Everyone is in search of new restaurants and taste treats. In writing “Dining Out in Boston: A Culinary History,” I have discovered scores of menus for a remarkable array of Boston restaurants that no longer exist. Despite the fact that it is impossible to actually eat at these restaurants, these menus are tantalizing. As I peruse them, I imagine dining at these establishments and sampling different dishes. How would they have tasted? If the ingredients were fresh and the dishes skillfully prepared, the eating must have been good. The adventurous foodies of today would certainly want to sample meals at Boston’s leading bygone restaurants.
Here is a brief review of what I consider to be the “Ten Best Boston Restaurants Where You’ve Never Eaten”: 1. Julien’s Restorator.
Julien’s Restorator was both Boston’s first true restaurant and an example of the first restaurants being invented in Paris during the late eighteenth century. In 1793, Jean Baptiste Gilbert Payplat (in Boston, he called himself Julien) opened his restaurant near State and Congress Streets. Julien, who had served as a cook for the Archbishop of Bordeaux, was a refugee from the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror. The original Parisian “restaurants” specialized in serving “restoratives,” particularly bouillons, which were concentrated meat essences—usually made from ham, veal, or fowl. Women and sickly people, in particular, patronized Parisian “restaurants,” which started serving complete meals by the 1790s.
Chef Julien advertised that his “Restorator” was a “Resort where the infirm in health, the convalescent, and those whose attention to studious business occasions a lassitude of nature can obtain the most suitable nourishment.” Julien specialized in “good Soups and Broths, Pastry, in all its delicious variety, Alamode Beef, Bacon, Poultry, and, generally, all other refreshing viands.” He claimed that the customer could order individual dishes at a fixed price from a bill of fare and would not be forced to pay for a full meal, as at inns and taverns. This marked the beginning of restaurant service in Boston. In a 1797 advertisement, he proclaimed that he “had received a fresh supply of GREEN SEA TURTLES of middling size, and would kill one every day.” Julien was dubbed the “Prince of Soups.”
The famous French gastronome Brillat-Savarin, who was also fled to America from the Reign of Terror, visited Julien in 1794 and gave him a recipe for a fondue casserole of Gruyere cheese and eggs, which Brillat-Savarin claimed “became so much the rage that Jullien [sic], in recognition of his indebtedness to me, sent me in New York, the back of one of those delicious little roe-deer that are shot in Canada in the winter months.”
In 1805, Julien died, but his wife Hannah carried on the restaurant for another decade. Julien’s was a beachhead for French culinary fashions, which would shape the city’s dining habits in the decades to come.