BY ALEX SUNDSTROM
There are better advertisements for law firm life than the receptions that are constantly being thrown these days. Access to free-flowing, expensive liquor and upscale hors d’oeuvres seems worth enduring forced conversation with Stepford associates for a couple of hours, but not selling one’s soul to join them. From the standpoint of a hungry and thirsty 1L, however, they are a great opportunity to help others spend money.
Sandrine’s features a standard catering format — a table of finger food prepared in advance and hot appetizers carried around on plates by waiters. The table spread is pretty weak, given the capabilities of the restaurant — slightly chewy baguette slices aren’t bad, but they are paired with a very bland Brie. Vegetables and a very uninspiring vegetable dip aren’t much better, though they do serve the needs of those students who don’t want the taste of food to distract them from networking opportunities.
The hot food at Sandrine’s is better — the skewers of beef are a bit too chewy, and the skewers of chicken exactly what one would expect, but the curried shrimp are fresh and go well with the rich sauce. Bite-size asparagus quiches are flavorful, if a touch greasy. The main advantage of skewered food is that as the used skewers pile up on your plate, the roving staff see that you are an easy mark for curried shrimp and keep you in good supply.
Upstairs on the Square uses the same format as Sandrine’s, but improves on it in every respect. The restaurant is famed for its cheese course, and doesn’t dumb down the catered food. A very pungent blue cheese and a creamy young French cheese — much better than any Brie — are excellent on the proffered bread, and the other cheeses are equally good. Panko-crusted fried oysters are meaty and succulent, and the apple-bacon scallops have nicely balanced flavors. The vegetable spring rolls and duck wontons wouldn’t win a massive following in Asia, but they use fresh ingredients reasonably well. Miniature steak sandwiches with aioli are tender, the grilled shrimp are perfectly charred and sauceless pizza with a sharp cheese and figs is great — most fig pizzas are overwrought and pretentious, combining far too many disparate flavors, but the pizza here is just simple enough.
Better food, of course, means more competition snatching it from platters, especially in the bustling large room that Upstairs on the Square uses for receptions. The key is to stand near one of the two entry points by the sets of French doors — this will make things easier both on you and the staff, since the more appetizers they give to you, the less wading through crowds is necessary. While befriending a partner might get you a job in the amorphous future, a concentrated effort to be nice to the waiters will reap immediate and delicious rewards.
The selection of food is narrower at Temple Bar, and the appetizers aren’t as spectacular. The open-faced steak sandwiches sport tougher, stringier meat than the Upstairs counterpart, and the duck wontons are somewhat lacking in duck meat. The crab cakes aren’t very flavorful, and the eggplant caviar is the only item really worth seeking out. Everything starts to taste much better, however, after a glass of Johnnie Walker Blue.
Receptions are held very frequently at the House of Blues, which offers a very wide range of very mediocre food. Chicken wings are flavorless, inexpertly fried and greasy, and mealy crabcakes and a mushy, flaccid shrimp cocktail aren’t any better. This is the only place where you can get a large plate of actual food, but unless you’re ravenously hungry, the salad, rice and chicken legs aren’t terribly compelling. Brownies are a nice touch, but they taste as though from a mix.
The quality of food at a firm reception affects everyone’s mood — delicious appetizers bring out the wittiness and sociability of associates and students alike. Plan ahead, and you won’t have to spend your evening drowning your sorrows in free alcohol, wishing that someone would buy you something more delicious.