2003 Cohasset Mariner Review
Mediterranean fare with flair at new Village bistro

By Samantha Brown / sambrown@cnc.com
Thursday, December 18, 2003

For the past three months, the former Really Great Pizza, or RGP, restaurant has been undergoing some significant changes.

Not only has it changed owners, it has become a European-style bistro, with walls the color of wine and elegant tapestry window treatments. While diners will still have the option of ordering grilled pizza, chef Brian Houlihan has created a menu of what he calls, “European comfort food,” to ensure an elegant yet relaxing dining experience.

“It’s French bistro food with Italian influence,” he said, adding he wanted to create a restaurant similar to what might be found traveling through southern France and into northern Italy. Although he grew up in Ireland, he has been trained by the “creme de la creme,” of French and Italian chefs and said, “I love the whole Mediterranean-type thing.”

Houlihan has been cooking in restaurants and hotels since the age of 14. Growing up in Ireland, he needed to gain at least two years of experience in the field before applying to college. Because college is free for students in Ireland, “You’ve got to show that you are really serious,” he said, and the training he received has paid off.

After graduating from culinary school in Ireland in 1993, Houlihan moved to the United States. For the past 10 years, he has been working as a chef in various Boston area restaurants. His first job upon arriving was as a chef at the Harvard Club where he worked for two years. He then continued on to the Four Seasons Hotel, where he was the head Saucier at Aujour d’hui for another two years. The next six years he served as the Executive Chef at Seasons Restaurant at the Bostonian Hotel, across from Faneuil Hall Marketplace.

At Seasons, Houlihan said he was responsible for every aspect of food service in the hotel, including 24-hour room service, breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the restaurant in the hotel, hors d’oeuvres in the Atrium Lounge, and banquets. He had a staff of 25 chefs to prepare all the food, but at the Executive Chef level, he was in more of a management position than a chef.

“I wanted to get back to cooking really great food,” he said.

To that end, Houlihan decided he would leave the busy city life and open his own small restaurant somewhere on the South Shore. He knew he wanted his restaurant to be located in a small town with almost a European Village type feel, and not only did Cohasset fit that description, it’s not far from Houlihan’s home in Quincy, where he lives with wife Tristen and their three children, Conor,7, Hailey ,5, and Aiden, 2.

“I was looking for two years,” Houlihan said, but eventually found what he was looking for, and his lifelong dream of operating his own restaurant has come to fruition.

While bia is now open for business and has received rave reviews, it’s grand opening was not without complications. During the weekend before his grand opening on Dec. 9, Houlihan sent out invitations for local merchants to attend a “sneak preview” on Friday and Saturday nights. However, Saturday night’s storm left portions of Cohasset without power, and bia was included.

“Everyone thought it was romantic eating by candlelight,” he said, but without the power to ventilate, the ambiance was soon disturbed when the fire engines started rolling up in response to the smoke alarms. “Suddenly you have Captain Trask over here with all his buddies,” Houlihan said. “It was a fun way to experience your second night open,” he said sarcastically.

Bia is a 40- seat restaurant and Houlihan said he and a friend will be doing all the cooking. While Houlihan said he doesn’t have one dish in particular which is his favorite to prepare, “Our signature dish is a local seafood bouillabaisse,” which is served with saffron risotto and lobster nage. Other entrees on the menu include citrus glazed long island duck breast, grilled angus sirloin, roasted chicken provencal with herbed potato gnocci and hand cut pasta with tiny veal meatballs. Bia also serves appetizers, and lighter fare such as grilled pizzas and salads.

Houlihan’s menu will be ever-changing to reflect the seasons, as well as take advantage of the local produce available. He said whether he has been on this side of the Atlantic or the other, his cooking style hasn’t changed.

“I’ve always cooked the way I cook and it doesn’t matter where you are.”

Bia’s doors are now open and dinner hours are currently Tuesday through Sunday from 5-10 p.m. To make reservations please call (781) 383-0464.