Something old, something new
The Square’s restaurant scene has welcomed more than six newcomers within the last year, with others set to open soon.
The boldest addition is The Sinclair (52 Church St., 617-547-5200; sinclaircambridge.com), which opened in January. The two-story, higher-end gastropub shares a wall with its sister business, a nice-sized live-music club (max. 525 people) with great acoustics, where a mix of veteran and emerging artists can shine.
The dining zones have the spare yet comfortable feel of a rehabbed, circa 1930s, warehouse: exposed girders and concrete pillars amid wooden tables with iron legs and single-bulb-style lighting. Liquor bottles line the bar’s shelves, just as they did back when a belt of scotch on the rocks, with a twist, might have constituted the “fancy cocktail.” That said, The Sinclair’s specialty drinks are supremely made; even the Shirley Temple has house-made grenadine.
Of the food, the small plates are best. Try the feverishly good “Disco Fries” ($9), waffle-cut potatoes with poblano peppers, hot cheese sauce, and specks of chorizo, or the healthier, and just as tasty, kale salad ($9): ribboned greens tossed with sunflower seeds and raisins in a lemony dressing. The entrées, more predictable but also delicious, range from the grilled portobello burger ($13) to the steak frites ($25). Quick credit goes as well to the staff: they put on no airs, and appear glad to be there.
The large and often bustling PARK (59 JFK Street, 617-491-9851; parkcambridge.com) takes its name from an invitation to stay awhile: as in “park your rears” on the cushy red-leather bar stools or comfy, tufted, gentlemen’s club couches and chairs. There are four distinct dining areas, each a polished stage set. The purchased patina may irk some—it lacks the charm of true eccentricity or age. But let’s give PARK’s owners (who also run Grafton Street, Russell House Tavern, and Temple Bar) points for trying.
The menu has homey classics beloved by many Americans. Bacon, cheese, and butter reign, in various yummy forms. Starters include honey-glazed chicken wings ($9) and clam chowder ($6), while the dinner of slow-roasted brisket ($18) satisfies, as does the very cheesy mushroom risotto ($17).
The Boat Club (49 Mount Auburn St., 617-349-1650) is a more intimate place. One rooms holds a sprinkling of wooden tables and chairs with a long bar that’s nicely uplit to foster relaxation or even romance. (We would chuck the TVs—they corrode the natural sweetness of the place.) The heavenly sausage and mash with crispy onions ($10), super-fresh fish and chips ($14), and lamb-lovers’ shepherd’s pie ($12) lend a British theme to an otherwise American pub menu.
Across the Square, the Japanese eatery Osushi (One Eliot Street, 617-945-9450; osushiboston.com) revels in dark lighting and a red-and-black décor befitting an Asian-themed film noir. Booths suit couples “looking to loosen up via the sake train,” the website notes, while “harried hotel guests” can eat (and then run) at the bar. Take your pick. High-quality tempura and fresh sushi and sashimi, along with specialty rolls like the “Godzilla” of salmon, deep-fired yellowtail, kanikama, vegetables, and tobiko ($13), are available to all.
For exceptional Italian food, head just north of the Square to Giulia (1682 Massachusetts Ave., 617-441-2800; giuliarestaurant.com). Chef E. Michael Pagliarini and his wife, Pamela Ralston, have created a warm neighborhood bistro (candles, small tables, and low noise levels) where the slow-cooked food seems spiked with a splash of love.
Try the artichoke and smoked mozzarella spiedini (kebabs) with pickled onion and mint ($3), the escarole hearts and radicchio salad with white beans and slices of orange in an anchovy vinaigrette ($10), or the house-made lamb sausage ($18) accompanied by bitter greens and gigantes (Greek beans). There are no wrong moves here. And dessert hounds should order the chocolate terrine with toasted coconut gelato and salted almonds ($8).
Less handcrafted is the atmosphere at a second Italian entrant, Toscano (52 Brattle St., 617-723-4090; toscanoboston.com), which replaced Café of India. Wisely kept were the façade’s wonderful large windows to the street: they now help offset a weighty (but still comfortable), faux-fancy décor heavy on wood paneling, carved doors, and exposed brick walls.
A lighter hand seems to run the kitchen, however, which turns out very good, well-balanced food, such as sea bass fillet with white wine, rosemary, and lemon ($28), and a chicken breast stuffed with prosciutto and fontina cheese in a tomato cream sauce ($24).
Still to come: Alden & Harlow in place of the local landmark Casablanca, which ended its more than 50-year run in December. (The Bogart and Bacall murals are now at the Brattle Theatre.) Also new to Brattle Street will be a not-yet-named “urban, hippie-style” brasserie (according to owners) set to offer robust carnivoral and vegetarian fare, along with live jazz, blues, and world music.
As Heraclitus noted, change is the only constant. When it comes to food, we can only hope that’s good.
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