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Nicole J. Wang
The shellfish soup, which featured mussels, scallops, clams and shrimp in a spicy tomato broth, was perfect for a crisp fall day.
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★★★★★

Jacky’s Table

1414 Commonwealth Ave. Brighton, MA 02135

For those of us hoping to take a date out to a nice restaurant over the weekend, the options for affordable fare can be few and far between in Boston. Many of the fine dining establishments serve delicious and unique chow, but unfortunately for the average college student, there are few that do not break the bank. I will be eating my way through these options, and, hopefully, finding an economical, date-worthy restaurant for other MIT couples to try.

Boston has its fair share of relatively affordable French dining options, but how many can boast an entire menu under $15? Tucked away in a residential part of Brighton, the glowing bistro and bar is the little-known, more casual gem of Chef Jacky Robert’s collection that opened in June of this year. On a busy Saturday night, the host welcomed me in with a casual “Bon soir” in his native tongue and seated my party at a table near the door. The restaurant is warmly decorated, evoking the atmosphere of a French family’s dining room. In anticipation of the coming fall festivities, white, fluffy cobwebs also lined the brick walls, and rather than the traditional signs on the restroom doors, the doors had portraits of a witch and a ghoul on them.

A little sign on the middle of each table reads, “What is Jacky’s Table?” The bistro is based on a traditional French family dinner; many of the entrées are served on metal plates and shared in the middle of table. The typical French menu includes a diverse selection of delights, from Chef Jacky’s favorite French classics to “Juste Pour Moi” meals for those of us with less adventurous palates. On top of the soups and salads, appetizers, and plats du jour, the menu also features a wide variety of sides and another smaller menu of Chef Jacky’s scrumptious dessert creations. The bistro regularly serves a list of French aperitifs for your meal, and the backside of the dinner menu is populated by an extensive list of beers and wines.

No trip to a French restaurant is complete without a sampling of appetizers and starters. Ready to embark on my journey of casual, traditional French fare, my date and I ordered the onion soup, a hearty bowl of rich broth. To top it off, bread smothered in a great blend of cheeses covers the soup. Next, I ordered the six escargots Burgundy-style, an herby, garlicky dish served bubbling in a traditional escargot plate. For one reason or another, we still had not gotten our bread yet, but it quickly arrived after we prompted our waiter. Served in a little basket with a medallion of soft butter, the warm, crisp French baguette redeemed itself after arriving late by simply being delicious. I happily dipped the fresh bread into the buttery escargot sauce, and before the entrées had arrived, we had inhaled the bread.

For my entrée, our waiter recommended that I try the vol au vent, crisp puff pastry soaking a creamy mixture of tender pieces of veal and chicken with “champignons”. Though a tasty dish, it arrived disappointingly cold, and it seemed as though my meal had been sitting out while waiting for the other two to finish. The two grilled toulouse sausages came with caramelized onions and roasted potatoes with a healthy helping of horseradish sauce in a gravy boat on the side. It was the most honest, down-to-earth sausage I had had in a while, but both the potatoes and sausages lacked any special touch or flavoring.

My date ordered the shellfish soup, which was, hands down, the best part of the meal. A slightly spicy, brilliant tomato-based broth with scallops, mussels, clams, shrimp, and rouille, the soup served in a white ceramic bowl with cheese-encrusted bread sticks. Before placing the bread sticks into the broth, the chef dipped them in rouille, a thick, olive oil-based sauce commonly served with fish and seafood soups that was subtle, yet delicious. Perfect for a cold fall day.

The entrées are a little bit on the small side so the menu also offers a wide range of sides for $4.50 per. The gratin dauphinois was a savory twist on scalloped potatoes with lots of herbs, but it was a little too salty and oily for my taste. The pommes frites were also too salty and served with pre-packaged ketchup and mayonnaise. The last side we ordered was the dirty rice, a blend of rice and small bits of chicken liver that was a bit too mushy.

Though the meals themselves are smaller than usual, the sides and desserts are served in considerable portions and could easily be shared between two people. Unless you are really hungry, I would forgo the sides and stick with a starter, an entrée, and one of the many delectable desserts offered on the menu. A couple things to note: first, Chef Jacky Robert also owns the Petit Robert Bistro with locations in the South End, Kenmore Square, and Needham. Though slightly more expensive (all the entrées are $20 and under) and more classy, the one in Kenmore Square is also closer to campus, and I will be sure to try it soon. Jacky’s Table is also right off the T’s Green B Line at the Warren Street stop, and you should make a reservation if you plan to visit over the weekend. In retrospect, I wish I had tried some of the desserts.