Bar Bête Can Calm Down
This updated take on French cuisine left me unimpressed.
Bar Bête, billed as Smith Street’s most elegant date spot, clearly has some pretensions. Instead of sticking to a traditional French aesthetic, Bar Bête obviously prides itself on keeping up to date: charmingly lit with simple lantern-style hangings and decorated in a color palette of cream and black, this restaurant allies itself with a certain brand of sexy, high-class modernity.
Personally, I tend to prefer restaurants that don’t feel like they belong in the lobby of a five-star hotel, but the environment was just warm enough to get me excited for the food. Still, as I prepared myself to order, I wondered: does Bar Bête’s food take itself too seriously, too?
This mystery didn’t last for long. The food’s superiority complex is made clear from the menu alone, which is printed daily despite the fact that it remains the same for the whole season. I found menu’s Courier New typeface to be a perfect choice for this restaurant’s particular brand of uppity — and I loved that it was perfectly contradicted by the subtle plug for Bar Bête’s Instagram at the bottom of the menu. (Advertising for followers is always going to come off gauche, no matter how classy you try to be while doing it.)
The seasonal dishes here are all small share plates— the wait staff recommends 2–3 per person, with prices ranging from a $8 anchovy toast to a $42 circular piece of steak with the same diameter as a coffee mug. I ordered the oysters, cashews, and duck fat potatoes to start, then split the black bass, lobster and rabbit sausage, and potato and leek ravioli as a second course. We finished our meal with their special yellow cake.
The food was all beautiful, in keeping with Bar Bête’s clear obsession with appearances. This aesthetic orientation negatively impacted some dishes: the cashews weren’t flavorful enough, while the oysters were over-dressed, with an onion-y mignonette that I had to keep chewing long after the oyster itself had melted down my throat. The potato and leek ravioli were heavy and bland.
The rabbit and lobster sausage, though, was tasty. This updated surf and turf dish is lathered with a vermouth-y sauce and topped with a tiny little salad, and although the combination may not strike you as mouthwatering right from the jump, I cannot overstate how well these flavors mesh.
The one thing that truly surprised me about my Bar Bête experience was the soundtrack. While we ate, they played Beastie Boys and the Clash, which felt out of place in this self-serious context, but also made it pretty difficult not to have a good time. Turns out the sommelier, Nick Ferrante, is also the restaurant’s DJ, and he has composed an eight-hour playlist for each day of the week. This choice redeemed the restaurant a bit for me — even though Bar Bête insists on being proper in most other ways, the fact that they allow nostalgic, playful music in the dining room is endearing.
Even though I loved the music and the sausage, I think it’s fair to say that I won’t be making another trip to Bar Bête any time soon. What can I say? I just don’t want to feel like I’m being condescended to by a menu. I’ll leave this restaurant to the real food critics — enjoy your cashews!