By Alexandra Hall Photography by Andy Ryan| April 20, 2015 |
Food & Drink
One of the city’s most acclaimed chefs aims to rejuvenate a restaurant space that’s equally legendary.
Slow fire-roasted radicchio salad with shaved golden beets and gooseberries.
For years, Susan Regis has been feeding Bostonians in some of the city’s most storied dining rooms— from Four Seasons and Biba to Upstairs on the Square. Along the way she’s earned a James Beard Award, as well as the admiration of just about every other chef in town. In short, she has quietly turned herself into a beloved Boston icon. Appropriately, Regis has a similarly iconic location for her new restaurant, Shepard, transforming the Cambridge spot formerly belonging to Chez Henri into a sleek but homey bistro—and whipping up an eclectic, ever-changing menu of French-leaning dishes to match. On the eve of her spring opening, she gave Boston Common the rundown.
How close are you to being ready for the big finish? Very. We’re in a fast-paced race to get it all done. It took forever to get the liquor license and install the wood oven and wood grill. But we’re almost there.
You’re partnering with former restaurant critic Rene Becker, the chef behind Hi-Rise Bread Company. How did you decide to collaborate, and how are you two defining your roles at Shepard? I knew him back when he was a food critic in the ’90s. I was really intimidated by him at first. But eventually I got over that and we got to be friends. Over the years we would talk about the industry and decided to open a restaurant together. We both want to have a voice in the food. I’ll be executing it in the kitchen, and he’ll be out front and doing the wine. He has great experience with running places and has a terrific palate—he has super ideas about what makes a dish work—so we’ll each have a hand in shaping the menus.
How would you describe your cuisine? I can’t say there’s just one category. I guess I’d call it French-ish, in the way that Chez Panisse started as French but then turned into other things. Everything these days is “ish.” But having none of those boundaries gives you a lot to work with. It just means a seasonal small menu that changes often. I want no more than five starters, five entrées, and a bar menu. I can’t wait to make big fluffy pizzas with anchovies.
Did you lean toward French because the restaurant is in the old Chez Henri space? Sort of. The landlord has had a French restaurant there for decades. Her rule was that there always has to be a French onion soup on the menu. There’s such a history to Chez Henri—its chef, Paul O’Connell, was my first culinary friend in Boston. Back then he worked at Jasper’s and I worked nearby at The Bostonian Hotel. I’m proud to follow in his footsteps. And there’s something about that space. It just felt right.
How did you want the space to look and feel? We’ve ripped it apart to a point where it’s unrecognizable. It’s still casual, but with a very different feel. There’s no wall separating the two rooms anymore, and there’s a big communal table in front.
What was your inspiration for the décor? I have this thing for striped stones. They’re supposed to bring good luck. Years ago, when I helped Lydia Shire open up Blue Sky on York Beach, I lived there for a winter and started collecting them from the beach. So now I’m going to have many decorating Shepard. But the overall feel isn’t beachy; it’s more like a modern bistro.
Who do you expect to see filling the tables every night? Every restaurant is a work in progress. They take on a life of their own. This one is in such a great neighborhood. There’s an older element here, but it’s also a great date place. We set it up so there would still be a bar crowd–friendly atmosphere.
And the name? It’s for its address on Shepard Street, presumably? Yes, but taking that a step further, the street is named after Thomas Shepard, who was this crazy minister at Harvard back in the 1600s, when it was founded. He was all about big ideas, and he used them to gather people together. We’re basically doing the same thing. 1 Shepard St., 617-714-5292