Festival Feasts

Looking for a Square Meal?

Merry reunioners, incipient graduates, proud parents, beaming sweeties, celebrants at this year's Commencement-time festival rites, may wish to feed themselves and others lavishly. Herewith, a reminder of old-favorite restaurants in close proximity to Harvard Square — one spectacularly transmogrified — and an introduction to a most promising newcomer a stroll away.

Jody Adams, in charge of the kitchen at Rialto, at the Charles Hotel, One Bennett Street, 617-661-5050, has been named the best chef of the Northeast by the James Beard Foundation. Taste for yourself, perhaps starting with grilled littleneck clams with andouille sausage, $13, and proceeding to slow-roasted duck, $29, a specialty of the house.

A corner of Harvest restaurant, with the establishment's signature sheaves
Photograph courtesy of Harvest

Harvest, a veritable institution, has been up and down over the decades, but chef Eric Brennan now has matters nicely in hand. In the clubby interior or on the outdoor terrace at 44 Brattle Street, 617-868-2255, this is a good spot at lunch to commingle with the better-paid professoriate. Lonesome for the South? For dinner try the beef tenderloin with shiitake mushroom and cheddar grits, $30. There are excellent daily risotto offerings.

Harvard rousted Upstairs at the Pudding to convert the Pudding building entirely to undergraduate purposes, of all things, but the intrepid ladies who ran that place have moved their magic to the former Pi Eta club on Winthrop Square. Upstairs on the Square, 617-864-1933, offers two restaurants, with different chefs: the Monday Club Bar and the Soirée Room, of fantastic design. In the latter, give yourself to chef Amanda Lydon's veal chop with soft polenta, fried baby artichokes, and marsala sauce, $37.

Now, happily, to these established choices has been added a wonderfully conducted neighborhood restaurant 15 leisurely minutes by foot from Harvard Square, and just 5 minutes from the Sheraton Commander. Craigie Street Bistrot, 5 Craigie Circle, at the intersection of Craigie and Berkeley Streets, 617-497-5511, nestled below-grade beneath a brick apartment building, makes perfect use of a small restaurant space long occupied by Cafe Celador, and then briefly by the unlamented Butterfish. Here is no-nonsense, smashingly flavorful cuisine in an unpretentious, agreeable setting.

Down the steps and in the door, you are greeted by a casually chalked "Bienvenue" welcome — a fit introduction to the Bistrot's spirit and style. Inside are two low rooms with seating for 49, at freestanding tables and red-backed banquettes. The walls are decorated with vintage French postcards, entertainment handbills, and magazine covers.

The theme is the number five: in the address, and on the menu, which features five appetizers and five entrées, including a vegetarian option for each. Since the tiny kitchen accommodates only chef-owner Tony Maws and one other cook, focus is the watchword.

That focus is on fresh seasonal fare and bistro cooking. At a recent dinner, a fricassée of mushrooms with haricots verts, almonds, and optional lardons (get them!) came mounded over a bread crust with which to soak up the earthy mushroom broth, fragrant stock, and pepper kernels — a delicious appetizer, more than ample for one, perfect for sharing ($12). An entrée of skirt steak had its natural beef essence enhanced with a red chile marinade ($21). A grilled halved marrow bone, forked potatoes, and delicious pot-roasted carrots accompanied the steak, in an intelligently sized portion. The same thought went into roasted monkfish, alongside which came a purée of Yukon gold potatoes and whole-grain mustard, plus broccolini, pancetta, and — inspiration — a half-dozen of the world's lightest onion rings ($22).

The sound level ebbs and flows, but conversation proceeds mostly comfortably. Service is helpful and appropriate, neither overly casual nor officious. The tempo ideally suits those inclined to devote a couple of hours to letting the tastes of each course evolve on the tongue. The wine list is interesting, French, and unsnobbish, with prices from $19 to $82 the bottle, plus perfectly adequate selections by the glass, and an eclectic selection of mostly European beers.

For dessert, a pear poached in port, with huckleberries and homemade lemon-verbena ice cream, was firm, refreshing, and light. And so may we all be in this season of new beginnings.

~J.S.R.

       
Read more articles by: John S. Rosenberg

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