Beacon Hill Bistro boasts a luxe but relaxed atmosphere that fits right in to its classic Boston neighborhood. The space is a clean-edged, modern riff on bistro design: retro black, white, and hunter green tile floors, dark wood wainscoting, beveled mirrors on the walls, and large windows for watching gas-lit Charles Street as the sun goes down. Up-tempo jazz floats into the dining area from the small bar (as does an expertly-done gin martini). It’s the cusp of an autumn evening; the denizens of the hill’s cobbled passages haven’t returned from work yet to fill the place with the elegant conviviality I’ve experienced on previous visits: BHB is the favorite of a friend of mine who lives just up the street.
My buddy isn’t in town tonight, but his loss: I get to sample chef Josh Lewin’s Parsnip and Crabapple Soup, along with a couple of his other creations. The menu categorizes the food as small, large, and charcuterie/salumi/raw (this last, for instance, represented by an amuse-bouche of salmon crudo on cucumber with a sliver of crunchy wonton). A basket appears with good bread and even better butter.
The soup arrives garnishes first: shaved fennel, a button of duck liver mousse, some microgreens and a brittle of pink peppercorns are arranged artfully in a cunning earthenware bowl. The soup itself is poured tableside from a teapot (in my lucky case, by the chef himself).
I may have mentioned before that I’m rather nuts for parsnips, so I’m pleased to report that the parsnips are forward in the flavor profile here. It’s a smart move to use crabapple’s forthright tartness, rather than a sweeter apple: the soup is at once earthy and bright, each of the two major ingredients bringing out the best in the other. A host of herbs (check out the recipe in our Chef’s Corner to discover which) make this a full-flavored potion. As the hot soup is poured, it releases the crunchy fennel’s slightly intoxicating scent. Crunchy too are the lightly candied pink peppercorns, another aromatic pop to play off the others. And, lastly, the duck mousse brings its own umami/sweet tones, with a hint of mystery courtesy of a traditional bit of cognac. Such complexity runs the risk of dissolving in chaos, but these impressions from the garnishes are delightful, interesting, and fleeting; the savory soup itself is never upstaged by the supporting players.
I follow the soup with another small plate, delicata squash with lentils and a truffle vinaigrette, richly spiced and satisfyingly rustic the way good bistro food can be. Like the soup, it shows off Chef Josh’s talent for fine dining flavors in unfussy presentations. I can easily imagine Beacon Hill Bistro working its kind of magic on an important client—or an important date.