Monday, February 11, 2008

Boston Bohemia.

On a Monday night in January, I found myself exhausted at a rail platform in Back Bay Station. I’d stepped off the Orange Line with only one thing on my mind: dinner.

During my stay in Boston, I’d received advice from several people, who saw me as a bit of a Bohemian chick. Each of them implored me to try out a Bohemian restaurant. Before this trip, I didn’t know there was such a thing. Never occurred to me that Bohemians had their own cuisine as well as culture. But what the heck.

So this night, after a week in Boston and a day of work that had started at 5:45am EST for me, I was headed for The Beehive, a restaurant I needed to see.

I left Back Bay Station on foot and headed down Carleton -- which was an open plaza. I carefully arranged my bags on my shoulder -- camera bag and press kit bag -- and headed down the bricked path. The night was crisp yet clear, and there was still a little light in the sky.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect, just darting a look at my Boston area map and trying to follow along. When I looked up, I saw something I’d been waiting to see for eight days.

Brownstones.

Seriously -- after spending my time in Waltham and in the North End, I wasn’t sure that the Boston I’d seen on TV actually existed. Where were the brownstones, with their imposing staircases? I’d seen red bricked versions along Newbury Street on my way to the Trident Bookstore, but nothing brown.

Until now.

I gazed down a city block at two rows of neat homes, each with its entrance and its own bit of cast iron railing. In the twilight, it looked like a dream.

I pulled out my camera and started to snap away, first at the brownstones themselves, then at the skyscrapers peeking out over the top of the tree line along the plaza.

It seemed ethereal.

I looked at my watch and noticed it was after 6 p.m. I had reservations. I needed to hurry.

Several blocks and a direction change later (a left on Canton, crossing Columbus, and down to Tremont), I was greeted by three valet men, escorting people into a theater from the icy roadbed. Sunday’s snow would have been enough to make the way treacherous if it had been in Arkansas. Here, it was nothing more than a bit of crunch underfoot.

I started to proceed further, then thought I might ask the location of
said restaurant. I was pointed to another entrance of the same building -- a door under an archway; subtle, yet inviting.

Stepping in, I was greeted warmly by a young lady at the front desk. I gave her my name, and she smiled at me. She checked where to put me while I looked around at a bar and a small dining room. The restaurant was certainly less roomy than I anticipated.

Or so I thought.

Turning to me, my hostess grinned again and lead me down a stairwell, into a cavernous room. A stage graced the far end, and intimate tables dotted the way. She led me through a doorway into a bar area, and pointed me at a small table near a railing. From here, I had a full view of the stage and the bar. There was even a hook for my coat.

As I took off my coat, I heard a small gasp behind me. The young lady who was to be my waitress for the night had glimpsed the tie dye. Even I know the tie dye is impressive, but for her it was also unexpected. I just turned and smiled and took off my ankle length undercoat to reveal the rest of my colorful ensemble.

Indeed. My attire was appreciated.

I was provided with a menu, and carefully perused the selections. There were so many unusual items contained within -- including Mini Beef Wellingtons ($6) that drew my eye. Other offerings included a Smokey Clam Dip with Veggie Crudités ($7), Tuna Tartare ($12), Three Cheese Fondue with Fresh Fruit and Brioche ($11), Fried Calamari Fra Diablo, Lemon Rouille ($12), and a Gyro Salad with Iceberg Lettuce, Shaved Lamb, and Feta Yogurt Dressing ($11).

So this is how Bohemians eat. I had no idea.

I was tempted by the Bohemian Platter (pates, salads, nibbles and tasty bites for $23), my gut told me I should try something more substantial. After all, my entire consumption for the day had been a cannoli and a couple of authentic Parker House rolls, and I had two lines on the T and a bus to catch on my return to Waltham. Better get my strength up.

I asked my waitress what she recommended. She suggested the Delmonico Steak with Wild Mushrooms, Bread Pudding, and Porcini Butter ($34) or the Roasted Sole in Tomato Sauce with Lentil Rice Pilaf. Well, I was feeling adventurous, so I went for the sole. I also ordered a Rasputin Martini -- a combination of hard apple cider, Calvados, and cinnamon syrup. It was an evening for experimentation.

My waitress asked if I’d like to sample some of the other items on the menu, and I agreed -- pointing out my allergy to pork. This sparked an interesting conversation over antibiotics and organic animals, and then she was gone to place my order.

The Beehive has a large variety of unusual drinks -- things I’d never seen before. Cocktails run ten dollars and include the Aviation (gin, fresh lemon, and maraschino liquor) and the Beehive Julep (rum, liquor Creole, and lime). They also offer a selection of champagne cocktails for $10.50 that include the Violette (violette candy), La Vie en Rose (Lychee-infused cognac), and the Beehive Royale (pear liquor, Angostura’s, and Grand Marnier). Though sampling them was tempting, I decided to limit myself to one drink. After all, I needed to remember the order of subways, trains, and buses I needed to take to get back.

My waitress brought me my drink, and I was surprised… it was light and refreshing, not the slightest bit cloying. She also brought me good sourdough bread and butter, which tasted strongly of an ancient and wonderful fermented starter. I relaxed and looked around.

