The business-lunch crowd gets a splash of the Mediterranean
by Stephen Heuser
The North Africian-born chef Moncef Meddeb is a genre surfer. He's used his
polished Mediterranean cooking style to open more different types of
restaurants than most chefs open restaurants. After founding the haute temple
L'Espalier in the Back Bay, he opened the suburban bistro Aigo, in Concord; the
Harvard Square foodie hotspot 8 Holyoke; and even a café at the
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. (Not all of these are still his, or even still
open.) Now he's going after the business-lunch trade with a new venture, Le
Midi, located in an office-building lobby and open only for weekday lunch. Or
rather, as of two Thursdays ago, open for weekday lunch and for dinner one
night a week, when Meddeb "will personally prepare dinners."
Two International Place (Financial District), Boston |
Open for lunch Mon-Fri, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.,
and for prix fixe dinner Thursday by reservation only
AE, Visa, MC, DC, Disc
Beer and wine
That last piece of information tells you something about Meddeb: he has been
successful enough at starting restaurants -- even if only one at a time -- that
he doesn't necessarily need to cook at them anymore. I saw him only once
lurking around the kitchen door of Le Midi, and he certainly wasn't wearing a
chef's apron. He was, however, clearly having some influence on the food: lunch
that day was precise, pretty, and consistently flavorful. Lunch the other day I
ate there was . . . less so.
Then again, Le Midi isn't exactly geared toward a foodie crowd. It's geared
toward an expense-account crowd, a segment of the market not famously finicky
about technique. Perhaps as a result, some perfunctory stuff mingles with
otherwise sharp, high-flavored cooking that stands out in the conservative
I don't imagine that any other downtown restaurant serves marinated white
anchovies, for instance. (These are the soft, plump, fresh kind, not the salty
fillets you see on pizza.) White anchovies seem to be a kind of fad lately --
they've popped up at three restaurants I've reviewed in the last four months.
Here they were lined up side by side on a plate, sprinkled with green scallion
rings and tart red currants, and dressed with lemon juice for bite and balsamic
vinegar for a touch of sweetness ($7.50). Sweet-and-tart is a nice combination
in candy, and even better in a decidedly savory dish like this one.
Among other appetizers, the "Salade du Midi" ($5.50) felt perfunctory, big
pieces of lettuce dressed with vinaigrette and garnished with what my tablemate
called "marginal" tomatoes. The warm goat cheese ($7.50), on the other hand,
took me all the way back to my revelatory first taste of goat cheese years ago
at a "Mediterranean" restaurant in California: a cake of warm, fluffy cheese,
grilled on top and bottom and flavored with a squeeze of lemon. The full dairy
tang of the cheese is nice alone, but even better against the sharp accent of
lemon and the deep throatiness of the grilled crust; it was served over warm
spinach and walnuts, with a sweet balsamic glaze scribbled around the plate.
There was one other dish that hit that level of flavor, and not surprisingly
we also had it the afternoon I spotted the Man himself around the kitchen. That
was a plate of asparagus with shiitake caps, which clearly came out of Meddeb's
haute-cuisine repertoire. Even at $14 (that's $2 a spear), it was in some sense
worth the money, if only because unusual things are worth whatever people
charge for them. What made this special wasn't the vegetable itself -- though
the asparagus were tender enough for "jumbo" stalks, about as thick as my index
finger -- but the sauce, a sweet glaze made partly from foie gras. Foie
gras. For lunch. It's one of those ingredients, like truffles, that give a
profound depth to sauce without making it feel heavy at all. Applied to a
simple grilled vegetable, it tasted luxurious but not excessive.
Even so, the grilled-chicken sandwich ($14) is probably what I'd order if I
went back on my own dime: several slices of grilled chicken breast topped with
marinated red peppers and a chunky chopped-olive tapenade, all laid on decent
French bread. It was handsome and solid, a good balance between chicken and
topping, the kind of thing a glossy food magazine puts on its cover when it
wants to look "fun."
Maybe it's coincidence, but the two entrées I tried when Meddeb wasn't
lurking around were much less worth writing about. One was a pasta special
($16) -- linguine topped with seafood and pesto -- and while it tasted
good (nicely grilled scallops, chunks of lobster, shiitake caps), the whole
thing was coated in an unprepossessing brownish-green sauce. The other was a
salad of marinated grilled tuna, served cold ($12). Chunks of tuna were tossed
with sautéed onions and peppers, black and green olives, and marinated
carrots. The most interesting thing on the plate wasn't the tuna but the stewed
half-tomatoes flavored, fascinatingly, with mint.
As for dessert, I don't want to belabor this, but quite a few of the berries
in our dish of fresh berries ($5.95) were moldy. Our waiter -- who was sort of
creepily ingratiating, and kept referring to his customers as "my friend" --
was apologetic, almost crestfallen, to learn that we'd had to pick out most of
the raspberries. But hey. We were paying for it. A special of chocolate bread
pudding ($5.95) was a much better idea, rich and sweet, with a few little
cherries scattered around.
are served by the glass, and the selection is limited. Among the whites,
Cartiledge and Brown is a decent
buttery in the California style;
the pinot grigio is spare; and the viognier, to my mind at least, is the best
match with the food.
Finally, a word about the space: Le Midi really is in the lobby of an office
building. It's not in the middle of the lobby; the middle of the
International Place lobby is a fountain that operates like a 40-foot-high
shower and is ringed by an upscale food court. Le Midi is a cordoned-off area
east of the elevator block, with the absolute highest ceilings you will ever
eat under, and the tallest windows you will ever eat next to -- which
unfortunately look directly onto the side of the Expressway. Since
businesspeople are notoriously finicky about views, it may be a couple of years
before the real crowds come.
Stephen Heuser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.