Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Miel - Brasserie Provençale - Boston, MA

InterContinental Boston
510 Atlantic Avenue
Boston, MA 02110

Having worked in the hospitality business for a few years, first as a lawyer and now as an advisor and broker, I must admit that I can be fussy to a fault. I see so many hotels in my travels, and too often they miss the mark for reasons that can easily be remedied. The InterContinental Boston, Boston's newest four star hotel boasts of having Boston's only 24 hour brasserie serving cuisine from Provence. That, by itself, deserves praise. Why Bostonians, who are leaders in so many areas, have failed to shed the provincial attitudes regarding when one must eat or drink still baffles me. And I'm a Bostonian.

Because Goulston's offices are at 400 Atlantic, I work only a few minutes walking distance from Miel. While I was not at the firm at the time, when Goulston & Storrs moved to this stretch of Atlantic Avenue, nobody else was around. Neither Don Chiofaro's International Place or Rowe's Wharf and the Boston Harbor Hotel stood at the time. Options for doing almost anything else but the law were limited on the waterfront in those days. The directors at Goulston decided that internalizing dining would be important to being able to keep attorneys and staff happy during the workday. Today, dining options abound in the area (though great options are still rare). Miel is the newest entry -- and I felt compelled to try it. Try it, I did. Several times, in fact.

In the restaurant business, the first several months of operations can be a disaster. Diners often wait for significant period of time while other diners chomp on their meals. Food is often not presented as ordered, or lacks key ingredients. Restaurants, like toddlers, need time to adjust to the world. They require the tender loving care of their owners and managers to nurture them as they go from launch to maturity. I am always amazed that even the most mature organizations require this gestation period. During a hotel conference held in Las Vegas last year, my cousin Arun and I visited Steve Wynn's new creation during its first few weeks of operation. At the time, the service and food were so poor at at least two of the dining spots that I wondered out loud whether $3 billion was insufficient to establish a decent food and beverage operation. Alas, even Wynn suffered from the infancy syndrome. While I have not yet returned to Wynn, I have heard that conditions have improved significantly. I suspect that Miel will see similar improvements.

Not surprisingly, Miel is a better restaurant by day than it is at night. During the day, important looking people (presumably many of whom are indeed important) dine at most of the thirty or so tables at the restaurant. The daytime lunch crowd is active and the constant buzz of conversation reassures diners that others have placed faith in the talents of the chef. Alas, the eerie silence at night offers no such reassurance.

In fact, the food and service quality vary greatly based upon when you dine. During my various trips to Miel, my fellow diners and I have ordered the following dishes: the Burger Trilogy, which consists of three slider-sized "burgers" including a kobe beef patty topped with foie gras, lobster and tuna niçoise along with a variety of friend potato products (crisps, in Miel-speak); the Chicken Club Sandwich, which consists of three layers of bacon, chicken, tomato and egg on a selection of breads; the Angus Beef Burger, a ten ounce ground angus burger on baked brioche; the Caesar Salad; the Artisinal Cheese Selection; the Cêpe and Eggplant Cannelloni; the Poached Peaches; the Roasted Lobster in olive oil; and the Gruyère Onion Soup.

Since I no longer can consume lobster due to a food allergy, I had a friend try the lobster burger. The Burger Trilogy sounds good in concept but fails to execute upon expectations. At $18, I am expecting something better than ordinary. Having ordered the trilogy after midnight once, I vowed never to repeat the activity. During the day, the kobe beef patty was relatively tasty, especially topped with foie gras. At night however, the burger seemed to have suffered from consumption anticipation and had wilted. Dry and cold, it lost its pedigree and had become a lukewarm burger from Arby's. The potato products that accompanied the burgers were cold when served at night. I asked my waiter to remedy that, which he did promptly. The tuna (and lobster from what I have been told) was dry and lacked taste. The Caesar is rather enjoyable during the day, while at night it suffers from the Kobe patty's fate -- too much time waiting for a patron. The Angus Burger was acceptable but unexciting at all times.

Miel is open 24 hours a day. While I am thankful that a 3:00am urge to have a bit no longer requires a trip down Kneeland street, Miel needs some tweeking before it can live up to the five star InterContinental billing. While the food during the day is fresher and more interesting, the service at night -- especially after midnight -- is significantly more attentive. My favorite night waiter, from Lebanon, though new to food service in Boston, is friendly and delightful. By contrast, lunch or daytime dining at Miel occasionally involves a dip in the Bay of Inattentive Service. I look forward to reviewing Miel once it has its sea legs. Stay turned.