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The view from the dining room of Mistral. Vito Aluia
Mistral, the newest restaurant in Boston's South End, takes its name from the cold north wind that sweeps Provence during winter and spring, and there is something bracing about the restaurant's ambience: it seems exclusive and welcoming at the same time. Partly due to its grand but casual setting (12-foot-high Palladian windows and a half dozen 15-foot columns frame a room furnished in modest country-home décor), partly to a young, fashionable staff, and partly to the bold and the beautiful who eat there, Mistral is able to look fabulous, make you feel as if you look fabulous, and convince you that the entire enterprise is effortless.
It shouldn't surprise that Mistral concentrates heavily on its atmospheric effects: owner Seth Greenberg is also the proprietor of the nightclub M-80--Boston's haven for the Euro-chic. He makes Mistral's every detail cohere. Food, layout, décor, staff, even the thin, long-legged typeface of the menu, all have the same breezy elegance.
Mistral's main room is multi-functional, sectioned into separate lounge, bar, bistro, and dining areas. You can order from the bistro menu--pizzas, sandwiches, burgers, and the less formidable appetizers--everywhere except in the formal dining room, and dinner fare is available in each venue. From a trendy burger at the bar to power dining, Mistral can provide any type of evening you desire.
Once you've decided where to eat, you'll have to make the truly difficult decisions. Don't waste time over the extensive wine menu; it's varied, and priced fairly. Make a call and move on to the dinner menu, where you'll be treated to such choices as the Portobello mushroom "carpaccio" with roasted peppers agrodolce--a favorite, our waiter told us. One can see why. With marinated raisins, baby arugula, and red peppers framing thin slices of Portobello drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette, the dish livens several taste sensations: tangy, tart, sour, sweet. Or try the Caesar salad. (The test, after all, of any good restaurant is how well it does simple things.) The salad, fresher and lighter than usual, with well-seasoned, homemade croutons, a good dose of lemon, and one anchovy, tastes sunny and clean. For a more substantial starter, you'll love the confit of duck and foie gras in brioche--a tantalizing mix of textures despite the slightly rubbery roll.
The entrées' main features play straight men to the quirky side dishes. A grilled veal chop comes with Gorgonzola polenta and fried green tomatoes; a salmon filet prepared with the usual citrus abuts blueberry almond quinoa pilaf; the soft-shell crab straddles its bacon-and-scallion mashed potatoes. Entrées are classically executed, and near perfection. Though the salmon, glowing pink and moist for the most part, was occasionally chewy around the edges, the veal was succulent and the crab like buttery angel food.
Desserts were superb. I ordered the vanilla crème brûlée, a huge serving of which arrived promptly. An almost flan-like texture in the bowl, it melted into a wonderful pudding consistency in the mouth. A friend had the peach melba parfait, for its nostalgia-inducing sundae feel, but try the warm chocolate torte, baked just until it's set, so that the middle section remains a pudding while all around is a subtly bitter sponge cake. Sweeten and spice it with the warm banana-rum preserves to the side.
Service is solicitous, but perhaps a little too quick. Each course arrived very nearly on the heels of the previous one, giving the impression that our table was wanted. When a dinner for two, with a bottle of wine, tax, and tip comes to $180, one feels the right to less bustle. But that all goes with the very New York crowd and scene. If you want a more intimate evening, go early on a Sunday, when "the fast lane" is caught in traffic on the Cape.
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