It used to be that when people raved about great service at a restaurant, I never really understood it. Sure, it's nice to have a server who isn't smacking gum or whose eyes aren't severely bloodshot (thinking of one particular IHOP waitress), but I always was sort of confused-- aren't you really there for first and foremost the food? However, my most recent experience at La Voile on Newbury Street reminded me how truly great service can really turn a good experience into a great one.
It was a very special occasion that brought part of my family out to dinner on this past rainy Friday-- my dad's birthday. We met on the sidewalk and after exchanging hugs and greetings, we walked down the stone steps into the basement level restaurant that is La Voile.
We were greeted warmly by several important looking people at the door. They insisted they take our coats, even explaining how the type of chairs they have make your coat slip off. As I handed my dad my shopping bag with my rain boots in it to remove my jacket, I heard a loud rip and my rainboots spilled out on to the floor. Mind you, these are bright pink rainboots with hearts from Marshall's-- not something you'd want to be seen in at a beautiful establishment like this -- exactly why they had been removed and placed in an Ann Taylor shopping bag in the first place! The manager quickly bent over and scooped them up, ripped bag and all, as my face turned a dark red color and my brother laughed and asserted, "Yep, we've arrived!"
Still horrified, I followed the hostess to our table. The restaurant was quiet (it was around 6:30) and stunning, in an understated and charming way, with French script scrawled across the walls and large wooden mirrors, and of course model sailboats (La Voile translates to "The Sail"). As we perused our menus and I had just started to forget the rainboots incident, I felt a tap on my shoulder; it was the kind manager, who whispered in my ear in a very intimate manner, speaking in his thick French accent, "I ev placed your boots in zee closet with a new bag, BUT I can only find one sock..." And just like that, the horror had returned. Blushing, I explained to him that the other sock was probably shoved into the boot.
Even though I was embarassed with this whole boot experience (I get embarassed quite easily), it really did mean a lot that this man had gone out of his way to make sure my experience was not ruined by something like a missing sock. It warmed my heart that he seemed so genuinely concerned.
But back to the food. Our waiter greeted us with two different amuse bouches-- one with escargot, and one a gruyere (if my memory serves me) cheese pouf. My sister deemed the escargot, "the worst she's ever had," but I was too busy being proud of myself for trying it to notice. The cheese pouf was yummy and melted in your mouth.
My dad is a huge fan of French food, and doesn't have it very often, so we did not hold back and ordered many different dishes. My dad and I both chose to start with the soup du jour, a light and fresh celery soup, accompanied by a piece of crunchy bread to dunk into it. My sister in law chose the fresh spring vegetables, a salad of peas and greens. My brother chose a cheese plate with 5 different selections. Our waiter wheeled over the cheese tray and explained, in almost kindergarten teacher-like explication, the different types. My brother was most impressed with the blue cheese and the creamy goat cheese.
We all shared a trio of foie gras-- one pan seared, one terrine, and one creme brulee. As this was my first foie gras experience (I know, I probably shouldn't admit that...) I can't really compare to others, but the pan seared was exquisite.
For my main course I chose the duck al orange with orzo risotto. The duck came sliced, with thick slices of fat underneath the skin, sitting in a pool of sweet sauce. The orzo risotto was incredibly rich and creamy and tasted pretty much like heaven. My dad ordered frog legs, which everyone seemed to enjoy (couldn't bring myself to try those...again, I know I shouldn't be admitting this!). My brother and sister in law orderd the rib eye for 2, and the owner himself, Stephane Santos, who moved this restaurant from Cannes to Boston, came out and sliced the meat tableside-- another example of the supreme service at this restaurant.
We couldn't resist choosing a dessert, and so with the waiters help we ended up choosing two-- a chocolate mousse and a strawberry "charlotte" -- like a strawberry shortcake but filled with custard and encircled by a raspberry sauce. While the others were fighting over the chocolate mousse, I was enraptured by the strawberry charlotte.
La Voile is a journey to France from the moment you walk down the stone steps, from its busboys in navy blue and white striped shirts, to its classic cuisine, and its waiters and bartenders with French accents. Its a great addition to a neighborhood geared towards tourists and shoppers (see: Cafeteria), and I'm just so glad that Santos chose Boston for this fantastic restaurant.