“Bistro” Bouillabaisse at Hamersley’s Bistro

At Hamersley’s Bistro (553 Tremont Street, Boston, 617.423.2700), chef/owner Gordon Hamersley has worked the French-bistro tradition with a locavore American slant for 22 years. He started small, and though he moved to bigger digs across the street after a few years, he hasn’t budged from that original concept. While his contemporaries built expansive, diversified restaurant empires, he kept to the South End: there’s no Hamersley’s Las Vegas or Foxwoods or even Wellesley. He doesn’t hawk a line of cookware, front a TV show, or do much of anything to promote “the brand.” He’s just there, working in his open kitchen, pretty much every night. In an era of nauseatingly self-promoting celeb-chef hucksters, his singular, quiet focus seems almost quaint.

As it happens, resisting the temptation to collect fat paychecks for stickering your name over the work of lieutenants in other time zones has some upsides. For one, it helps your restaurant achieve a remarkably consistent excellence. I imagine that having cooked his signature roast-chicken dish a million times, he and his staff would gladly retire it, except his patrons adore it (and it is indeed phenomenal). The reward for this commitment to pleasing customers with an assiduous but unflashy artisanry, a less spotlight-grabbing kind of craftsmanship, is the high regard of his peers, widespread critical acclaim, and regular appearances near the top of Boston’s most-popular-restaurant lists.

Many of the virtues of Hamersley’s workmanlike approach are evident in his “Bistro” Bouillabaisse ($25). In it, he uses the archetypal fish stew of Marseille as a starting point, but achieves an unmistakable New England character with the use of impeccably fresh local seafood: Maine lobster, littleneck clams, mussels, monkfish, and scallops. A raft of grilled crouton keeps a bright, citrusy smear of rouille afloat in a shallow sea of intense broth based on lobster stock. Some fennel and one verdant sprig of parsley provide vegetal texture and interest. There’s real depth and complexity to that broth, but Hamersley lets his painstakingly sourced local ingredients do most of the talking. It’s at once sophisticated and homey, not as simple as it looks, and, like that roast chicken, exactly the kind of dish that defeats less gifted chefs. This isn’t the most innovative or artfully plated seafood stew in town, but it might be the most soulful. That quality cannot be replicated across an empire, and if that’s why Hamersley chose to stick so close to home, it’s hard to imagine a better reason.