Rest in peace, Benzoni's. Your calzones were great?particularly that "red, white, and green" one. I'm sorry to see you go. Especially because Masque and Gown and the crew team are going to have to find a new place for their annual banquets!

Your replacement, Back Street Bistro, has cleaned up and quieted down 11 Town Hall Place, but it seems that your management took all the kitchen's spices with it. Playing it much too safe, Bistro's chef sends out mostly bland dishes that don't live up to expectations the swanky new décor and high prices set. And I couldn't find Nick Carter, Brian Littrel, or A.J. anywhere.

I didn't expect to be so disappointed. When my dining companions and I first entered the cavernous space, there were hardly any clues that it had once been home to a pizza joint. Christmas lights now dangle from branches of indoor plants and complementary hues of purple, gold, and brown tiptoe over the tables. I hadn't ever before noticed the high ceilings, which create an elegant spaciousness.

The service at Bistro was very friendly, too. The first time I tried to get a table, my friends and I didn't have a reservation and the dining room was full. Not wanting to turn away hungry students, however, the host kindly seated us at the upstairs wine bar. What a pleasant surprise! Just behind the high stools at the bar were plush purple couches and a low table, a perfect nook in which to sample wines from Bistro's extensive, if mostly American, list.

My anticipation grew greater as the obsequious waiters recited five-minute monologues regarding the nightly specials. The details exhausted us: we learned about, for example, the origin of the fish, its firmness, and even the size of its flake. While this service made me feel as though I were a discriminating diner, at home in Bistro's gourmet atmosphere, it also started to get a little annoying. Maybe the elaborate descriptions were really rationalizations, given the high price of most entrees.

While waiting for our meals, we snacked on plump, green olives and cracked grissini between our teeth, washing it all down with wine that our waiter had chosen for us with care. If this were the extent of my Bistro experience, I would have been a giddy Foodie. But there was more to come.

From its description?and $16 dollar price tag?I had expected my Spice Rubbed Cuban Pork Shoulder to be a hunk of meat, but instead, I saw three limp, flavorless slices sloppily assembled on the plate. The thin, pale yellow mango sauce bore no actual fruit, while the accompanying black beans were plain and a bit too al dente for my taste. I always feel rude adding salt to food in restaurants, but in this case, I had to give in.

On a subsequent visit, I tried the lone vegetarian entrée on the menu, the Crispy Risotto Cakes, and they were just as bland as the pork. The cakes had crunch, but their smooth, creamy interior had no punch. The garlic in the red pepper and garlic broth was barely detectable, and the Reggiano cheese garnish the menu promised was absent. Many other menu items were tempting, but I'm not eager to try them. Quit playing games with my heart, Back Street Bistro?the only way I'll return is if you spice it up a little.