Archive for December, 2007

December 9th, 2007

Lady’s Martini at Mooo

Kina LilletI tend to be skeptical of trendy new drink menus, especially those at trendy new restaurants that are obviously cashing in on a popular concept. In this case, I’m talking about the drink menu at Mooo, which joins KO Prime as Boston’s latest postmodern steak house. These aren’t your grandfather’s steak houses, with their dark, gentleman’s club decor. These are steak houses for today’s stylish man or woman susceptible to sleek, wink-wink design, like blurred photos of calves on the wall above your meat-laden table, and ornate chandeliers ‘clothed’ in cylinders of parchment. Mooo, which replaced the Federalist in the XV Beacon Hotel, is the latest ultra-high-end offering from celebrity chef Jamie Mammano of Mistral and Sorellina.

Luckily, there is a drink at Mooo that hits the right note of wit and taste without trying too hard, and that is the Lady’s Martini: Lillet Blanc, fresh lemon juice and hibiscus syrup, chilled and served straight up with a champagne chaser. I don’t know why it’s called the Lady’s Martini — maybe because it’s pink and relatively low in alcohol. It also happens to be gorgeous and delicious. Mooo serves the “martini” in a delicate, vintage-looking cocktail glass and the champagne chaser in a stemless flute, an aesthetic combination that makes you feel sophisticated just by sitting in front of it. But that’s not what we’re about, is it? We’re about flavor. And this cocktail has a layered, sweet-tartness that would satisfy even without the champagne. But when you put the bubbles on top of this little flavor lozenge, you suddenly feel like you’re wearing white gloves and smart hat.

All you men out there who appreciate a good cocktail: I urge you to be secure enough in your masculinity to give the Lady’s Martini ($13) a try. Or at least have your date order it, and taste hers.

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December 5th, 2007

Chez Henri – Best Boston bars

Chez Henri

Established: 1994
Specialty: Wine, cocktails
Prices: Moderate to high
Atmosphere: Warmly lit Cambridge nook with noted French-Cuban cuisine, stellar wines by the glass and a short but sweet cocktail menu, all doled out by a single hardworking, competent bartender.
See Best Boston bars for address and contact info.

This is what happens whenever I get near Chez Henri: the cheery red window frames catch my eye, and I peer inside to gauge the seating prospects at the narrow, cozy bar filled with contented Cantabrigians eating Cuban sandwiches. Even if there’s a crowd, I can’t help myself — I go in and wait patiently for a barstool.

Chez Henri has two distinct clienteles: the one that fills the dining room to feast on Chef Paul O’Connell’s nationally recognized French-Cuban cuisine, and the one that flocks to the bar that introduced Mojitos and Cuban sandwiches to greater Boston. O’Connell himself notes that there is a clear demarcation between the “bar people and the dining room people.” He once thought about expanding the bar area but decided, probably correctly, that its small size had a lot to do with its charm. Plus, the architecture of the previous occupant wasn’t to be messed with. A restaurant called Chez Jean operated here for 35 years prior to Chez Henri. “I felt like a caretaker when I took over the space,” explains O’Connell, who kept the “Chez” and added the “Henri,” for his son.

One thing about O’Connell, he knows how to pick his bartenders. Some of Boston’s best — Joe McGuirk, Dylan Black, Scott Holliday — have put in time here and helped coin the standard summation of what it’s like to run the show on this cute, cozy little stage: ‘This bar will break you.’ Between pounding mint leaves into battalions of Mojito glasses, serving two different menus (restaurant and bar), recommending wines and tending to additional customers at the back bar and at a handful of tables, it takes hustle to succeed here. The latest team, Ari Barbanel and Rob Kraemer, takes turns holding down the fort, with Kraemer carrying on an unofficial tradition of classic cocktail-inspired mixology. From day one, O’Connell has eschewed “flavored vodka drinks” for rum-based classics like the Periodista (dark rum, fresh lime, apricot liqueur and dash of orange liqueur) and bartender creations like Kraemer’s Shiver. And at $7 each, these cocktails are some of the cheapest in Cambridge.

Did I mention it gets crowded in here? And that sometimes the crowd skews a bit much toward gray-ponytailed professor types? Don’t worry, such annoyances melt away as soon as you secure a seat at the bar.

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