BY EUGENE MAR
Looking for a decent French bistro with an amazing wine list and live jazz performances to enhance your dining experience? If the answer is yes, then Les Zygomates near South Station is your destination. Roughly translated as “the muscles in the face that make you smile,” Les Zygomates can be quite affordable even for a student budget with its $21 prix fixe three-course menu. However, if you’re in a splurging mood, feel free to order a la carte from their dinner menu. Or if you have the late night munchies and happen to be around downtown, you can find a snack from the late night menu. In addition, every Tuesday night at six and eight o’clock, the restaurant offers a wine tasting at $25 per person (tax & tip included) for the first 30 people who reserve a seat. The tastings typically four to five wines each time from literally all over the world. Wines from Alsace, South Africa, New Zealand and Chile have all been featured for one night at the wine tasting.
Occupying two storefronts with large glass windows on a nondescript street filled with residential lofts on top of dreary offices, Les Zygomates appears to be the most charming location on the block. To start things off, the restaurant features both cold and hot appetizers. The half dozen oysters ($12.50) were fresh but a bit on the small side. The tea smoked quail with foie gras ravioli and truffle sauce ($12.50) was more attractive: The quail was tender, and the tea smoking process gave the dish a mild woodsy flavor that was not overpowering and worked quite well with the meat.
Among the fish dishes, the pan-seared scallops with wild mushroom ragout and potato galette ($24) and the skillet roasted skate wing with ratatouille and bordelaise ($23) sounded inviting but were somewhat disappointing. Both dishes tasted remarkably alike and were too salty. The ratatouille and bordelaise overpowered the natural flavors of the skate, which normally is a wonderfully textured fish. The scallops were tasty but nothing special. Strangely enough, the vegetarian autumn risotto ($18) was perhaps the best main course of the evening even though it’s not a French entrée. The risotto was simply delicious and struck the right balance between the slight chewiness of the rice and the overall smoothness of the dish. The restaurant also offers a meat and fowl selection highlighted by delicacies such as lamb confit with white beans and cherry tomatoes ($22) and pan-roasted veal sweetbreads with parmesan gratin, sauce perigourdine ($24). To finish off the meal, I tried the warm chocolate cake with cinnamon and banana ice cream ($8). The dessert soothed the soul, but it still didn’t quite compete with the heavenly warm chocolate cake at Finale.
To complement the meal, Les Zygomates features a six-page wine list including wines from the reserve list, the $20 list and wines by the glass. Most economical diners are aware by now how impossible it is to find decent wines served by the glass at a restaurant, but Les Zygomates goes out of their way to offer a spectacular 76 wines by the glass. The wait staff is also willing to help you select an appropriate wine if the list threatens to overwhelm you. For me, the 1999 J.A. Ferret Pouilly Fuisse ($15 per glass) served nicely to complement the seafood, and the sweetness of the 1998 Bonny Doon Muscat Vin de Glacieres ($10 per glass) balanced out the slight bitterness of the warm chocolate cake for dessert.
When making reservations, make sure to ask for a table at the “music loft,” where lively jazz performances make for a more festive experience. One caveat: Be prepared to spend an entire evening at Les Zygomates if you plan to dine there, since the service both from the wait staff and the kitchen is interminably slow. The pain at least eases when there’s good jazz in the house.
Les Zygomates Wine Bar & Bistro
129 South Street
Boston, MA 02111
M-F: 11:30am-1am, Sat. 6pm-1am