Most restaurant reviews focus on just one part of the dining experience: the food. But just as important as the food is everything else: branding, interior design, service, music, and overall vibe. An exceptional dining out experience is one where all the senses are engaged, not just the taste buds. Find out which restaurants have the “taste” to meet our standards (and which ones don’t).
Hungry for Design’s authors are Susan Battista and Fritz Klaetke—partners in both work and life. By day they run Visual Dialogue, a branding and design firm where Susan leads strategy and Fritz leads creative. By night, they can be found sharing meals (and opinions) at restaurants all over Boston and beyond.
fort point, boston
Does Bastille Kitchen translate in Fort Point?
Restaurants can play key roles in transforming neighborhoods by bringing in people, activating street life, and providing a point of connection for a community. As Boston’s Fort Point transitions from industrial spaces and artists’ lofts to new offices and condos, a real urban neighborhood has yet to emerge. Perhaps Bastille Kitchen from Seth Greenberg (the man behind M80, Mistral, and The Ames Hotel) can help change that.
According to Greenberg, Bastille Kitchen is “the destination dining anchor to Boston’s Fort Point neighborhood that Pastis is to New York’s Meatpacking District.” If you’ve ever been to Keith McNally’s Pastis, you’ll know that this is a bold claim. Greenberg is certainly right about a couple of things: both restaurants are French bistros, and Fort Point is comparable to New York’s Meatpacking District of 15 years ago. But will Bastille Kitchen turn into a cornerstone in Fort Point’s revitalization?
By the time we arrived on a Friday night after work, Melcher Street already felt desolate and dark. Expecting to be impressed by Bastille Kitchen’s massive size—11,000 square feet (!) spanning a city block and two stories—we were instead struck by its lack of street presence. It’d be easy to pass by Bastille Kitchen without giving it a second glance. No activity can be seen through the windows or the entrance and it’s hard to tell if it’s even open.
Beyond the odd implications of the name “Bastille” to anyone who’s studied French history, if we were to judge Bastille Kitchen on branding alone, we probably wouldn’t have ventured further. The typeface sued in the logo, Copperplate (designed by Frederic Goudy in 1905 for you type nerds out there), is a quintessentially American font. The only thing French about it may be that it’s used in the Balthazar logo (another Keith McNally restaurant in NYC). The templatized website feels particularly neglected—they didn’t even use the correct logo—and screams “restaurant chain,” especially on the mobile version. Maybe the design budget (a reported $4 million) was all blown on the interior?
As we made our way inside, we were greeted by an imposing staircase. Only an easy-to-miss, small, chalkboard sign pointing us to the “Chalet” (arrow down) and the dining room (arrow up) helped direct us. Guests, and the space, would benefit from a friendly greeter to welcome and point you on your way at the entrance.
We ascended the wood-paneled staircase (all the while questioning whether Marie Antoinette’s portrait was supposed to be funny or foreboding) to find the hostess stand, and a bar and lounge area. Although filled with attractive furniture, the lounge across from the bar felt a bit like a furniture showroom (and not one in Paris).
The dining room, though also attractive, is overwhelming large. You could fit a bowling alley down the middle of it. Though there were many guests, the room felt lifeless at 8:00pm on a Friday night—there was no energy. We think delineating the space into smaller rooms would amp up the vibe and enhance the experience.
The interior design has nice details and you can tell that they spent some serious money especially on lighting and furnishings. However, individual design elements don’t come together as a strong concept. There’s no focal point and the atmosphere is incongruous with the French comfort food menu—it’s just too big and doesn’t feel intimate. While she may be experienced in creating residential interiors, we think designer Petra Hausberger’s inexperience with restaurant interiors showed.
For us, the most successful space is the Chalet, the downstairs bar and lounge. Despite the pretentious “Lounge Prive” sign, we found that it is, indeed, open to the public. The cozy space looks like an upscale ski lodge (think French Alps) and feels decidedly warm, intimate, and inviting with reclaimed wood walls, comfy sofas, and soft lighting. A great spot to meet friends for drinks by the fire (although we wonder how a ski lodge will translate in the hot city summer months). Our one recommendation? Crack open the blinds a bit to encourage buzz by giving passersby a peak inside.
Despite our critiques, we enjoyed our meal and excellent service. Bastille Kitchen has mastered French comfort food classics like French onion soup (with an egg on top) and steak frites. Creative dishes, though beautifully plated, were less impressive. The beet salad was bland and the Oyster & Jonah Crab Stuffed Lemon Sole looked like a work of art but tasted like a mishmash of flavors. If you visit, stick to the classics.
So, is Bastille a young Pastis in the making? Non. Pastis is active, urban, and has a Parisian vibe. It’s a true bistro that draws lively crowds and neighborhood regulars at all hours. Bastille Kitchen, on the other hand, is a grand attempt to bring French food to the masses. It’s clearly more geared toward suburbanites (with validated parking!) looking to spend an evening in the city rather than its local neighbors.
Bastille Kitchen left us with the feeling of a McMansion: it may be filled with beautiful objects but overall it seems like an awkward use of space—too big for the occupants as it screams “look at me, I’m big and impressive.” While Fort Point needs anchors to really establish the neighborhood, Bastille Kitchen feels out of touch. C’est la vie.