Amuse-Bouche: Red Stripe
Red Stripe, like La Laiterie, has a spot in the arsenal of any savvy dinner dater. It strikes that balance between impressive and casual: trying… but not trying too hard. The wood paneling, tile floors, and open kitchen combine with the lively atmosphere to call to mind your Platonic ideal of the Parisian bistro. Red Stripe does the job with equal parts professionalism and charm.
The massive menu matches this sensibility. Much buzz surrounds the tomato basil soup–especially paired with Red Stripe’s signature grilled cheese of prosciutto, poached pear, and basil–and while that makes a fine lunch, French onion soup is where the magic happens. A bubbling cauldron arrives with gruyère melting just as it should atop a giant crouton. The broth is addictive and borderline voluptuous, sweetened with ribbons of caramelized onions. Red Stripe continues to keep it real with lovable fall-backs; burgers, BLTs, and croque-madames live together in perfect harmony. Salads are generally not meant to steal the spotlight, but can certainly be found and loved in the form of a wedge Waldorf, Caesar, or frisée with lardons, fried egg, and brioche. The big brother of them all, though, is Everything But the Kitchen Sink: a chopped behemoth of briny hearts of palm, chickpeas, olives, and marinated veggies.
But the heart and soul of the menu is the entrées, which is primarily committed to the execution of refined comfort food. Starting from the top: OMG STEAK FRITES. OMG MEATLOAF. Both are divine brushes with the cow. The former is dressed with gorgonzola or bordelaise and comes with matchstick fries that are excellent swiped in aioli. The latter inspires sonnets–it’s hulking, with mashed potatoes and roasted onion gravy. You’ll have leftovers, and your friends will die of envy. On that note, shepherd’s pie is emboldened with duck confit (mind blown?), and stout-battered fish and chips is another source of fixation. Red Stripe caters to that knee-jerk attraction we have to the foods that always make us happy.
Paella is not such a rollicking success. A mix of saffron rice with shrimp, mussels, gigantic clams, chicken, and spicy chorizo can only be so disappointing, but the solitary shrimp present amid a plenitude of chorizo was, shall we say, shrimpy. Your best bet as bivalves are concerned is to pick from Red Stripes nine varieties of mussels, from the classic Marinière (white wine, leeks, shallots) to the Mouclade (curry and coconut milk). Normande rallies bacon, mushrooms, and calvados in one place; try, just try, to dream up a better combination.
According to sources, you can also order a forty, complete with brown paper bag. That is all.
High: It’s a nice feeling to walk in somewhere knowing with absolute certainty that you’re about to eat well. Red Stripe gives you that feeling.
Low: Very little, except that some things play it a bit too safe. A sturdy foundation of phenomenal classics could be updated with an extra breath of imagination.
Bottom line: This Wayland Square hotspot is reliable, fun, and tasty, a great place to drag parents or woo love interests. Not cheap, but worth the money.