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New England Regional | The Tastes of Boston

Café Writ Large

Troquet is a coup for the Theater District

July-August 2002

We almost walked right by it, distracted by the offerings at the Colonial Theatre and Commonwealth Bookstore, and by the glint of the setting sun reflecting off the gold dome of the State House across the Common. For Troquet, with its varnished wood façade and subdued black, white, and taupe décor, is not a showy place. What's more, it was apparently not even designed to be a great restaurant. Its name is French slang for "small wine café," and the atmosphere is relaxed: ample space between tables eliminates eavesdropping and that clumsy bump into a fellow diner's table as you attempt to take your seat.

TROQUET

140 Boylston St., Boston
617-695-9463
Dinner only. Tuesday through Sunday.
5 P.M. to midnight.
But let us play stage mother for a moment and push Troquet into the limelight, because the meal that we had there recently was among the best we have found in Boston.

Proprietors Chris (the sommelier) and Diane Campbell ran the wine-oriented Uva in Brighton before wooing chef Scott Hebert from New York City to open Troquet last year. "We grew up and became a little more sophisticated," says Diane Campbell. "We had this as a vision—we wanted to move downtown and be a very comfortable place where people came to get a bite to eat before or after a play, to celebrate, or just to enjoy the wines." Several reasonably priced wines that can be ordered in two- or four-ounce servings are recommended for each dish. This allowed us to try a variety of excellent labels with one meal—a simple, yet luxurious, innovation that does not distract from the food, prepared in a fresh, unfussy New American-style with French and Italian undertones.

Chef Hebert, who runs a tight kitchen despite his impish looks, sidesteps the ubiquitous goat cheese salad by frying the chèvre in a hazelnut coating ($9). The very chilled salmon carpaccio ($12) arrived spread out over the plate like a giant orange jellyfish sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds and scallion bits. Slipped underneath was a grassy-green mound of whipped avocado. The Fisher 2000 Riesling Ockfener Bockstein Kabinett mingled perfectly. A terrine of foie gras ($18) came with a jiggling slab of golden Sauternes gelée, a miniature hillock of tender rhubarb cubes, and fragile toast points. Reviewers tend to call potato gnocchi ($21) "soft pillows." Hebert's were more like deluxe bolsters that melted in our mouths amid a lusty sauce of braised mushrooms and truffle oil that made us want to lick the plate clean. A munchkin-sized Dutch oven of mashed potatoes accompanied the robust New York sirloin ($36) slathered with a sauce made from Armagnac and green peppercorns. Dainty spring carrots and a slippery, pan-juice-infused cippoline onion—worth ordering all by themselves—sat on the side.

Desserts—each $8.25—included an outstanding vanilla-bean panna cotta coated in a passion-fruit gel, topped by a dollop of guava sorbet. The polenta torte—a very good, upscale corn muffin—was served with a trail of pistachio custard and raspberry sorbet. Petite chocolates, made in-house, came with the check. Their unexpectedly thrilling burst of flavor made the sweets a metaphor for Troquet itself. It's a small, unpretentious venue that mounts a production worthy of the main stage.