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Review: Scholars American Bistro and Cocktail Lounge

Scholars Bistro opened up recently in the old two-story Talbots space in Downtown Crossing. During a visit to this new spot, one is reminded of the retail perils of buying a bathing suit: It’s too cold, the lighting is unflattering and the experience leaves you feeling a little bereft.

The menu’s focus is on “refined cuisine and innovative cocktails,” according to the website. In practice, the cuisine we tried was alternately under- and over-seasoned, and therefore under- and over-flavored. The rabbit fritters ($12) were tasteless and saved only by the curried carrot salad and aioli dipping sauce. The four-cheese empanadas ($8) were palatable in comparison, but more closely resembled a gooey phyllo grilled cheese pocket than a true Spanish pastry.

The cocktail menu proved to be another stunner as we stumbled through the cranberry-centric Boston Bog ($8); blueberry and basil Compass ($9); and the Grounds for Divorce ($10), a house-made habanero-infused tequila blend that was so tongue-scorchingly spicy, we left it on the table (which, as you know, is so not like us). We deduced that the simple syrup was off, leading to many of the drinks tasting and smelling like ripe refrigerator mold.

One of the least favorable moments of the night was when the server argued with us about whether our steak was cooked properly. I think many of us can agree that if you know anything about food and you don’t like the way your $32 steak is cooked, the argument should be over before it really begins.

Billiards enthusiasts will perhaps enjoy the availability of second-floor pool tables. But if you intend to savor the cuisine or the drinks, the overly loud Scholars Bistro is to be given a wide berth.

Cheat sheet

Drink this: The peachy Granary Ground ($10) was a quality standout of the evening—Bulleit, fresh fruit, peach liqueur, fresh lemon and some bitters make this one taste like summer on your tongue.

Eat this: Don’t eat this.

Sit here: Try to avoid the round, mirrored space in the back of the first floor. It seems to be the old Talbot’s dressing room area and is perfectly shaped to hurricane all of the bar noise directly into your earholes.

Conversation piece: We have spoken to a few of our friends who were little sauced when they arrived at Scholars, and they seemed to enjoy their sips and apps. So, there’s that.

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