Rituals Dining Reunion Goings On

Anago Bistro. A specialty of chef Bob Calderone is wood-grilled lobster. It keeps company here with Nantucket scallops and linguine.PHOTOGRAPH BY STU ROSNER

Be sure to check out the Tastes of the Town Dining Guide and our Advertising Directory.

Boston and Cambridge are enjoying a boom in exciting restaurants. New chefs have brought their whisks to town, and established chefs have opened up new places, often to cater to a less well funded clientele. When Raymond Ost, formerly chef at the superlative Julien restaurant in Boston's Hotel Meridien, opened Sandrine's in Cambridge a few months ago, he sounded that note with welcome plainness, telling this magazine, "French food doesn't need to be expensive."

Good food is rarely cheap, of course, and in the end, one supposes, money is at the root of the burgeoning of good places to eat. The end of the recession some years ago may have helped give more two-income couples the heady feeling--sustaining to restaurateurs--that when it came to a proffered terrine of Roquefort and mascarpone, served with poached pears, walnuts, and a fluff of mâche, they clearly ought to go for it.

Herewith, some favorite places visited by Harvard Magazine's editors in recent months.

Midway between Central and Kendall Squares, this establishment lives up to its bistro billing, with a twist: it is small (42 seats), and features the freshest of provisions (paintings of good-looking vegetables decorate the walls), but the cooking is imaginatively contemporary, mingling American and European regional styles. Thus one could move from a first course of beef carpaccio on warm salad greens with truffle aioli to a main course of grilled tuna steak with red chilies and coriander, ending with a feather-light rice pudding in blood orange and cranberry syrup. Among the surprises: to meet a ravishing roasted beet. Don't expect bistro prices; a three-course dinner for two, with wine, tax, and tip, runs about $120. Dinner Tuesday-Saturday. 798 Main Street, Cambridge. (617) 876-8444.

The eclectic food--multicultural grilled or smoked items spiced by internationalists--seems startlingly serious, complex, and good given the high-decibel, hip, peasant-chic ambience. Try the duck leg and hominy appetizer; delicious. The establishment is run by the same team, Chris Schlesinger and Cary Wheaton, behind the East Coast Grill, where noisy crowds get serious about barbecue. The Zagat Survey's multitude of reviewers give The Blue Room only "very good to excellent" marks for food, décor, and service, but rank it number 18 among their top 40 restaurants in Boston. Here's a place greater than the sum of its parts. Dinner nightly, Sunday brunch. One Kendall Square, Cambridge. 494-9034.

This relaxed, cozy, quiet establishment is in the cellar of an apartment house (thus the mellifluous name) in residential Cambridge, where Berkeley Street meets Craigie, not far from the Sheraton Commander Hotel. Sometimes one can't get past the appetizers and makes a meal of them. How about escargot ravioli in a parsley-roast garlic beurre blanc, followed by a grilled Mediterranean lamb sausage with dates and green olives in a red wine and mustard sauce? Vegetarians will fare well here, as well as carnivores. Dinner Tuesday-Saturday. 5 Craigie Circle, Cambridge. 661-4073.

Chez Jean, a durable french restaurant a short walk up Massachusetts Avenue from the Law School, has been revitalized into a lively and flavorful French-Cuban bar and restaurant. At Chez Henri you can order à la carte or prix fixe. The engagingly schizophrenic menu includes not only French restaurant staples, but roast chicken "with lime, achiote, and yuca frita," as well. All of the food served in the bar has a Cuban accent--conch fritters, jicama salad, braised oxtails with garlic toast and cilantro, that sort of thing. For Sunday brunch, you can have a Belgian waffle with banana rum glaze or spicy duck confit hash with tostones and fried eggs. Dinner nightly, Sunday brunch. One Shepard Street, Cambridge. 354-8980.

Among several good reasons for choosing Giannino for lunch or dinner is that all the reliably good, northern Italian entrées and pastas come in full-size or appetizer-size portions. You may have a varied meal while avoiding the torpor that can visit any of us if we take on too many groceries. Although it has no affiliation with the hotel, Giannino is on the courtyard in the Charles Hotel complex, an agreeable site. Lunch and dinner daily. 20 University Road, Cambridge. 576-0605.

Gordon Hamersley was named Best Chef in the Northeast by the James Beard Foundation a couple of years ago, and his upbeat, cosmopolitan establishment in Boston's South End is usually packed with happy diners giving testimony to his skills. Thirty percent of them, he says, order roast chicken with garlic, lemon, and parsley. Dinner for two runs about $100, not including wine. You'll want some of that because the wine list is extensive, with many unusual offerings to tempt the sybaritic. Dinner nightly. 553 Tremont Street, Boston. Valet parking available. 423-2700.

