IN THE KITCHEN
It’s been almost 12 years since chef-owner Brian Houlihan opened Bia Bistro — cooking his heart out in what was then a 45-seat restaurant. Houlihan arrived in Cohasset after working in restaurants in his native County Cork, Ireland, and several years as executive chef at the Regal Bostonian’s Seasons and sous-chef at the Four Seasons. As his beautiful little bistro found an audience for its home-style, mostly French comfort food, Houlihan expanded to 80 seats, hired and trained cooks and chefs, and started thinking about creating other restaurants.
In 2009, he opened a second (The Tinker’s Son in Norwell), and in 2013, a third (Scituate’s Galley Kitchen & Bar). Today, chef Marcos de Souza, who’s worked at Bia for almost 10 years, runs the kitchen, while Houlihan sources local foods, creates specials and menu changes with Souza, and pops in and out of the kitchens of his three places throughout the day.
Bia is nestled in the first floor of an old white colonial with green shutters in the heart of Cohasset Village. Its tiny entranceway opens into a beautiful front dining room with an L-shaped bar on the left and tables on the right. Every inch is richly decorated, with shelves of sparkling glasses, bottles, and pendant lighting. Reflections in the gleaming wood of the bar, tables, and floor add visual layers to the dark walls, heavy taffeta drapes, mirrors, and white linen. The scale of the old building makes the restaurant look small, but it isn’t: A crooked rear hallway (that leads to another dining room) feels adorably like a funhouse. On warm nights, you can sit on the front patio under trees and St. Stephen’s soaring bell tower, watching the quiet town go by. Bia’s one of the prettiest restaurants around.
ON THE MENU
On two recent visits, the restaurant was busy with what felt like many regulars. And, if plans work out, Houlihan hopes to expand the kitchen — so things are good at Bia.
In such an unforgiving business, though, you can’t help but hope that management is supporting the kitchen enough to bridge the gaps left when an eager chef-owner is no longer overseeing every plate that leaves the kitchen.
The hearty menu features classic French appetizers (escargot, charcuterie, duck pate, oysters with mignonette sauce), a few salads (a lovely Caesar with whole leaves and fresh anchovies), a few pizzas (mushroom-garlic-truffle oil-arugula), risottos, and pastas. Entrees favor seafood dishes, and include fowl and meat.
On one visit, the grilled shrimp in the shrimp with grits appetizer ($12) were cooked beautifully — and it’s hard to say what the grits tasted like. That same night, all the mussels in the steamed Chatham mussels with garlic, lemon, and white wine appetizer ($12) were actually tough. The composed Caesar ($11) was fresh and good.
The citrus-glazed Long Island duck delivered as it has for more than a decade ($29): The confit leg was crispy and tender, the wintery roasted sweet potato side delicious, the breast meat lean and rare.
The pan-roasted salmon ($26) was done nicely, served with both a good chimichurri and tapenade, and sided with satisfying roasted fingerling potatoes.
On another visit, sitting happily on the patio, the kitchen obliged us with a gluten-free version of the evening’s special haddock ($29) that arrived bare and just fine. The salad that sides it had two little hunks of delicious lobster. The winner that night was the free-range duck-fat-roasted chicken ($24). The bone-in fowl is beautifully crispy, the meat robustly flavorful, the Madeira jus a light, rich sauce. It was served with a few asparagus and a carrot. Rustic and nice.
Bia Bistro, 35 South Main St., Cohasset, 781-383-0464, www.biabistro.comJoan Wilder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.