Friday, January 15, 2010

Barcode: Bistro du Midi

Simple, uncluttered recipes, straightforward, natural ingredients and a focus on classic spirits all tied together with a unifying concept. It doesn’t sound like it would be that hard to do, but it’s something that eludes many bars striving for some sort of identity. These are the goals at Bistro du Midi, the new Provençal bistro occupying the old Excelsior space.

Two bars offer different ways to experience the predictably solid wine selections and surprisingly on-point cocktails. Downstairs is a cafe-style bar, more casual and direct, with a scaled back bar menu and an open kitchen. The upstairs bar is an extension of the elegantly rustic dining room with a burning hearth and long window views of the Public Garden.

“I think my goal is always to provide something interesting and fun but also to make people think a little,’’ explains sommelier Kelly Coggins. “I take a very classic and minimalist approach to cocktails. Like food, it is for me about less being more. Instead of a drink with 50 things in it I want as few components as possible so that each shines but enhances the others.’’

Seeing to that means putting the same level of consideration into the drinks as the food. “Chef [Robert Sisca] spends a lot of time crafting the menu and perfecting the recipes,’’ Coggins says. “It would just not match if the cocktail list was not as interesting. So with that in mind we set out to work with some very classic Provençal ingredients in different and fun ways.’’

The herb gimlet variation in the Canadaire (tarragon infused gin, fresh lime juice, $10), for example. Provençal tarragon struck him as something that would work well with gin. Served up with a perfectly chipped layer of ice, it’s light green in color, and smells like freshly mown grass. Like all of the other drinks, it comes with its own naming story. An old French tale tells of a dragon that ate a bush of tarragon which caused him to breathe fire. The drink that helps put out that fire is named for the plane that drops water on forest fires in France.

The Avignon (Old Monk Rum, fresh lime juice, $11), is deceptively simple, and cleverly named as well. This daiquiri uses dark Indian rum aged seven years and demerara sugar, a raw sugar cane from Guyana that adds depth to the simple syrup. It’s named after the Rhone Valley town Avignon where the popes were exiled during the great schism.

A lot of bars don’t spend any time naming their cocktails, so Bistro du Midi’s a nice change of pace. The Coco (Dubonnet Rouge, fresh lemon juice, sparkling wine, $9) is a fortified red wine-based aperitif cut with citrus and a touch of effervescence. A striking red color, it’s named for Coco Chanel’s legendary designs and the red French coclico flower. Fun, right? Coggins’s version of the margarita, a floral, soothing tequila infusion called the Pétanque (lavender-lemon infused tequila, Triple Sec, fresh lemon and lime juice, $11; pictured) is named after the bocce ball game that is played in lavender fields in the south of France.

“I probably could have made my life easier by using Crème de Violette, but I take the long way everywhere because it’s the fun of the job,’’ Coggins said.

Sometimes it’s hard work making things look so simple.

Bistro du Midi , 272 Boylston St., Boston. 617-426-7878.

Boston Globe

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