A crisp red awning marks the entrance into D.W. French, a new brasserie by acclaimed chef Douglass Williams of MIDA that opened in Fenway this week. Inside, the soft strains of jazz music can be heard underneath clinking wine glasses and conversation. Floor-to-ceiling windows look out onto the bustle of Boylston Street and staffers carry platters of garlic-soaked escargot and tangy ginger duck confit to tables.
While Williams has built his reputation so far on unfussy Italian fare, French cuisine was a staple of the chef’s culinary training. Now, he returns to those flavors with a similar point of view as MIDA — making dishes often marked as upscale feel accessible. Williams also doesn’t want fear of mispronouncing a dish’s name or a bottle of wine, or asking what something tastes like, to stop anyone from enjoying a meal.
“It doesn’t have to be this overwhelming blow to your ego or to your confidence in order to enjoy the meal,” says Williams. “It’s just about allowing and translating that relatability.”
Simplicity is key in making the cuisine accessible. One of Williams’ favorite French dishes is the tarte au citron, a lemon dessert with three components: a tart shell, citrus curd, and merengue. The sweet and tart flavor profile often appears in the cuisine of other cultures, creating a reference point for diners, according to Williams.
It is “one of the most perfect compositions of food. But it’s ultimately so simple,” says Williams. “And there’s almost no one who doesn’t like lemon curd. Whether your grandma’s from southern Georgia, or from Europe, it translates.”
Other quintessential French dishes are reimagined as less self-serious meals. Beef bourguignon, typically served as a dinner entree with vegetables, is sliced and pressed between a buttery sandwich bun with caramelized onions and aioli.
At the bar, MIDA partner and sommelier Seth Gerber has curated a wine list that prioritizes small-production French wines. The cocktail menu infuses regional spirits into classic drinks, such as the Honey Bunny which blends a French single malt whiskey with ginger honey and lemon.
Inside, diners slide into warm red banquets reminiscent of the space’s former occupant, Tiffani Faison’s Italian restaurant Orfano. The white subway tiles, brass fixtures, and soft blue paint behind the bar mirror Williams’ goal for the food; they create a space that’s comfortable and accessible, with the hint of fine dining glamour.
While the three MIDA locations in the South End, East Boston, and Newton all have a more neighborhood feel, Williams felt Fenway had a broader appeal. The transient neighborhood plays host to tourists, students, and medical professionals in addition to its residents. Williams recalls the earlier years before the glittery new Fenway when a run-down Burger King that cameoed in The Town was a local landmark. Like Garrett Harker of Eastern Standard, Williams has seen the neighborhood grow. In the new evolution of Fenway, he felt a French brasserie would be right at home.
Williams was also influenced by the region’s culture, particularly the Black creatives that thrived in Paris while other cities were more deeply steeped in racism. While artists like James Baldwin and Sidney Poitier were working in the City of Lights in the 1950s, Black Americans were grappling with the discriminatory Jim Crow laws enforcing racial segregation, which stifled Black businesses for generations. Having Black ownership, whether it be in a French brasserie or at Jersey Street Liquors a few blocks down, is a small step at rectifying that historical inequity.
It’s also notably a rare stop on Boylston to try garlicky snails wrapped in puff pastry. “Variety [in types of restaurants, and restaurant ownership] is the spice of life,” Williams says. “Variety is incredible, especially when it’s in your neighborhood and you don’t have to travel for it. And the fact that a restaurant is BIPOC-owned, it makes it that much sweeter.”
D.W. French is located at 1391 Boylston Street, in Fenway. The restaurant is open for dinner from 4 to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 4 to 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Weekend brunch services runs from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Reservations are available here.