The restaurant itself is very eclectic and warm, with red lighting in places and lots of exposed beams and bricks. There are works of art from Boston College of the Arts on the walls, in a variety of styles and themes. That’s fitting, since The Beehive is an outgrowth of the College and part of the school’s BCA complex in the South End. It’s a former boiler room converted into this neighborhood café for artists. In fact, it’s modeled after La Ruche, a three story bar and bistro in France that got its name (La Ruche is French for Beehive) because it looked better able to accommodate the honey bearing insects than humans.

The stage had a couple of padded stools and microphones. I asked if there was live entertainment, and was told that jazz and cabaret were the usual order of business, every night around nine or ten.

My waitress brought out a stainless steel bowl and a plate. I peered inside and was surprised and delighted to see mussels. Steamed Mussels with lager, Old Bay seasoning and Tomato ($12) come a dozen at a time. I’m not a big mussel fan, but these were tender and savory, not chewy as I’d come to expect from one of the local chain restaurants I frequent in Little Rock. I was pleased with the lightness, and happy to try these offerings.

A few minutes later, I was presented with a ceramic dish called Poutine ($10). Now, when I reviewed the Big Foot Lodge in Memphis, I’d seen the listing for Poutine -- but I hadn’t tried it. This was a surprise to me, and one that I’d like to see again. The dish consists of plank fries that are thick and long in one direction but also thin as homemade chips. They’re baked in a veal gravy and topped with cheese -- quite decadent. I asked about the dish, and was told it’s a French Canadian thing that’s making its way into America. The savory gravy went well with the starchy
fries, and the cheese? Well, I still have yet to meet a cheese I didn’t like.

This repast was enough in itself to satisfy me, but I held back. I knew I had an entrée coming, and I didn’t want to spoil my appetite too much.

The restaurant was starting to fill up. There
was a group of people who’d come in around the same time as I did, who were making themselves home at the bar with good conversation and bar snacks.

A couple was seated not far from me in the stage section of the restaurant. I listened to conversations murmured over the cool jazz piped in through the stereo system.

My waitress then presented me with the sole -- fish that had been roasted rather than deep fried, in a soft red sauce. I was surprised by how light this offering was. The fish itself was very delicate, on the lightly cooked side. It was buttery but not salty and it didn’t have a scent of fish to it. In fact, I seemed to only smell a light tomato perfume. I tried one of the tomatoes cooked with the dish, and was startled by the
sudden sweetness in my mouth. An intriguing dish.

But what made it even more intriguing was the rice pilaf. I had expected a slightly greasy pile of rice and peas, much like I’d seen at restaurant franchises that throw peanuts on the floor. Instead, I was greeted with light, fluffy rice and surprising sweetness. I had to ask -- this dish in itself could be a meal. The sweetness is provided by white grapes cooked in with the rice. There was also a bite of black peppercorns and seasoning. A dollup of Greek yogurt and a bit of lemon completed the dish.

I found myself being lulled into a food coma, relaxed with the comfort of the night and the warm atmosphere. The chatter was friendly and the wait staff seemed to be enjoying themselves.

My waitress came to check on me, and asked what sort of dessert I would be having. I protested -- after all, I still had to walk back to Back Bay Station, several blocks away. I asked if a wheelbarrow was available, and received a giggle. I suppose the idea is a Southern construct. Who knows?

She offered me coffee, which I gratefully accepted, and pressed on desserts again. I was going to pass, until she mentioned Chocolate Fondue. Well, I’d never had THAT offered in a restaurant before. What the heck.

I sipped on my coffee as my dish was prepared. And a few minutes later, a very hot oblong ramekin filled with piping hot chocolate was brought to my table, along with a selection of graham crackers, Oreos, marshmallows and strawberries. I wished for a dining companion to share with.

I took a tentative stab at a marshmallow with one of the provided skewers, and gently rolled it in the chocolate. My surprise at the darkness of the nearly bitter chocolate may have been apparent to other diners. I was pleased. This was a dessert not too sweet to enjoy -- a guilty pleasure with a little of the guilt taken out.

Of course, I couldn’t do it justice, but my waitress took away my half-finished fondue and packaged it for me to take with me for a late night snack.

I started to gather up my things, and a young man came up to me to admire my hat. Turns out, he was one of the managers. He asked after my service and my food, and gave me directions on the most direct route to Back Bay. My waitress and my hostess both came over and thanked me for the evening… and gifted me with wan smiles.

As I headed out into the cold January night, I felt a warmth deep within, a warmth of heated chocolate and coffee and a meal well received. I took my time on my walk back to the station, and handled my switches from one station to another and one means of transportation to another with comfort and ease. A good meal always puts a bright note on a long day.

The Beehive is a lovely spot, some place I’d love to share with my husband. It’s open seven days a week from five in the afternoon to 2 a.m. It also serves a Saturday and Sunday brunch from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. You’ll find the Beehive at 541 Tremont Street in Boston’s South End, in the historic Cyclorama building. If you’d like more information, call The Beehive at (617) 423-0069. Or check out the restaurant’s website.

1 comment:

  1. La Vie en Rose- Lychee infused cognac? I'd prefer to pay my $24 for a bottle of Lichido Liqueur )vodka/cognac with lychee/peach/guava)and get 15 martinis for the price of two).

    ReplyDelete

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