2 Mojitos = Fair
Aquitaine is a French bistro and wine bar in Boston’s South End. It is modeled after Parisian neighborhood bistros by Chef/Executive Owner Seth Woods. The decor is warm and modern, French artwork lining the walls, evoking a true Parisian atmosphere. While I have heard great things about Aquitaine, it’s wine, food and service, my Restaurant Week experience was far from wonderful. Improperly executed food and poor service which was only saved at the very end of the meal thanks to my prompting, left me thinking that as far as Restaurant Week experiences go, Aquitaine is clearly not at the top of my list.
Aquitaine is located on Tremont Street in the heart of the South End. Getting there is easy whether by car, train or bus. Valet parking is offered by the restaurant if you wish to partake of that option. If not, there is metered parking along the streets and public parking garages in various nearbly areas. The restaurant does get crowded so I recommend making reservations.
The restaurant is decorated in warm tones of chocolate brown, mahogony and taupe, the walls lined with French artwork that makes you feel like you are sitting in a Parisian bistro. The oversized windows at the front of the restaurant are divided by cream-colored organza curtains that overlook Tremont Street. Soft white globe lights are hung from the high ceiling creating a pleasing glow throughout. The room is lined with leather booths on one side and a long banquette on the other, giving those sitting at the banquette a clear view into the kitchen. Our waiter was almost robotic — he showed little to no expression and barely feigned interest in taking our orders and making our meal a pleasurable experience. While staff was flittering about constantly, when we needed proper service it was difficult to find.
Chilled Corn Soup
The chilled sweet corn soup was a refreshing summer treat. While not as good as Lumiere’s hot corn soup, this one ranks a clear second. Served cold with a roasted poblano pepper and corn relish, the soup had that added spice to it that, with the sweetness of the corn, provided a nice contrast in flavor. It was served in a white ceramic crock and was well-presented.
Salt Cod Croquette
The salt cod croquette was a creative and interesting starter. The salt cod, melded into an oblong, oval-shaped croquette was battered and fried, producing a well-seasoned croquette. The one criticism — the croquette could have been less thick, allowing for each bite to incorporate the crunch of the batter on each side of the flaky cod center. As it was, thick and oval, each bite only allowed for one side of the battered cod portion to be tasted at a time, taking away from the crunchy/flaky combination that is so vital to the dish. The croquette was served with a tangy and tasty Sauce Roullie and lettuce with a chardonnay vinaigrette.
Pan Roasted Striped Bass
All three of us at our table ordered the pan roasted striped bass. Sadly, while one of us was served a properly cooked piece of bass, the other two of us were served undercooked pieces of fish, raw in the center. While it is common for tuna to be seared, the bass should have been cooked through. When we contacted our waiter to inquire about our undercooked fish, he first looked at us puzzled and then admitted that, yes, both pieces were woefully undercooked and robotically mumbled some words of apology. Our two pieces of bass headed back to the kitchen and we were left watching our other dining companion eat her fish. Not only were we unable to enjoy our meal together as we should have, but while we sat for between 25-30 minutes waiting for our properly cooked bass, we watched plate after plate of bass pass us by headed to other tables. To add insult to injury, the manager did not come and apologize to us and our waiter made no effort to expedite our meals so that we could enjoy dining together. When our dining partner was practically through with her dinner, our bass arrived properly cooked. It was served with local green and yellow wax beans and tomatoes and a pistou vinaigrette. While tasty given the tang of the pistou vinaigrette and the fresh vegetables, the dining experience was marred by the poorly executd dish and the even poorer service given how it was handled. Although the menu stated that the fish was served with toasted almonds, I could find none in my dish.
The Kir Royale, a champagne gelee, strawberry compote and cassis sorbet was just passable. The dessert, overall, could have been served colder. The gelee had a strange consistency — somewhere between gelatin and shaved ice. The gelee tasted clearly like champagne and was too strong of a taste unless paired with the strawberry compote in the center. Between the three of us, we could only handle a few tastes before putting our spoons down having had enough. If you had to choose, I would skip this as a dessert option.
Honey Roasted Plum & Brown Butter Tart with Lavendar & Honey Ice Cream
The honey roasted plum and brown butter tart had the crisp consistency of a shortbread cookie. It was dotted with plum pieces throughout the crisp, cookie-like tart. I expected something more moist, with sliced plums, so the dessert in no way matched my expectations. The lavendar and honey ice cream did not have a strong taste. In fact, if someone had told me it was vanilla ice cream, I would have believed them. The honey and lavendar flavors were indistinguishable. Of the two of us that ordered this dessert, we only had a few bites. It was not delectable enough to keep us going back for more.
I usually do not include a section on service, but after our entree debacle, I decided, after we asked for our check, to speak to the manager. I informed Tina, the manger, of how disappointed I was at Aquitaine, having heard such great things about the restaurant from so many people. I explained how our fish had been undercooked to the point of being raw in the center and how, not only did no one apologize to us (the waiter attempted a few mumbled words, but it was so expressionless and mumbled, that it was not at all reassuring), but more importantly, several fish dishes went out to other tables before we ever received our fish. When a kitchen turns out poorly executed food, I told her, it is important that the customers affected receive their redone dishes first because the restaurant needs to make those customers a priority, showing them that they are appreciated and improving their dining experiences for the better. Tina, handled my comments with professionalism and grace, profusely apologizing, blaming herself for not taking an interest in the problems we had had with our food, and stating that they had had several problems in the kitchen. She then credited our check for the two meals that had been ruined and gave me her card with her name and number, urging me to return to the restaurant, calling her first so that she could ensure a wonderful dining experience. Had it not been for my interaction with Tina, I would have left Aquitaine, never to return given the subpar food and the even worse service. Although I had to initiate the conversation with Tina, I appreciate her response and the care she took with my concerns and for that reason only, I will return to Aquitaine and give it another chance.
Aquitaine is a warm, beautiful space with Parisian flair in the midst of the South End. With an extensive wine list, popular bar and French inspired menu, it is a unique locale. Our Restaurant Week experience was just fair — the appetizers were decent, our entrees were tasty only after being sent back to the kitchen for being undercooked and the desserts were nothing to write home about. The service during dinner was mediocre at first, and once we had problems with our food, poor at best. Thankfully, the management, when prompted by me, was responsive and acted promptly in a polished and concerned manner. This is truly what saved Aquitaine in my book and made it so that I would return. Because the experience during Retaurant Week was only fair, I give Aquitaine 2 Mojitos.
569 Tremont Street, Boston, MA 02118