In an upscale version of "have it your way," the casual atmosphere at the caf accommodates anything from a quick lunch break to calm the office nerves, to a three-hour soiree with a bottle of champagne you just happen to have in your Dolce & Gabbana purse (so what if it's a knockoff). Just plain tired of shopping? Then a cup of tea and quick dessert also fit the bill.
The salads are fresh, abundant and easily shared. Stay away from the Caesar Salad ($8.50), which was disappointing. The romaine consisted of too much of the dark, tough outer leaves and the dressing lacked the creaminess of a true Caesar. The Parmesan also seemed a pale imitation of itself.
A better choice is the Wild Arugula Salad ($9) with mounds of fresh boccochino mozzarella, roasted peppers, fat grilled asparagus and a tangy balsamic vinaigrette.
Look for seasonal menu changes and with real tomatoes, the BLT with double smoked bacon and garlic aioli ($10) will be hard to pass up. On Saturday we were treated to a little amuse-bouche of the black olive and tuna salad on toasts - made me rethink tuna salad as a lowly sandwich filling.
There are always two soup offerings, including the Lobster Bisque ($8), which has become a signature dish here. We sampled the soup of the day ($7) a rich tomato that would have paired well with the Classic Grilled Cheese with caramelized onions ($10). Instead, we went for the over-the-top classic Croque Madame ($12), a toasted ham and Swiss cheese sandwich topped with the traditional fried eggs and a bechamel sauce. Tres French!
Don't think you are limited to salads and sandwiches, though. Brasserie Perrier at Boyds also offers entree plates. The Crab Cake with nappa cabbage ($13) is a hefty amount of crab held together by a hint of white sauce and a delightfully crunchy exterior.
If you are really hungry, go for the half roast chicken and rosemary with risotto and green beans ($14). The chicken is perfect and napped with pan juices. I found the risotto a little too "al dente" for my taste. But, then, I wear my hems too long to be truly in style as well.
Desserts here are Tiffany crown jewels. We enjoyed the house-made raspberry sorbet ($4). This deep purple gem was as rich in raspberry tartness as it was in color. Also delicious were the chocolate Le Bec Cake and the Mousse Cake (each $4). But the real star was the pistachio creme brulee with its wonderful mix of crunch and cream and a hint of nut.
Chef Rodney Taylor manages the idiosyncracies of a small kitchen that brings food in from both Brasserie Perrier and Le Bec-Fin. Don't think food is just reheated in a microwave; I was warned my roast chicken dish would take 20 minutes to prepare.
Service is attentive and relaxed. The decor makes use of the fact you are essentially on the mezzanine, so you can easily "people watch" or find a cozy corner in one of the overstuffed chairs. And there is always the likelihood that the man himself, Chef Georges Perrier, will pass through on one of his many shopping trips downstairs. OK, now we know how to get the tailored look of Georges!
What I most enjoy about BP Caf is that it is the Filene's basement of food. Even the common folk can afford a cup of coffee ($2.50) and a slice of Le Bec-Fin pastries ($4) here. With a quick stop at the Wine and Spirits store down the block, you can enjoy a hearty lunch and make it an occasion. Then bask in the knowledge you've had the food out of the kitchens of Le-Bec and Brasserie for a fraction of the cost.
I have one lament, so I'll cry me a Moon River. Bring back the Wednesday night dinners!
For some reason, this terrific idea - three courses, $28 - didn't have staying power. And that, to paraphrase Miss Golightly, makes Wednesdays just too gruesome! *
Brasserie Perrier at Boyds
1818 Chestnut St.
Hours: Monday-Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Vegetarian options: Yes.
Disability accessible: No.
Credit Cards: All major.