main seating area would be with tables certainly less than an child’s arm length apart and a noise level bordering on the loudest I’d ever experienced in a restaurant with linen and quality silverware.

With my bag checked and reservation confirmed I was quickly led through the lengthy dining room by way of the lounge/bar where Nadal and Federer were battling it at Roland Garros and within moments I found myself at a comfortable two-top covered with paper and within moments my water and coffee were both filled – the water remaining so throughout the meal without fail but the coffee often sitting empty for long periods of time largely because I’m pretty sure the servers simply couldn’t see (or navigate) through the fray. Greeted next by my captain the menu was presented but having already browsed the online options thoroughly and wanting to get back to the conference by 2:30 I opted to place my order without further ado – and to be honest, I think he was relieved since in the course of my 90 minute meal he was the only server besides the water and bread attendants to visit any of the ten tables in my vicinity.

With orders placed and coffee (a smooth but rather boring blend) prepared to my liking I sat back for a bit and enjoyed the high ceilings, slate floors, and ornate lighting while thinking to myself that that if the tables were better spaced and the noise turned down it really could be a lovely and dramatic room – and with that thought in mind I was interrupted by a woman’s purse grazing my temple followed by a quick apology. Slightly annoyed by the ambiance (or lack thereof) thankfully this would be the last glitch of the afternoon as my next interruption was the welcome sort – a young man sporting a tray of warm brioche “coffee cake” muffins topped with brown sugar streusel and a side dish of house made cherry compote and unsalted butter – all lovely, but the butter completely extraneous as the cakes themselves had plenty built in.

Having been told that my order would start to arrive “in about fifteen minutes” and now with two muffins (literally) under my belt I was a bit surprised when my first menu selection arrived after a mere ten minutes – particularly as the menu indicated a fifteen minute wait was to be expected for this specific choice. Titled simply “Warm Cinnamon Buns” and arriving as a pair in a piping hot rectangular Staub cast-iron dish with the creamy frosting still bubbling my first thought was “damn, I over ordered” but after a single bite those thoughts changed to “I’ll make room!” Gooey, golden, loaded with Vietnamese cinnamon, and so buttery that it almost seemed impossible that the pastry itself remained fluffy these were not your typical “Cinnabon,” but rather the sort of cinnamon roll you’d make at home if you had the time.

Working slowly on the cinnamon rolls as I tried to decide if I wanted to eat both considering I had two more courses coming there was thankfully a sizable twenty five minute gap before my next course and thankfully when it arrived I noted the small appetizer price was mirrored by the small portion on the plate and after finishing my cinnamon rolls I indulged in the house made parfait of Hudson Valley foie gras on brioche with cognac cured red grapes – an ingredient list that would have had to try pretty hard to fail. Arriving again as a pair this time with the golden brioche at most two-bites each and the “parfait” essentially a whipped terrine topped with cracked pepper, sea salt, olive oil, and small slices of grape this was a very competent foie gras prep and although small in size the gossamer finish was quite substantial.

With my breakfast sweet tooth well documented my final selection of the morning saw me shun the impressive sounding duck confit hash in favor of the pancakes – specifically the Milk chocolate chip pancakes with banana brulee, hazelnut nutella, and crisp plantains. Arriving after another fifteen minute wait and stacked three high with a sealed container of Vermont maple syrup my first impression on receiving the plate was one of awe – the entire dish smelled like chocolate and nutella though none was to be seen, but with the plate then dressed in warm syrup and my fork cracking through the caramelized banana my answer came quickly as a gush of liquid chocolate poured forth from the steaming cakes. With a side order of golden and buttery Lyonnaise potatoes with rosemary, onions, and chives serving as a counterpoint to the pure sweetness of the pancakes I will simply note that in the end many potatoes returned to the kitchen but not one of the hundreds of chocolate chips remained.

With my table cleared and the restaurant now perhaps half full as the brunch hour neared its end I was asked if there was anything else I’d like and with another cup of coffee the bill was paid and I found myself back on the street en route for the conference center by 1:50pm – perfect timing and now with a breeze coming out of the east bringing perfect weather. Admittedly pricey at $40 with tax and tip I cannot say that I’d frequent Mistral for brunch if I lived locally even though the food was excellent given the noise and cramped seating but at the same time I’d definitely consider going back for dinner sometime when (hopefully) there was less noise and (ideally) equally excellent food.


Unknown said...

Mike, great reports as usual. I was in Boston in May and, after missing out on O-Ya, ended up at Mistral for dinner. I had the same foie prep and I think you made the right choice going w/ the pancakes as I was underwhelmed by the duck. Also ended up at Market at the W, which was surprisingly good. Looking forward to reading about the remainder of this trip and Chicago. Are there still a couple NY reviews hanging out there?

uhockey said...

Hello "unknown" - yes, there are some NY and Chicago thoughts out there - though the NYC ones may be truncated severely. Clearly you keep up with my travel schedule.....thus I'm guessing you are not "unknown" :)

ZJY82 said...

Ha! Apparently my profile name didn't show up. Yes, I do peruse the same boards as you it seems, as I like to visit/have family in NYC and Chicago. Your blog, and now Chowhound, have been invaluable in my own travels. Why truncated NYC reviews?

uhockey said...

Because they are >4 months old and although my skeletons/notes are written they simply won't be the same - and, to be fair, my life has become unrealistically busy in recent months.

ZJY82 said...

Of course, sometimes it slips the mind that in between all of these great meals/experiences, you and others that maintain a blog actually have day jobs. Anyhow, keep up the good work. Ever consider the NW as a dining destination?

uhockey said...

Looking at Seattle/Portland/Possibly Vancouver in March-ish.

Issue will be vacation time as I'm in the midst of a new job-hunt that is going to require travel. Will be making way to SF and Phoenix in coming months.