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.
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.
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.
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.