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New England Regional | Tastes and Tables

Evoo Evolves

One of Cambridge’s locavore leaders thrives in Kendall Square.

November-December 2011

Evoo’s earthy food is served in a modern, open interior with a view of the kitchen.

Evoo’s earthy food is served in a modern, open interior with a view of the kitchen.

Photograph bu Liz Linder

Impressive for its promotion of high-tech global innovation, Kendall Square is no one’s idea of a cozy neighborhood. Nor is it known for its vibrant night life.

Its gleaming glass and steel buildings are home to more than 100 firms whose employees, by day, join international visitors and MIT faculty and staff members crowding into numerous lunch spots. Luxury condominium buildings offer living and sleeping quarters, but their residents rarely seem to be out on the streets at night—except to hop the Red Line to Boston. Little exists to draw their gastronomic interests beyond the notable exceptions: Amelia’s Trattoria, The Hungry Mother, The Blue Room, and, since 2010, Evoo, which moved from a site on the farthest fringes of Harvard Square to a spot next to its sister restaurant, Za (which features a bar and casual fare like pizZA).

Evoo (short for “extra virgin olive oil”) is not particularly cozy, either. It is housed in the bottom of the Watermark residential tower on a concrete plaza built over an underground garage (where diners can park for $4). Its modern, faintly industrial-style interior is pretty even if a bit generic—boxy rooms painted a sage green, accented by red ceiling banners and red upholstered banquettes—and could stand a few intimate touches.

Still, Evoo is, literally and figuratively, among the brightest lights in this urban landscape after sundown—deservedly popular for its eclectic array of homey, earthy dishes sourced from regional farms. “We want this place to be something to feel good about,” says chef Peter McCarthy, who owns it with his wife, Colleen. “You know your money is not going to some big corporation in the Midwest but to small farmers you can call on the phone and talk to.”

Evoo’s menu changes to accommodate available ingredients, but always offers three courses for $42, or $60 when paired with wines. (Try the local Turtle Creek Chardonnay made 19 miles away in Lincoln, Massachusetts; it’s surprisingly dry and layered.)

We began with an excitingly fresh summer-vegetable gazpacho, heavily seasoned with basil and garlic seemingly just plucked from the ground. The “back-room smoked” pig’s-skin risotto arancini tasted, by contrast, as if it had been cooked all day, merging salty, dirty barbecue flavors that bloom fully only over time.

While waiting for the main dishes, we devoured the homemade, pencil-thin bread sticks, made with a zingy blend of salt and rosemary, and deplored their accompaniment: olive oil and balsamic vinegar with cheese bits that was far too acidic.

The first entrée was served upside-down on the plate: the diner lifted a Chinese take-out box to reveal a tower of mustard-glazed shrimp and sesame-hoisin braised beef (perfectly cooked), layered with brown rice and gingery vegetables (including broccoli and shredded lettuce) and cashews in a red chili gravy. Less hoisin sauce would be advisable, but the balance of textures and tastes was great overall.

The grilled sirloin (from Pineland Farm in New Gloucester, Maine; Evoo lists its suppliers on the menu) rubbed with coriander and black pepper was lean and tender. With it came duck-fat fried potatoes (a bit too dry and bland), and a nicely biting tomato and arugula salad with excellent Great Hill blue cheese from Marion, Massachusetts.

The dessert was simply outstanding: peaches marinated in a nuanced white-wine-and-thyme syrup and topped with freshly whipped cream. All the diners at Evoo—and at the adjacent Za bar across a foyer, abuzz on a Thursday night—seemed happily fed and immersed in good conversation.

One would never guess that just outside on this cool evening, all was quiet save for a few stray wind-blown leaves on the vacant plaza. “It won’t be empty long,” McCarthy declares. “Three new restaurants have recently opened and a new apartment building is going up. And we’re here. We think Kendall Square is fast turning into a great new neighborhood.” 

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