Harvard Square might seem an unlikely venue for a farmer's market, so why not go all the way and put it on the mezzanine of the high-toned Charles Hotel? This is the place for classics, from chicken potpie to mashed potatoes. A hearty Sunday brunch draws crowds. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily. One Bennett Street, Cambridge. 661-5005.

The Farsi phrase lala rokh means, literally, "tulip face," for which the colloquial English equivalent is "rosy cheeks." The décor of this Beacon Hill restaurant is warm and comfortable; the classical Persian music playing quietly in the background soothes. Azita Bina-Seibel and Babak Bina, the brother and sister co-owners, offer foods they remember from their childhood in northwestern Iran. You might start with kashk-e-bademjan, a smoky roast of mashed eggplant garnished with goat's-milk yogurt and mint oil--caramelized onions and minced beef adding textural variety to the array of flavors. You might proceed to ghormeh sabzi, lamb stew flavored with lime, steaming greens, and exotic spices, served with Basmati rice. For dessert, have the saffron ice cream. In a region boasting many interesting ethnic restaurants, this is an easy one to boast about. Dinner nightly. 97 Mount Vernon Street, Boston. 720-5511.

Grandly sited in the renovated Old City Hall building, this Boston classic was opened in 1972 by Lucien Robert and his wife, Ann, A.M. '56, and has remained a family affair: daughter Andrée is executive chef, and Lucien's nephew Jacky is principal chef for the main dining room. Moving beyond French tradition, Jacky has brought back east some of his recent California cooking experience: mussel and coconut soup, for example. In the perfectly staged formality of the high-ceilinged main dining room, dinner for two, with wine, tax, and tip, totals $150. For more casual meals, try the café and bar. In the warmer months, a terrace offers dining alfresco, a rarity downtown. Lunch and dinner Monday-Friday, dinner Saturday. 45 School Street, Boston. 227-3370.

This stylish showplace in the Charles Hotel is the place to see and be seen. Better still, it serves outstanding food. Up and down the menu, Rialto pushes the limits on combinations of ingredients. By itself, an appetizer described as "baby chicory and roasted pepper salad with Kalamata olives and tempura-fried squash blossoms stuffed with whipped salt cod" might make the eyes pop. But presented among half a dozen such choices, it provokes no more than a raised eyebrow. And it all works. Excellent breads are served with evoo (extra virgin olive oil, de rigueur these days) or butter on request (it's excellent, too--request it). Fresh fish might be accompanied by asparagus and Swiss chard, and roasted duck with a robust medley of green olives, white beans, and a vegetable stew. For dinner for two, with a glass of wine, expect the bill to run $125, including tax and tip. Dinner nightly. One Bennett Street, Cambridge. 661-5050.

Fire is more than a metaphor (salamanders of legend lived in the flames) in this popular East Cambridge restaurant. Some of the cooking is done where you can see it happen, on wood-burning grills for fish, meats, birds, and tandoor-style flatbreads. The dishes are what the chef calls "assertively flavored," often with Southeast Asian herbs. A typical entrée might be lightly fried lobster with chilies, lemon grass, and Thai basil. (Few chefs in this neighborhood can resist adding Asian touches, notes New York Times food critic Ruth Reichl.) Cashew-crusted salmon fillet is a signature creation. Grill-seared foie gras with caramelized onions, balsamic syrup, and a salad of fresh figs is memorable. Dinner for two with wine (there is an excellent selection by the glass), tax, and tip, $130. Dinner Monday-Saturday. One Athenaeum Place, Cambridge. 225-2121.

Chef-owner Raymond Ost, a native of Strasbourg, observes that the cuisine of Alsace reflects the region's history of German invasions; there, one eats coq au Riesling. Ost's new restaurant, in the heart of Harvard Square, offers Alsatian French food at prices that don't require a call to your broker. Choucroute Alsacienne is a specialty. It sounds French enough, but its ingredients might include weisswurst, bauernwurst, smoked pork loin, and bacon along with juniper berries, onions, duck fat, and the eponymous sauerkraut. Lunch Tuesday-Saturday, dinner Monday-Saturday, Sunday brunch. 8 Holyoke Street, Cambridge. 497-5300.

Main Menu · Search · Current Issue · Contact · Archives · Centennial · Letters to the Editor · FAQs
Harvard Magazine