Petit Robert Bistro
482 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, MA 02215
One of these days, when the bipolar weather gods deem Boston worthy of some warmth and sun, take a stroll across the Charles and meander your way to Kenmore Square’s Petit Robert Bistro, where customers munch on tasty French bistro fare at relatively affordable prices. PRB recently started its live jazz Sundays with the arrival of the spring season. On a recent sunshine-filled weekend, a friend and I decided to check this out and came away with both stomachs and ears satisfied.
Upon arriving for our lunch reservation at noon, we were whisked downstairs to PRB’s lower level, which feels very much like a wine cellar. Floral paintings, cream-colored walls, and small wooden tables with white tablecloths create a soft atmosphere of romance. As we waited for the jazz band to arrive, we looked through the menus — one can order from either a brunch menu or the full menu — while listening to an odd mix of tracks, ranging from Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab” to The Beatles’ “All You Need is Love.” Although the brunch menu looked like it would be nicer on the wallet, it looked quite standard so we opted for the full menu to try a greater range of PRB’s offerings.
To start, we had a trio of pâtés garnished with spicy mustard and cornichons (small, sweet pickles that traditionally accompany pâtés). The pâtés — a creamy standard chicken liver, a moist pork rillette, and a smoky combination of chicken, pork, and duck — presented a wonderful range of flavors and consistencies. Delicious by themselves, with the garnishes, or spread on the complimentary French baguettes, the appetizer could be easily split among three or four people; deplorably, the two of us, try as we might, couldn’t finish it.
For my main entree, I ordered the scallops parisienne with diced tomatoes, mushrooms, and a bed of mashed potatoes, all artistically presented on a large clam shell. The luscious scallops were a solid, flavorful affair, although somewhat inconsistent in their tenderness. I was mostly impressed by both the taste and artistry of the entree but disappointed by the side of zucchini and julienned carrots, which would have been refreshing had it not been overpowered by onions. My friend’s salmon steak, flavored with white wine and a buttery hollandaise sauce on the side, was light and flaky but also topped by the same vegetables. While the fish itself was minimally seasoned, excessive peppercorns dotting the dish added a bit too much punch.
Too full for dessert (we had eaten a formidable amount of bread, trying to finish those pâtés), we ordered coffee and hot cocoa instead to prolong our stay. Why? Did I not mention that there was live jazz playing?
The weekly jazz band, the Mary Davy Trio (composed of students from the Berklee College of Music), arrived fashionably late at roughly 25 minutes past noon. The band, consisting of lead female vocal, electric guitar, and string bass, performed with both passion and energy. I was particularly charmed by the guitarist, who played with a spunky verve that complemented the vocalist’s smoky smooth voice. Crooning songs of romance both in English and French, as well as jazz favorites such as “You Don’t Know What Love Is” and “Frim Fram Sauce,” the talented vocalist knew how to captivate an audience, drawing our attention away from our food and drinks. At several times I felt the urge to get up and slow dance, if only there were space for a dance floor. A spirited cover of “You’ve Changed,” originally written in 1941 by Bill Carey and Carl Fischer, won me over completely, and it was with regret that we had to return to campus.
While service was excellent at the beginning and our waiter was impressively knowledgeable, towards the end of our meal the service became incredibly slow, even though it was not a busy day at the restaurant. Thank goodness for the band and the rose-colored vision it induced, because otherwise we would have run out of patience waiting for our check.
Verdict: The food is generally delicious, but, for the total price we were paying our meal, it wasn’t quite convincing enough for me to justify the bill. The live music experience was well worth it, however. Next time, I’ll try the brunch menu or pastry bar, sip on some more hot chocolate, and enjoy the jazz band. Now that will truly be a deal.
Tips before you go: There are two locations of PRB, one in Kenmore Square and the other on Columbus Avenue. Jazz brunch only at Kenmore location, Sundays from roughly noon until 2:30 p.m. on the lower level. Brunch menu items mostly under $10, full menu items all under $20.
Good for: hopeless romantics, jazz fans, pâté addicts. (It also helps if you are familiar with French food items or are comfortable asking the waitstaff for explanations.)
Bad for: impatient people and those who prefer to consume their food in silence.