De Gustibus

Perhaps the most cheerful restaurant dining room in Cambridge is the main one at Up Stairs at the Pudding. But shed a tear. The delightful...

Perhaps the most cheerful restaurant dining room in Cambridge is the main one at Up Stairs at the Pudding. But shed a tear. The delightful establishment atop the Hasty Pudding building at 10 Holyoke Street (617-864-1933) will close on June 17, to reopen at an undisclosed location "somewhere in the Boston area." The Faculty of Arts and Sciences will expunge the pleasure spot; it has acquired the building and will rehabilitate it exclusively for undergraduate uses. Gone will be the pink linen, the gold-and-red chairs, the green carpet, and the green-and-red walls in the high-ceilinged room with the funky old posters advertising Hasty Pudding theatricals. Gone will be the rooftop garden for an al fresco "foie gras moment" (seared Hudson Valley duck foie gras and roulade of paté de foie gras with sauteéd slices of pear, pear chutney, and kumquat sauce, $14). Gone will be the seared striped bass with tomato jus and littleneck clams and cockles, served with artichoke risotto cake and spaghetti squash ($28). You go, girls and boys, for a farewell celebration.

Sandrine's Bistro at 8 Holyoke Street (617-497-5300) is next to Up Stairs at the Pudding, but at street level. Perhaps Up Stairs could take over Sandrine's and change its name to Down Stairs at the Pudding? But that would be awkward for Sandrine's and its devotees. Here, beside the venison and the veal, are such traditional Alsatian dishes as a choucroute made with juniper berries and Riesling and topped with a bauernwurst, weisswurst, a smoked pork chop, bacon, and a pork shank ($24). You can have crispy calves' brains as an appetizer ($11) if you dare.

If it's an upscale dinner you're wanting elsewhere in Cambridge, you won't go wrong at Rialto in the Charles Hotel (617-661-5050), usually ranked among Greater Boston's top 10 thanks to Jody Adams's cooking. It's a high-energy, elegant venue filled with power diners on expense accounts, and thus there is little ineffably Cantabrigian about it.

The reincarnated Harvest, still at 44 Brattle Street (617-868-2255), serves raw and cooked New England seafood in variety and steaks certified good by Grill 23 & Bar, which manages the place. You may eat outdoors in a courtyard, and there's a pleasant bar. Veterans rejoiced when Harvest came back, but several now say darkly that it hasn't been good of late-- the steaks grainy and overdone, the soups lacking flavor, the service inattentive and too chummy.

Cambridge also offers many moderately priced and agreeable restaurants within easy reach of Harvard Square. Figure $35 to $40 per person for dinner, with a drink and a tip. Wine is something else, and you and Dionysius will come to your own understanding about it.

You may sit down with Bogart and Bergman just like old times at Casablanca (40 Brattle Street, 617-876-0999). Chef Ruth Ann Adams's imaginative cooking makes ample reference to Arab and Mediterranean cuisine. Figs find their way to the table, for instance, as in a lemon-and-fig confit topping a gorgeously presented grilled halibut.

Giannino (617-576-0605), off the courtyard of the Charles Hotel but an independent establishment, has a glassy and attractive interior and tables with gay umbrellas on the courtyard. The Northern Italian fare is good, but what's huge about this place is that one may buy little portions of things, as well as heaping platefuls-- $11.95-worth of osso buco alla Milanese or $17.95 of it--thus avoiding glut and torpor altogether or achieving them through a more varied intake.

Across the courtyard, in the Charles Hotel, is Henrietta's Table (617-661-5005), which unfurls its own gay umbrellas in season on Henrietta's Porch. Here the shtick is fresh-from-the-market New England country cookin,' the sort of stuff, according to one critic, that grandma would make if grandma were a yuppie. (The ostrich contributing to your lunchtime ostrichburger was raised on the North Shore of Massachusetts.) Henrietta's Sunday brunch is lavish.

A 15-minute stroll from the Square will get you to Butterfish (5 Craigie Circle, 617-497-5511), a bistro tucked away in an apartment building in a leafy residential neighborhood. How about marinated shrimp with avocado mousse and jicama root drizzled with mustard oil ($10), followed by Vermont spring lamb prepared four ways ($28), or roasted moong dal (a yellow lentil) and spinach, fried okra, and poppy-seed potatoes, with a dollop of tomato-apricot chutney ($20)? Or be expansive and choose the five-course tasting menu ($50, or $80 with varied wines).

At 1680 Massachusetts Avenue, up the street from the Law School, is the West Side Lounge (617-441-5566), a relative newcomer, co-owned by Holly Heslop, Ed.M. '75. West Side will give you dinner in the earth-toned dining room or at the nightclubby 25-foot-long bar to 11 p.m. and something to munch on for latecomers until 1 a.m. The lighting is low key, the banquettes comfy, the food (rustic-Italian-with-French-influences) delicious. The busy bar offers an array of specialty drinks, much on draft (including Humble Patience, an Irish-style red ale), and an eponymous martini with "hand-stuffed blue cheese olives." Smoking is allowed at the bar, which may be good news to some.

Just around the corner, Chez Henri (1 Shepard Street, 617-354-8980) is a lively bistro and bar serving innovative French food with a Cuban accent--thus, "corn-crisped oysters" on a soufflé of spinach and plantain with lime-chile aioli ($12.95), or grilled ribeye with a chimichuri and a pepper-caper sauce ($27.95), or grilled swordfish with grapefruit glaze, accompanied by braised squid with paprika, tomato, and chorizo ($25.95).

What would you prefer? If you're a reunioner revisiting old haunts in June, perhaps you would like a roast beef sandwich at Elsie's. Or a grilled cheese at the Tasty? These good things are gone, gone. But Bartley's Burger Cottage persists, serving burgers and lime rickeys, as it has since 1961, just across Massachusetts Avenue from Widener Library--or you could consider nitrogen-fixing from the air. The atmosphere of Cambridge remains nutritious.

~ C.R.

Read more articles by: Christopher Reed

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