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New England Regional

Bon Appétit

A French bistro springs up in SoWa

September-October 2009

Gaslight aims to offer patrons the ambience and food of a Parisian brasserie.

Gaslight aims to offer patrons the ambience and food of a Parisian brasserie.

Courtesy of Gaslight

Serving classic French bistro food in a warm, generous space, Gaslight seems sure to please anyone. The first of two rooms holds a curvy, zinc-topped bar with assiduous tenders pouring all forms of French wines and bold cocktails, along with a café menu (most delicious is the croque-monsieur with its gooey gruyère and accompanying frites). We loved the floor, laid with glittering, tiny square tiles; the Paris Metro-style wall tiles, and the marble-topped tables—all shades of white, mellowed by low lighting; the walnut benches and chairs; and the high-beamed ceiling. Very brasserie. We’d call the music “sassy, techno European lounge”—smooth tones with just enough spice to fend off any unpleasant thoughts of work, chores, or life outside these café walls.

The restaurant’s far-end-of-the-South End location, in SoWa (south of Washington Street), is prime artistic territory. Try to go to Gaslight on a First Friday and experience some of Boston’s finest home-grown art before your meal by touring the studios of a wild range of artists who freely discuss their work (www.sowaartistsguild.com/about.html). In warmer months, these evenings take on the feel of a communal block party. On Sundays through October, also check out the adjacent SoWa Open Market (www.southendopenmarket.com), where regional artisans sell appealing products ranging from ceramic fetish bowls, knitted jewelry, and mechanical toys to twig furniture, goat cheese, and fleecy pet garb.

Gaslight sits in the heart of this creative mecca, serving up tasty, trustworthy dinner and late-night fare seven days a week, plus brunch on weekends. To start, servers offer a warm, crusty loaf of bread with a side slab of fresh butter, a homey touch. We enjoyed the shaved beetroot salad appetizer ($7.50), with crunchy toasted walnuts and cooling crème fraîche, and the special starter, an excellent vegetarian crêpe ($9.95) filled with a zesty mélange of leeks, tomatoes, and carrots and topped with an earthy mushroom and parsley sauce (prompting memories of grandmothers who knew that any and all things cooked in Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup would just taste better). The only disappointment was the somewhat bland steak tartare ($9.95); the meat was flavorful, with a woodsy mushroom edging, but lacked the rich, salty sharpness of onions, pickles, or plentiful capers that we associate with the traditional dish. 

Of the plats principaux, the moules frites ($15.95) was tried and true with big, juicy mussels and a little kick of pernod and lemony coriander. The salade niçoise ($16.75), with braised artichoke hearts and tuna tossed in a delicate basil vinaigrette,  held no surprises beyond the option of having the tuna seared for an extra $3, which seemed petty. Best was the alluring duck confit ($17.95), with its orange gastrique (a sweet and sour sauce), ribbony-thin strips of sautéed chard leaves, and garlicky roasted potatoes. 

Lemon fiends must try the tarte au citron ($6.95) for dessert: the curd is glassy smooth and just tart enough. For a softer finish, have the splendid cherry clafoutis ($6.95)—airy dough with a sudden jolt of berry juice, this dish was topped with a dollop of fresh cream. 

Unlike the artists who live and work nearby, Gaslight isn’t likely to win prizes for extreme innovation. Yet there is great appeal in its solid rendition of foods that have been enjoyed for centuries, and in its friendly, neighborhood ambience.