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Boulevard 18: Low-Key, Relaxed French

By ELIZABETH KEYSER

Special To The Courant

11:28 AM EDT, March 27, 2014

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When we walked into Boulevard 18, we felt embraced. This cozy bistro and wine bar in a charming, historic white-clapboard building in New Canaan is the sister to Strada 18 in SoNo. But where Strada in SoNo is a "a pizza and pasta" place, Boulevard 18 is mostly French.

There's a zinc bar in the front, and the room beyond has a low, pressed tin ceiling (which the owners baffled to suppress noise after they took over the space from the Italian restaurant Aloi). Red velvet banquets line the walls, and couples sat side-by-side, Parisian-style, at tables topped with white paper over white tablecloths. This is hedge-fund rich New Canaan, but there was a low-key neighborhood feel in the room. Guests weren't dressed to kill. They were relaxed.

There plenty to enjoy at Boulevard 18: From the small bites section of the menu, devils on horseback (a skewer of dates wrapped in crisp bacon) satisfied our sweet-salty cravings. The duck-confit appetizer was a plump duck leg, moist and rich, served over a mound of sautéed greens scattered with pistachios. The octopus salad ($16) was a particular stand-out. Tender with a pleasant chewy texture, it was served over warm potatoes tossed in olive oil, lemon, lots of parsley, and olives and capers.

Steak frites can be ordered as a thick New York strip ($38) or a hanger steak ($26). Both come with a pile of fries, pale but crisp. Of the four sauces (red wine shallot, au poivre, Roquefort or compound butter), we chose the red wine shallot.

A hearty filet of sea bass was wrapped in paper-thin slices of potatoes and draped over a mound of sautéed chard. The potato crust is a fine idea, but on the night we tried the bass, the potatoes were greasy and not crisp. But this flaw didn't detract from the white, moist fish beneath it, boldly seasoned with lots of black pepper.

Boulevard 18 is a wine bar, and our waitress, well-acquainted with the wine list, described the qualities of lesser-known varietals in a straightforward manner and with an excellent French accent, and she offered a taste before we ordered a bottle.

Desserts are all made in house. The apple tart was delightfully light, open-faced, the apples artfully overlapped on a square of puff pastry. The tart didn't conk us with sugar, and we thoroughly enjoyed it.

We left Boulevard 18 with doggy bags filled with a good measure of our substantial entrees. And we left with a sense that we'd found a friendly place to rest in a town that somewhat pretentiously calls itself the "next station to heaven."

Boulevard 18 Bistro and Wine Bar is at 62 Main St., New Canaan. Dinner is served Sunday through Thursday, 5  to 10 p.m.; and Friday and Saturday, 5 to 11 p.m. Reservations suggested. Information: 203-594-9900 and www.boulevard18.com.