‘Troquet Au Coin’ Means ‘Dive Bar,’ but Downtown’s Troquet is Anything But

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Posted May 5, 2014 by Heather Kapplow in Dining Downtown: Restaurant Reviews
Seared Maine diver scallops

First Impressions

My preparatory reading for Troquet left me presuming that the food would be pretty good and that the wine would be even better. However, the overall quality of this Theater District establishment is a complete and wonderful surprise.

The ambiance and decor inside the restaurant are unassuming. You enter via a small, dark bar, which is empty on a Tuesday night. In contrast, the dining room upstairs feels like someone’s apartment, with a great view of the Commons and a wide-open floor plan. This bright and welcoming room is about two-thirds full of younger, mostly well-dressed couples and groups, all engaged in lively conversation.

Troquet serves warm, golden, oblong sourdough rolls as its bread. It is offered constantly, so you’ll need to exercise self-control if you hope to eat anything else. The bread is accompanied by something that requires Yiddish to describe properly. Despite how French and fresh the butter is, the form it arrives in can only be called a schmear. This is doled out liberally, as well. You have been warned.

Troquet's cheese selection

Troquet’s cheese selection. Photo Credit: Jan Mark Holzer

A Trio of Mediterranean Flavors

I decide to try the braised Spanish octopus appetizer. Octopus is one of my tests of a good chef—if someone puts octopus on his or her menu and can’t cook it properly, put down your fork, cancel the rest of your order as quickly as possible, and go elsewhere. That’s what I always say.

Luckily, Troquet nails it. The octopus is tender and juicy, but not gelatinous around the edges. The braising brings out the juiciness of the meat, and the flavoring is spot-on Spanish, which I partially blame on the chorizo. I’m not paying as much attention to the “fork-smashed” potatoes as I probably should because I’m distracted by the dazzling piquillo pepper sauce. Closer to salsa than au jus, this seems to come from some hyper-Spain where the peppers are more flavorful and their warmth more well-rounded than any real-life Spanish pepper. I’ve also never seen octopus plated this way. The tentacles are not served as tendrils, but as round octo-bricks stacked into a tower.

A second appetizer, the white corn polenta agnolotti, is similarly stupendous. Typically, agnolotti are served with beef on the inside, but here, the nubby pasta pockets are stuffed with polenta and topped off with melt-in-your-mouth slivers of braised short rib. This sits in a frothy moat of meatiness (a black ham emulsion), providing all the flavor punch of a rich bolognese but none of the density.

As a main course, I order the seared Maine diver scallops with squid ink chitarra pasta, razor clams, and fava bean pesto. Chitarra pasta, made by rolling dough out over a harp-like contraption, is a little tougher than most handmade pasta—but that’s the nature of the beast. The squid ink is close enough to the surface of the dough that I can taste it specifically, and it stands out in a subtly fishy way from the sweet (perhaps lobster-based?) saffron broth. The fava pesto is fresh and piquant. Though the seafood itself is succulent and flavorful, it is the combination of the broth and the pesto that makes the dish sing. These two sauces work hard together to pull the dish’s various elements into one smooth experience—and they achieve their ends.

(Not) Just Desserts

But dessert is what wins me over completely. The restaurant’s meringue glacé is not a dessert as much as an event on a plate. I’ve been digging around in my memory trying to figure out whether I’ve ever seen anything like it, and what comes closest are sets from 1960s science fiction films.

Meringue glacé

Meringue glacé. Photo Credit: Heather Kapplow

The meringue glacé is probably the most French-tasting dish of the evening, unless you count the butter. At its center, a refreshing dollop of blood orange sorbet perches on a small, round, delicious-down-to-the-last-crumb lemon chiffon. The sorbet is dotted in every direction with meringue spikes and served with segments of citrus and silver honey syrup in art-deco-style arcs. It is an otherworldly presentation, with lovely and delicate flavors and fresh, fresh fruit. This meringue is the perfect way to end a meal, though the option of a cheese plate for dessert is also tempting because the cheese is always within sight.

Final Thoughts

I’m not talking about the wine here because most reviews of Troquet focus almost exclusively on this. The restaurant is widely known to do some of the best wine curation in Boston, so you can’t go wrong even if you try. Besides, the wines change so often that you won’t find the same list when you go as I did. But if they still have the Monastrell when you go, it’s quite nice.

A note on the service: I feel slightly overserved, which is a far better thing than feeling underserved. I never feel rushed or pressured, but I am a little afraid to look in the direction of any of the bread-bearers in case they misinterpret an observational glance as a request for more bread.

As I leave, I note a framed article that tells the tale of Troquet as love story. It seems the restaurant is, at heart, a collaboration between two couples—the team that ran Uva once upon a time, giving Boston its first real accessible education in wine, and the team in the kitchen cranking out the hits on the plates. I think each and every one of these folks was at the restaurant while I was dining, which may account for the absolute perfection of the food, top-notch wine recommendations, and eager, eager service.

In French, the term “Troquet au Coin” means “dive bar.” But the association in this case must be a bit tongue in cheek, because the bar being set here is very high.

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