My friend Peter is a huge wine enthusiast.
Although he lives in a two-bedroom condo, his two ceiling-high wine "caves" occupy a bulk of his kitchen area. He's on multiple mailing lists from the city's best wine vendors, and he's always seeking out the best wine deals in the city.
Recently, he couldn't stop raving about Troquet. More specifically, the wine selection and, most importantly, the wine prices at Troquet.
It's like a little "best-kept secret" of Boston.
Troquet is a beautiful French-inspired classy restaurant in Boston's theater district. Diners enjoy a relaxing view of Boston Common from the second floor dining room. Troquet's wine prices are unusually low compared to industry standard.
Restaurants typically mark up wine prices about two times what you'd pay in a store. Wines by the glass are marked up even more, with the price of one glass equaling the wholesale price of the bottle. Typically, cheaper wines are marked up more (percentage-wise) than expensive wines.
What's so incredible about Troquet is that, at least for higher-end wines, it's not uncommon to pay below retail price for the wines. Troquet has a fantastic wine collection, and some of these harder-to-get wines go up in price on the open market over time. Suddenly, something at Troquet appears cheaper than what you'd see at a local wine shop.
At the end of the day, however, it really comes down to owner Chris Campbell's philosophy about wine.
"[W]e try to sell high-end wines at just a few dollars over retail. I want to turn over our inventory. I don't like seeing wines on the list too long. . . I prefer to mark up short, turn it over, and reinvest the money." [source]
According to Chris Campbell, markups go down as the prices of the wines goes up. You'll get best deals on wines that cost over $100, which, as I mentioned before, may sometimes be at or below retail.
If you really want a deal, you can always try stopping by the wine bar (first floor), where they often offer "bin end bottles" (the last few bottles of a case that they can't put on the wine list anymore) for just a few dollars over retail.
OK, but what about the food?
Having a superb wine selection and excellent prices are useless if the food and atmosphere do not match. Thankfully, I'm happy to report that the food and service at Troquet are quite good. It may not fall into my initial list of "best restaurants in Boston." However, it's hard to argue that any other restaurant in Boston comes even close to having this good of a food quality + wine value combination.
It was late summer when we came, so tomatoes were heavily featured on the menu. The Yellowtail Kampachi consisted of thick, generous slices of yellowtail over gorgeously sweet heirloom tomatoes and tomato jus. The fish was fresh and good quality, but nowhere near as good as any sushi-level yellowtail I've ever had. The bright, intense citrus-tomato jus was excellent - slightly tangy and full of that late summer tomato flavor.
New Zealand Langoustines $21
With green papaya, champagne mango, & tamarind glaze
The panko-crusted langoustines were perfectly fried with a lovely, solid "crunch." The langoustines themselves were fresh and very sweet. The slaw underneath had classic Asian flavors of sugar and soy sauce. I personally found the slaw a bit too sweet, but Bryan and Chia Chi thought it was a refreshing balance with the savory, fried langoustine. In fact, Bryan's first words were "it's a good mix of flavors and textures."
Casco Bay Lobster Crepe ($21) with coral emulsion, butter sugar corn, & chanterelles
Ricotta Cavatelli $18/$28
With wild mushrooms, parmesan, & black truffle
This was by far everyone's favorite dish overall. The fresh homemade cavatelli had a nice chewy texture, and the sauce was excellent. It was deeply flavorful and well-seasoned, both from the intense mushrooms and the strong black truffle flavor. We shared one plate between the four of us as a "mid-course" (between our appetizers and entree). It's the type of intense, rich dish that you wouldn't want to eat in large volumes, but works perfectly as a "primo" to your main entree.
Assiette of Vermont Lamb $39
With Moroccan chickpeas, spicy harissa, & anise caponata
The Vermont lamb was cooked three different ways. The seared lamb loin was a perfect medium rare with a nice, intense "lamb" flavor.
"Mmmm that's tasty!" said Bryan.
The shank was a bit fatty and, frankly, a bit undersalted and flat in flavor. Contrast that with the last piece, the fried lamb belly, which was a tad too salty.
Bryan ordered the halibut because he was intrigued by the fresh homemade udon noodles (you know he has such a weakness for homemade noodles). Sadly, the udon was not as chewy as he would have liked, though he did enjoy the rice crust on the halibut. I personally didn't love the hon shimeji broth - I found it a little unbalanced - too sweet and not enough wine or umami to offset it. The fish was slightly overcooked, though the crispy rice on top was quite nice, giving an unexpected nuttiness to the entire dish.
Maine Dayboat Sea Scallops $36
With caper raisin puree, nicoise olives, & hearts of palm barigoule
The scallops were huge, sweet, and executed perfectly with a nice char on the outside and soft and sweet on the inside. Unfortunately, perfect execution of a mediocre recipe just won't get you that far. The sauce that accompanied the scallops was rather monodimensional and a tad oversalted. The scallops were fine, but the sauce did not help. If anything, the saltiness detracted slightly from the sweet juicy scallops.
Of course, the wines were the stars of the show, and we took full advantage of the excellent wine prices (don't worry, there were four of us enjoying a long, multi-course meal!). Yes, we even bought a bottle of wine from 1989, probably one of the oldest bottles of wine I've ever drunk!
Troquet has an incredible wine list, and their prices are really, really reasonable. They turn over wine quickly, so the selection constantly changes and can be a pleasant surprise.
Their cheese come from Formaggio Kitchen, and they offer a nice assortment of creamy, stinky, and hard cheeses from which to choose. At $18 for a choice of three generous blocks, it's a reasonable price considering the quality.
The cheese plate also comes with your typical accompaniments, such as sliced apples, candied nuts, and a jelly of sorts.
All in all, the staff at Troquet took very good care of us as we enjoyed our self-designed multi-course meal. As we walked out, I declared that the best way to enjoy this restaurant would be to sit at the bar, order the cavatelli to share, and share a bottle of wine, preferably one that's typically hard to find (without paying exorbitant markup fees). Heck, maybe I could even score a great deal on a "bin-end" bottle.
Perhaps I'd finish the meal with a tasting of cheese before rushing off to catch whatever cool show was being performed in the theater district that night.
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