A ray of light after beloved French restaurant Gaslight bid adieu last November: Brasserie opens in the same space on May 6, bringing French fare back to this corner of SoWa (560 Harrison Ave., Boston). The new restaurant takes its inspiration from the breezy brasseries in France with a menu that focuses on pared-back preparations of seasonal ingredients, along with more refined bistro touches and a French wine list. While the restaurant — with 140 seats in the dining room, an 18-seat bar, and a soon-to-come 60-seat patio — isn’t a straight-up reboot of Gaslight, some familiar faces are at the helm. And yes, there will be all the steak frites you can savor among the menu of bouillabaisses and escargot, plus French twists on New England classics.
“My partners and I lovingly built Gaslight and unfortunately COVID-19 not-so-lovingly took it apart,” says owner Jeff Gates, formerly of the Aquitaine Group, which currently operates Aquitaine and Metropolis Cafe and ran Gaslight and Cinquecento until both spots closed. After Cinquecento’s flooding last spring led to its closure (not to mention the pandemic), the restaurant group restructured, and Gates struck off to form the SoWa Dining Group earlier this year, with more venues — including a massive events space called Power Station — in the works.
“The restaurant was 15 years old. So we did a lot of repairs, maintenance, painting, and equipment replacing,” he continues. “We did the best we could to keep the soul of the original design because the guests coming in here really loved it. So in that respect you could think of this more like a beautiful older vintage car with a new owner that really brought it back to its original luster.”
From the menu by executive chef Scott Hebert (formerly of Troquet), diners can order cold plates of honeydew gazpacho with pickled shrimp along with a frisee salad topped by smoked bacon, duck confit, poached egg, and mushrooms. Hot plates include escargot a la Bourguignonne with a toasted baguette for dipping in the velvety sauce, plus ricotta cavatelli and Black Angus steak frites. Among the light starters, there’s shrimp cocktail and crudos of salmon belly, hamachi, and yellowfin tuna topped with Niçoise-style condiments.
Dishes fuse fare from France and New England, like the bouillabaisse made using local cod, mussels, clams, and other bounties from the South Shore, plus the lobster roll — brightened by tarragon and served on a croissant. The Brasserie burger with onion-bacon marmalade and Gruyère fondue rounds out the more affordable plates, while a bountiful seafood tower called Le Royal invites for a special-occasion splurge. Daily specials range from Dover sole to a classic creamy veal stew, and “sliders” of ice cream and macaron buns (both made in-house) end the meal on a sweet note.
“The focus is to be a neighborhood-friendly brasserie with some fair pricing — as far as we can get it considering the current inflation we’re experiencing right now and supply chain issues,” says Hebert. “We want to be a place where people can come once a week and not bust the bank. But we also want to have some options for people when they want to splurge and celebrate.”
Along with brasserie bites, the menu ventures into refined bistro territory, owing to Hebert’s background as a classic French chef. In a nod to Moroccan cuisine, the lamb collar is spiced with coriander, cumin, fennel, ginger, black pepper, and sesame and served alongside farro and carrots roasted with a dukkah-like spice blend.
While Hebert says that his personal favorite dishes don’t always align with those of diners, the rotisserie duck is an all-around star. The dish is a cross between a Peking duck and a classic French duck à l’orange, with the duck first taking a dip in a bath scented with orange rinds, honey, marjoram, thyme, and aromatics. Hebert rotisseries the duck breast and confits the leg meat to top the accompanying salad.
“I’ve been working on duck dishes for, like, 30 years now,” he says. “We really have put a lot of effort into this, and I think it’s going to be awesome. The rotisserie just takes it to another level.”
While the menu is new, the restaurant itself feels comfortingly familiar to former Gaslight fans. “I wanted to restore, not change,” Gates says of the space with its towering ceilings with exposed beams, gleaming subway tiles along the walls, and the bar topped by a French pewter counter that took 30 people to haul in place during Gaslight’s initial construction. Vintage artifacts like the stunning streetlights from Reims, France, and the fans from the former Armani Café still dot the walls and ceilings.
Notable differences include a few updated surfaces, socially distant tables, and the now-familiar clear dividers. And while shipping delays on the imported market umbrellas every restaurant is scrambling for have pushed back the opening of the patio, that space will soon be completely reimagined, drawing on French bistro inspiration. Lunch is forthcoming, too, later this spring or early summer, along with brunch in a hat-tip to Gaslight’s legendary bygone brunches.
Gates knows that that familiar space is home to a long history — both for himself and the diners who’ve celebrated here for years. “I’ve been in Boston for 40 years serving Bostonians. And I really spent a long time in this restaurant myself, gathering guests and gathering experiences,” he says. “And I’d just like to continue the narrative with people.”
Brasserie will initially serve dinner five nights a week, from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday, and from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Soon, service will expand to Saturday and Sunday brunch. Walk-ins are welcome, with reservations now accepted via OpenTable.