The gourmet fare at this elegant French bistro toggles between the classics and gentle fusion. Mussels may come in a fragrant Asian chili sauce or a traditional garlic broth. Escargot is pure French with tarragon and Dijon cream sauce, but homemade pate is jazzed up with chutney. Well-prepared game stands out, but the chef gives seafood a good turn as well. -- Boston.com
In the spirit of Julia, meals to truly savor With a viewing of the movie “Julie & Julia’’ fresh in our minds, my review team was happy to try an evening at La Boniche, a bistro in downtown Lowell, which promises “simple dining with a French accent’’ on its website. “Julie & Julia’’ - which juxtaposed the life of Julia Child with the efforts of a neophyte blogger to cook all the recipes in Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking’’ - had awakened our longing for butter-laden dishes, succulent meats, and decadent desserts.
La Boniche, a 21-year-old institution in Lowell, seemed to fit the bill: a small storefront opened up into a spacious dining area, with high ceilings and a small bar. The peach and cream walls set off the original paintings, and exposed brick pays tribute to the major motif of this mill city.
The wine list is supplemented by a variety of trendy martinis, which here, as in many watering holes, are stretching to match sweets with spirits. Would Julia Child order a Key lime martini or a toasted coconut white chocolate raspberry martini (both $8)? Likely she would stick with the familiar champagne cocktail ($8).
The French take their bread very seriously, and La Boniche does, too; our basket of crusty slices arrived warm with small dishes of hummus spreads on the side. The restaurant offers Continental and American appetizers like crispy cod cakes ($6) and basil pesto and roasted vegetable pizza ($8), as well as more French fare like escargot with tarragon, Dijon crème, and julienne vegetable ($10), and pâté and cheese ($12).
We got down to business by ordering one of the specialties, the Chinese-flavored braised lamb shank ($20). It arrived looking like a lovingly created prop from “Julie & Julia.’’ The meat practically melted off the bone, but there was more to this dish than mere texture. The meat’s tenderness was enhanced by the insistent sauce of apricot, ginger, garlic, and soy, and the creamy mashed potatoes and perfectly fried zucchini slices made this dish a triumph.
We also sampled the grilled garlic chicken ($20), which was well done but nothing that Julia might praise. The roasted salmon with avocado ($22) was well cooked and well presented (as were all the other dishes), but the bright orange sauce promised fireworks that weren’t quite manifest in the mouth.
The real surprise of the dinner was the pasta special ($19). What could have been an ordinary bowl of spaghetti was dressed with butter, roasted tomatoes, and black olives, which brought it alive with flavor. Ordered by the vegetarian in the group, this seemingly simple dish was one of the evening’s highlights even among the carnivores.
For dessert, we sampled the bread pudding ($7.50), which exemplifies what this seemingly humble offering can do, with a compelling gooey texture veined with dried cranberries. The triple chocolate mousse cake ($7.50) promised much, with its three layers of different chocolate flavors and raspberry topping, but in the end we got calories and not much else.
Despite this disappointment, La Boniche is a place where the love of food and its presentation is palpable. While “Julie & Julia’’ may simulate the pleasure of French cooking, nothing compares with the real thing.
-- The Boston Globe, March 18, 2010
La Boniche proves perfect for that special occasion For those who love European cuisine and ambience, there’s no better destination than La Boniche in Lowell, Mass.
It’s where Mrs. T for T goes to celebrate something special or to fulfill a deep craving for the best black bean soup ever.
OK, she knows she isn’t really in France, but it’s easy to pretend when you’re in an urban bistro with tall ceilings; warm, butternut colored walls; fresh flowers on the table; elaborate antique sideboards; and Provencal print drapery.
Don’t deprive yourself of La Boniche because you think it’s too pricey. There are a lot of ways to eat there without breaking the bank.
The average dinner prices are in the $20 range, well worth it for the quality and quantity of the food. But you can also eat some of the same dishes and others just as good at lunchtime for a reduced price.
La Boniche also offers a midweek prix fixe special that costs $15 at lunch, including a choice of soup or salad, a choice from the entree selections and a dessert. The dinner special is $25 for a choice of soup, salad, entree and dessert.
For dinner, we’ve enjoyed the Duck with Hazelnut and Apple Orange ($24,) sauteed breast and confit leg served with crispy risotto cake and sauteed spinach, with a toasted hazelnut demi glace, as well as the Braised Ginger Lamb Shank ($18) with port wine, garlic and mushrooms, roasted garlic mashed potatoes and acorn squash.
On a recent lunch, we started with a cup of Spicy Black Bean Soup ($4) with sour cream and scallions and a bowl of the soup du jour, a Sweet Potato and Scallop Bisque ($5), which truly was one of the best creamed soups we’ve ever had.
We moved on to Fried Shrimp ($12 for lunch, $10 for dinner appetizer), wrapped in angel hair served with tomato basil sauce. This was fantastic. There were three giant prawns with the pasta wrap, which made a scrumptious crust. The sauce was a nice condiment and not a pool in which the delicate shrimp were drowned.
Another in our party tried the Grilled Ginger Pork ($12 lunch, $18 dinner), with roasted potato, acorn squash and a bacon, scallion and orange butter and balsamic drizzle. This was amazing. The orange was the perfect complement to the balsamic and the pork was done to perfection.
We also tried the Sauteed Cod ($13) with julienne vegetable in a spicy tomato broth with fresh cilantro and roasted potato, and yes, it tasted as delicate and fragrant as it sounds.
It wouldn’t have been a trip to La Boniche without its iconic Bread Pudding ($7), a raft-sized rectangle of this favorite confection with craisins, raisins and lots of other yummy stuff.
Boniche also has a great wine list, knockout coffee and a full bar.
Our service was a tad slow, but our server was very nice. After all, this is a French restaurant – a meal is to be savored, not rushed.
We’ll come back to La Boniche for as long as it’s open.
-- Nashua Telegraph, September 13, 2009
143 Merrimack St, Lowell, MA 01852, Phone: (978) 458-9473