Jambalaya

A miscellany of tempting restaurants in Harvard's neighborhood

HarvestÕs main dining room (shows modern lounge-style decor)
Harvest's main dining room. The outdoor terrace can be a pleasant alternative.
Photograph courtesy of Harvest Restaurant

The landmark Harvest Restaurant, established in 1975 and reopened in 1998 by new management after a financial swoon, is at last in top form under executive chef Eric Brennan, who took the kitchen in hand last autumn, the fourth chef in the job since '98. At lunch recently, things went well indeed. For starters, light, crisp calamari on a bed of lettuce with marinated peppers and tomatoes and a lemony mayonnaise ($11) came in sufficient plenitude to satisfy most of us as a main course. The bay-scallop bisque, subtly flavored with a hint of pear ($10), harbored succulent, perfectly poached scallops. The beet-and-lettuce salad with a blue-cheese fritter and almonds ($11) offered beets of three colors and tastes and was nicely presented, yet the fritter disappointed. One wanted sharp and tangy up against the beets, yet this was on the sweet side and bland. A grilled lobster-salad sandwich ($15) was just that—cool, commendable lobster salad in warm, grilled bread. If all this is more elegant than you require, a burger and fries may be had for $11. The attractive restaurant at 44 Brattle Street (617-868-2255) is open daily for lunch and dinner, and for tea from 2:30 to 5. Valet parking is available in the evening. At a recent dinner on a busy night, the estimable food took rather long to come, but what's the rush?

The Charles Hotel, at 1 Bennett Street, houses the chic, high-energy, consistently top-ranked, and not-for-the-budget-conscious Rialto (open daily for dinner, 617-661-5050), where chef Jody Adams sets out variations on provincial French, Italian, and Spanish themes, such as "oil-poached shrimp and squid with cucumber yogurt salad, taramasalata [carp roe, et cetera] and breakfast radishes" as an appetizer ($16), "crispy baby chicken cooked under a brick with Sardinian lemon pasta, favas, sugar snap peas, and green beans and parmesan" ($26), and "warm roasted pear crêpes in hazelnut sabayon with candied fennel and anise ice cream" to wrap things up ($9).

But do not scoff at the hotel's Henrietta's Table (617-661-5005), whose motto is "Fresh and Honest." Open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, Henrietta's offers a pleasant ambience with plenty of windows onto the hotel's brick courtyard. For dinner, how about Yankee pot roast with mashed potatoes ($13.75), along with a glass ($4.25) of the restaurant's own Big Pig Brew? For lunch, try an ostrich cheeseburger with mushrooms and pancetta ($11), the ostrich raised locally. Henrietta's shines at breakfast, with expected fare as well as red-flannel hash with poached eggs and hollandaise ($8.75) and creamed chipped beef on biscuits ($8.25). Whenever weather permits, one may eat outside under gay umbrellas on Henrietta's Porch.

Across the courtyard, also equipped with cheerful umbrellas outdoors and glassy walls, is the independent restaurant Giannino (617-576-0605), which offers dependably good, sometimes excellent, Northern Italian food for lunch and dinner daily, with easy parking in the hotel garage. The standout feature of Giannino is that entrées may be had in whole or half portions. Thus, at dinner, veal with sautéed wild mushrooms comes small ($12.95) or large ($19.50), or ravioli filled with smoked chicken and ricotta, and tossed with sun-dried tomatoes and herb butter, comes in quantity restrained ($11.95) or abundant ($17.95).

Casablanca (40 Brattle Street, 617-876-0999, lunch and dinner daily) has played it again for years now and is well worth a visit by nostalgic returnees. One could be content feasting on appetizers, which at dinner include a few of the usual suspects, such as "traditional onion soup with Gruyère and chives" ($6.50), but many more irregulars, such as a salad of lettuce and Vidalia onion topped by a poached egg and mustard vinaigrette ($7.50) and "grilled quail with walnuts, onions, and pomegranate molasses, yogurt dough, and wilted spinach" ($9). Bogie and companions still regard diners from a mural on the wall.

Sandrine's Bistro (8 Holyoke Street, 617-497-5300, dinner daily, lunch Tuesday through Saturday) is a distinctive spot as well, and an agreeable purveyor of classic French cuisine with an Alsatian accent. Mosaics inside are fashioned of blue, yellow, and green glass the color of Alsatian wine bottles. Behind a copper-clad bar is an oven especially suited for chef Raymond Ost's specialty: flammekueche, a thin crust topped with caramelized onions, bacon, and fromage blanc, then baked until the cheese bubbles. Ost serves crispy calves' brains as a starter ($12) for those who refuse to believe that anything so tasty might be risky to eat. Among the entrées is "choucroute [sauerkraut] timbale layered with smoked cod and topped with a pan-seared sea scallop, braised rabbit leg, and a brandied-cherry emulsion" ($29). The whole experience is a bit fancier than one might expect at something calling itself a bistro.

For an informal spot, look to the neighborhood of Inman Square, where the city is vibrant at night with a cosmopolitan crowd indulging a diversity of tastes. Consider Magnolia's Southern Cuisine at 1193 Cambridge Street (617-576-1971, dinner Tuesday through Saturday). It's festooned with Mardi Gras beads and full of jolly people. Try the jambalaya ($14.95) or something lite—such as sautéed veal surmounted by artichokes, mushrooms, crab, and hollandaise ($18.95)—and do not fail to have a side order of fried green tomatoes with tomatillo salsa ($4.95).

A note for persons venturing into Boston: The venerable Locke-Ober Café (3 Winter Place, 617-542-1340, lunch and dinner, closed Sunday), beloved by generations of Harvardians, has been rescued from its steep decline of recent years and is reportedly now fully booked at dinner. Ironically—because Locke's excluded women from its main dining room until 1970—it has been saved by a woman, noted restaurateur Lydia Shire.

~C.R.

Read more articles by: Christopher Reed

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