Miel “Brasserie Provençale” – Boston

April 21, 2007

www.intercontinentalboston.com/dining 

Last May Karyn and I had the pleasure of dining with Mike and Linda at La Bastide de Saint Antoine in Grasse on the côte d’azur. After the meal our table had the opportunity to talk to its well-known chef, Jacques Chibois. During the conversation he mentioned that he was opening a Provençale restaurant in a hotel in Boston. Immediately the connection was made and the mental image of a clichéd 24-hour “La Maison de la Casa House” restaurant came to my mind. Boston is known for chowdah and baked beans, not innovative French food, but there might be some Trillin-esque irony. 

When I read that Jacques Chibois would be in town visiting the 24-hour French restaurant called Miel in the Intercontinental Hotel, I called and booked a reservation. miel-logo.jpgOn March 23rd 2007, we dined at Miel with two friends, Beth and Dan. Karyn and I arrived 10 minutes early and had the strange phenomenon of standing in the middle of a completely empty restaurant. Miel has been open for 6 months and it was empty at 8pm on a Friday. After 5 minutes a hostess appeared and I laughingly mentioned my reservation for 4, she promptly took us to a table for 2… sadly this was an omen for the rest of the meal.  

miel-2.jpgThe noise from the adjacent RumBa (a hip bar) was actually welcome given how dead quiet the restaurant was, which given that it was a Friday at 8pm doesn’t bode well for the future of Miel. In the background you could hear some contemporary music playing that was just loud enough to notice during breaks in conversation. 

The décor was exactly the opposite of what you would expect a 24 hours eatery to have, crystal chandeliers and billowing floral drapes are probably the last thing one might want at 3am for some late night grub. The tables were immaculately set with fine china and glassware; however, the space felt awkward; maybe the ceilings were too high or the tables not spaced right, but it just didn’t feel right. I am guessing that things will be quite different come summer when 12 tables will be set outside next to the ocean.

Once Dan and Beth arrived, we ordered a bottle of sparkling wine (Piper, Sonoma) to toast a meal that we were sure to was going to delight. The sparkling wine was crisp and clean with a wonderfully modest price considering how outrageous the champagnes were; however, we were left to our own devices when our glasses became empty.  

We ordered our meals and were presented with a plate of fresh breads and a bottle of glorious golden olive oil. 

When our appetizers came out, our bottle of Trimbach Pinot Gris had yet to find its way to our table. This service blunder was quickly forgotten when we viewed and tasted our food. Beth ordered a half dozen Nova Scotia oysters that were nestled into a huge platter of ice. The care with which the oysters were shucked was apparent as each oyster shell was full with briny liquor. 

I had a pissaladière, an anchovy and onion tart, which was delicious and paired well with the Alsatian wine. Karyn greatly enjoyed the Socca Cakes, two chickpea crêpes with layers of chopped shrimp and a filling of fresh arugula.  

Given the late arrival of our Pinot Gris, ordering a different bottle for our entrees wasn’t really in the cards. Two of the members of our group ordered the salt encrusted sea bream which was presented whole and covered in salt by the head chef Didier Montarou with all the pomp and circumstance befitting the elegant décor. Both Dan and Karyn noted how their fish was tender and juicy without any overly salty taste from the crust. 

I had the Halibut, which was artfully plated with beurre blanc and sprinkled with grey fleur de sel; some would have found it too salty, but I found it just right.  

Beth ordered the lobster tortellini with saffron, expecting the lobster inside the tortellini; we were quite surprised when there were medallions of lobster tail laid over lobster-stuffed tortellini draped with a saffron lobster stock reduction; it was a truly an amazing dish. I believe that this dish is that combination of New England and Provençale cuisine that really works with this restaurant. If Jacques Chibois can continue to expand his menu with this kind of fusion, he will have return customers because there isn’t this type of food anywhere else. A dish I would like to try on my next visit is the American version of Bouillabaisse where lobster, cod, and Acadian red fish replace the classic French ingredients. Also I would love to see a Provençale spin on soft shell crabs.  

miel-3a.jpgA few minutes after our meals came out, Jacques Chibois emerged from the kitchen and sat down with a table of people and began chatting quietly in French. 

I am typically disappointed with desserts; however, in this case they were the highlight of the meal. We split an order of the Basil-Berry Crepes and the Orange Crème Brulée. The crepes were perfect; each one of them had a chiffonade of basil that had been lightly sprinkled with sugar and then caramelized with what I guess would have been a small torch. The side of homemade vanilla ice cream that came with the crepes was out of this world. The cream brulée was very good, with orange honey poured over the top and a delicate orange flavor through the custard. 

After we had finished, Jacques approached our table and shook everyone’s hand and said something to each of us in French that we couldn’t understand. miel-4.jpgThen I, in my broken French, told him that I loved his restaurant in Grasse and how much we all enjoyed the food at Miel. After we struggled for a few minutes to understand each other, a waiter came over to act as an interpreter; then Jacques told us that Miel was like a Formula One racing car which is still in the process of being fine tuned, but he thinks that it will become the fastest car in Boston. 

It is shocking that the food could be so good and the service so unfitting of a restaurant where prices almost never go below $100 a head. Given the fact that Jacques Chibois was sitting 20 feet from us I can only surmise that the service would be worse without the boss being there (he didn’t seem to be attracting too much of his own employes’ attention either). 

Unfortunately for Jacques, he has a Formula 1 car with a pit crew that can’t service it. Hopefully, he can figure out his service and décor issues because the food is simply to die for. Karyn and I will certainly go back in a few months to see if the quality of the food at our first dining experience had to do with Jacques’ cooking it and if he improves his staff. 

Contributed by Blair

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