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La Voile

Sailing onto Newbury Street with authentic French food
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  January 16, 2008
2.0 2.0 Stars
BLANQUETTE DE VEAU: Cast-iron micro pot of Persian rice topped with cream veal stew.

La Voile | 261 Newbury Street, Boston | AE, MC, VI | Open Tues–Sun, 11 Am–4 Pm And 5–11 Pm | Beer and wine | No valet parking | Access down 10 steps from sidewalk level | 617.587.4200
The battle to be more French in restaurants — if not in foreign policy — is heating up, with La Voile relocating the staff, décor, and some of the menu directly from a brasserie in Cannes to the Back Bay. The menu is bilingual, as is most of the staff. The wine list and knives are French. Much of the décor also feels French, with a tile floor and rag-painted walls overlaid with poetry by Baudelaire. The sailboat photos and models, however, are American and English. They are J-boats, the enormous, rare, and beautiful racing yachts that contended for the America’s Cup in the 1930s. Apparently it was an American sailor who motivated La Voile — which means “the sail” — to move to Boston.

Food begins with an amuse bouche of three tiny canapés for each diner: a little puff of cheese-flavored gougère, a bit of ricotta spread on a pinky-sized slice of bread, and cured salmon topped with a little green caviar. Only then came a bag of sliced-up baguette and sweet butter.

The soup du jour ($9), one of very few vegetarian possibilities, was a nice mix of cabbage, carrot, onions, and potato. It needed only a few dots of pesto — er, pistou — to be a Provençal classic. Foie gras crème brûlée ($14), which can be too sweet, here had just the right balance of savor, richness, and the sweetness of the burnt-sugar crust. Goat-cheese salad with roasted red pepper ($18) was two excellent disks of cheese on melting peppers, with an arugula salad (and some roasted nuts and grape tomatoes) in between. Endive salad ($11) was something of a best buy, with four endive leaves stuffed with savory bits of cheese and onion, and a chopped endive salad, as well garnished with fresh chervil.

My favorite entrée was the bistro classic blanquette de veau ($20). This was served as a cast-iron micro pot of Persian rice, topped with a mini casserole of creamy veal stew with carrots, pearl onions, and mushrooms. The veal flavor was almost beef — the animal-rights movement has unwittingly improved the culinary qualities of American veal. Dover sole meunière ($44) was one of several attractive entrées featuring European fish. It was served with a lot of showy tableside boning and rearranging, which is traditional, but the salty buttered-crumb sauté is not traditional. Lighter than the brown-butter sauce we usually see, it makes the Dover sole less meaty-tasting. It’s a fine dinner, with another cast-iron micro pot of snow peas, haricot beans, and carrots. But less-expensive American flatfish would work just as well with this treatment.

Likewise, the grilled filet mignon ($31) was good but not impressive, served sliced with a béarnaise sauce that didn’t have enough butter flavor and a kind of salsa in which bits of beef marrow got lost, as well as a fine little potato cake. Bouillabaisse ($35) is very difficult to produce in Boston because the small Mediterranean fish used in making it are hard to get. We’ve seen a few red mullet this winter, but not the scorpionfish that really set the aromatic tone in France. This dish was made of a white filet (always the best part), mussels, and lobster that needed more cracking in the kitchen or more implements at the table. The aioli on the side was superb; the dish was also served with a regular mayonnaise, grated cheese, and the right kind of toasted bread, but the broth lacked enough licorice-saffron excitement.

An all-French wine list can feature some frightening prices in these days of the strong Euro, but La Voile has picked up some decent bargains. A glass of 2005 Chatenoy Menetou-Salon ($9/glass; $36/bottle) had some of the tropical fruit aromas of New Zealand sauvignon blancs, with the lively acidity of the French appellation. A bottle of 2003 Potel Aviron Julienas ($34) was something of a bargain for a mature vintage of a Beaujolais designed to be more like a real Burgundy, and emphasizing deep cherry flavors over the lighter strawberry style we know. Decaf ($2.75), decaf espresso ($2.75), and cappuccino ($3.90) were all up to Cannes standards.

La Voile has quite a few desserts, most served in French-women-don’t-get-fat portions, which our party welcomed after some rich sauces. The exception is the “famous tart of St. Tropez” ($8), which is a double slice of heavy cake with a vanilla-cream layer and perhaps a hint of lavender. Boston cream pie better watch out. A special on molten chocolate cake ($7) was small but rich enough, served with a little pistachio ice cream and a kumquat decoration. A mille-feuille ($8) that might be fully translated as a “quickie Napoléon” was just a couple of pastry layers with cream and raspberries, and it vanished in a hurry. Perhaps the pick of the spread was the espresso with three desserts ($8): a micro lemon pie, a tiny chocolate mousse, and a very small vanilla custard. A bit of butter biscuit actually makes four.

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  Topics: Restaurant Reviews , LA VOILE , LA VOILE , Culture and Lifestyle ,  More more >
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