The Dinearound – Chez Henri (At Long Last)

 

Cambridge's original bistro

Chef Paul O’Connell has been a presence on the Greater Boston dining scene for many years and his bistro Chez Henri has long endured while lesser venues have come and gone. I had dined at Chef O’Connell’s first venture, Providence, and had been impressed with his cuisine. When next he opened Chez Henri with a menu featuring French-Cuban fusion, I put it on my “to-go” list. Yet, I never went. Recently, a member of the Dinearound emailed that  Groupon was offering a deal at Chez Henri and if we were interested, she’d purchase the coupon. Even though I’d been intending to visit the resto, I hesitated. My experience with a Living Social Deal at Tico had made for a night NOT to remember. I said yes, though, and was finally on my way to Chez Henri.

My first impression was that the bistro had evolved into a wonderful neighborhood boîte – the clientele a mix of North Cambridge hipsters, students (that ugly squat of a building that houses Harvard Law is practically across the street) and the well-heeled and well-coifed who exude the aura of that coveted Cambridge zip code. It was a most beautiful summer evening and we were seated by the open bistro windows. Perfect. I had vowed to have the house Mojito which one of the Dinearound had recommended but being a slave to gin had the Gin Swizzle instead – Hendricks, cucumber simple syrup, mint and lime. Totally refreshing, totally summer-esque. While reading the menu, I developed a dining strategy – I would have a French dish and a Cuban dish.

Riff on a French classic

My first course was the Bistro Salad, a riff on the classic Salade Lyonnaise – frisée, bacon lardons, croutons and a poached egg. Here the greens were a wonderfully pungent and peppery mix of arugula, watercress and radicchio lightly tossed – too lightly, more vinaigrette was in order – garnished with crisply fried matchstick potatoes, warm meaty bacon lardons and half a soft-boiled egg. The freshness and flavors of the individual components was outstanding.

Tending towards the Caribbean

For my main, I chose the evening’s special – swordfish with mussels and littlenecks in a lobster-coconut broth garnished with avocado aioli. My wait to eat at Chez Henri had not been in vain. The swordfish – which sat atop roasted yellow and purple potatoes and sauteed spinach – was fresh and expertly grilled. The aioli provided a double whammy of creamy unctuousness. The clams and mussels were properly cooked and tasty. And the broth exquisite – if I hadn’t been in 02138, I’d have picked up the bowl and slurped down its goodness. Since I’m always heartened to see Beaujolais sold by the glass, I ordered the house red, the 2010 Chateau de Pizay. As much as I enjoyed the wine which was a good light red perfect for summer and seafood, I would have enjoyed it more if it had been slightly chilled or even at cellar temperature rather than at room temp.

A good finale

My dessert choice was  the Mousse de Chocolate Negro, garnished with unsweetened whipped cream and habernero spiked praline. The mousse was light, creamy. The unsweetened cream provided a good contrast to the sweet chocolate. The praline spiced it up with an occasional hit of heat. A good ending to a good dinner. Service throughout the evening was professional yet casual and added to the satisfaction of having dined well.

Chez Henri 1 Shephard St. Cambridge MA

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