Big Night’s New Restaurant Explorateur Is Worth Exploring

Posted September 20, 2017 by Cheryl Fenton in Dining Downtown: Restaurant Reviews

When Big Night Entertainment Group opens a new restaurant in Boston, it’s big news. And with its hot spots like Red Lantern and Empire addressing the sexy crowd with nightclub-restaurant hybrids, it’s also big news when the group decides to hit the more casual breakfast-lunch-dinner crowd.

Enter Explorateur – BNEG’s  café, restaurant, and bar that recently opened in the 120-year-old Grand Masonic Temple on Tremont. Half of the beauty of this new spot is its atmosphere, while the other half is the California-inspired French cuisine from Chefs Michael Morway and Jacob Mendros.

Moments after walking in, we knew we had found our new happy place. Open the door and walk right into the cafe section, with a sea of laptops and their La Colombe coffee-charged owners seated at BPL-esque community tables. The huge 15-foot windows showcase a backdrop of flocks of Boston Common pigeons and Emerson students as you walk past subway-tiled walls, black marble countertops, pastry cases, and a custom-made white La Marzocco espresso machine to the raised dining area. The entire place is upbeat (think MoTown, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder and Prince).

We were eager to see if the food and its French flair could also make us smile. Spoiler alert: It certainly did.

As we are currently knee-deep in Matcha madness, we began with a café-inspired Matcha Box 20 cocktail, a vodka and rum blend (happily lost among the matcha’s creamy vegetal flavor) with almond milk, thai basil syrup and basil seed pearls.

Our culinary exploration began with the quintessential French dish – Onion Soup Gratinée. The piping hot soup was encased in toasty crunches of melted Gruyere on the rims of our bowls (precisely where they belong). Tons of sliced caramelized onions bobbed in the broth, while the thick bread chunks held their crusty chew.

The Salad Niçoise was a refreshing companion to the cheesy soup, with the perfect amount of tiny slices of herb-seasoned tuna, fresh wild greens, haricot vert (French green beans), confit potato, soft-boiled egg and champagne vinaigrette (which I requested on the side, but it wasn’t drenched so it was fine they forgot).

If there’s one thing foodies will side eye at Explorateur it’s presentation – or lack there of. While dishes were super flavorful, they weren’t exactly a feast for the eyes. One such entrée was the classic French fish dish, Sole Meuniere. The pan-fried sole was subtle, delicious and tempting in its brown butter sauce with capers, parsley, preserved lemon, snappy summer beans, and torn herbs. But it just didn’t look the part.

The dessert case at Explorateur is a beautiful scene. Photo Credit: Cheryl Fenton

With cows and pigs blending in the sauce, a dollop of lemon zest ricotta, and a pile of mile-long ribbons of noodles, the creamy Pappardelle Bolognese takes its place as one of our favorite pasta dishes in Boston. And you can thank the cured egg yolk for the extra richness. But once again, where was the visual?

The Explorateur Burger had its best face forward. A grilled brioche slathered with roasted marrow and wilted greens, camembert, the familiar zing of horseradish and a perfectly cooked burger. The burnt scallion aioli gave it an outdoorsy flavor, while the crisp fries with shaved parm served as a nice side.

Pastry chef Morgan Gray, along with Big Night Entertainment’s executive pastry chef Maria Cavaleri, keep sweet teeth happy with a case full of treats like the decadent caramel macadamia nut chocolate tart, complete with a cookie crust, huge nuggets of macamadia nuts, and a hard chocolate top.

Off the menu, we chose the Honey Lavender Creme Brulée, which is a one-two punch of lavender and sweet honey notes accompanied by lemon sable cookies and fresh berries.

Whether you go in for a breakfast avo toast, a lunchtime Croque Monsieur, or a sunset meal of “Things We’ll Call French,” Explorateur is one new restaurant worth exploring.

Explorateur is located at 186 Tremont Street.

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