I once heard that doctors send very ill patients to the South of France to recover. I myself traveled to Cannes while studying abroad and spent the first two days alone in a strange hostel bed, sick with the flu. On the third day, my fever had broken. Later I ate bouillabaisse in a café and slept soundly for the first time in weeks. There is something indisputably magical about this part of the world — the food, the air, the sea — and I believe it’s this certain something that La Voile aims to bring to our very own Newbury Street.

La Voile au Vent (The Sail in the Wind) was a well known establishment for many years in Cannes, but a change in the wind (read: ownership) led them to relocate to Boston. The reincarnation is La Voile, and this cozy French bistro has brought along more than just its history. The owners, chef, décor, menu and servers are all essentially imported, giving the place a beyond-authentic feel. They even had the metal bar shipped over, which shows the years of experience in its wear.

We were greeted kindly and led into the dining room, which is filled with framed photographs of sailboats, model boats in glass cases and sea-themed lines of French poetry; the unmistakable nautical motif is pleasant (if a little cheesy). With windows on the kitchen doors made to look like portholes and a many-tiered glassware rack in the center of the room, you really do feel like you’re eating on a ship. Immediately we were given four amuses-bouche: a slice of sopressata, a bite of onion bread, a lukewarm deep-fried something and a mini-crostini with mozzarella, tomato and pesto. A nice touch, but nothing too spectacular. On our next visit at the bar we received just the deep-fried somethings, which turned out to be mini dumplings made with fennel and star anise. This time they were piping hot, salty and flavorful, which made for a much brighter beginning.

The servers and bartenders wore stylish full-length black aprons with the restaurant’s moniker sewn in, and while they didn’t seem to know the answers to every question posed (it had only been open three weeks), the service on the whole went off without a hitch. In fact, the only mishap turned out to be a blessing in disguise. We’d decided to begin with the foie gras terrine ($22) and the soup ($20) — emulsified green lentils with lobster meat. Our server brought us the foie gras crème brûlée ($14) instead of the terrine, and I will never be able to thank her enough. Served with toasted Iggy’s bread, the first bite was a bit sweet, but soon the sugar melted to reveal the smoky depths of the foie gras beneath. The soup, however, paled in comparison, particularly when considering the nontrivial price tag. A heavy dousing of salt and pepper did the dish some improving, but twenty bucks for a bowl of lentil soup with two tiny bites of lobster? I think not. As for other beginnings: The leeks vinaigrette ($8) was fresh and flavorful (though perhaps a bit heavy on the dressing), and for the offal lovers out there: the roasted bone marrow ($8) will not disappoint.

As mentioned, I have a bit of nostalgia for bouillabaisse and so was eager to try La Voile’s ($33). Alas, we were let down. The promised saffron in the broth was not easily detected, and the muddy brown color of the sauce was unappealing. The flavors were okay, just not fantastic. As my dining companion so succinctly put it: “Perfectly executed, lacks soul.” The filet mignon ($31) fared slightly better. The meat itself was seasoned well and cooked properly, but the accompaniments — ratatouille, potatoes au gratin, a broiled tomato — were forgettable at best. On another dining occasion, dishes were somewhat improved. Mediterranean seabass ($32) was deboned tableside and served with basily vegetables and a simple lemon butter sauce. Steak frites ($26) brought crispy fries, well cooked meat and a tasty parsley butter topping.

As for dessert, it’s no surprise that the crème brûlée ($7) was done right, with delicious vanilla custard and perfect crystallization. The molten chocolate cake ($7) was also quite good, as were the prunes in Armagnac ($7), and particularly the ice creams these were served with — pistachio and cinnamon, respectively. The ol’ classic Napoleon ($8) was the only one that really fell flat.

Overall, much of the fare is rather highly priced, but many of the wines are surprisingly reasonable. Glasses start as low as $6, and I noted some very decent bottles beginning at just $22 (and going up into the several hundreds for those interested). The list sticks to France but changes regularly; surely there is something for every palate and/or wallet.

I have a feeling that La Voile is still getting its sea legs, as they say, and I would suggest stopping in at the bar for a nice glass of red and an appetizer. Save that dinner for when they’ve worked out the kinks, as I expect they will in time. Because in some cases the food may have lacked soul, but one thing is for certain: La Voile has heart.


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