Dining Out at Area Four

Food that’s both fun and sustainable? You’ll find it at this new Cambridge spot.

By Corby Kummer | Boston Magazine |
Photo by Michael Piazza

Photo by Michael Piazza

Finally, there’s a restaurant making seasonal and locally raised food that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s about time. ­Freewheeling whimsy has certainly never been a focus at chef Michael Leviton’s other restaurants, both pioneers in our sustainable-­dining scene: Lumière, his Newton flagship, serves carefully made, French-influenced food, and has exceptional service. Persephone, his short-lived restaurant attached to a hip boutique in Fort Point, was a chic, glossy place anchored by a lively bar.

Area Four, Leviton’s latest venture, is more relaxed and confident than Persephone was. Out front, there’s a bakery-café that’s sunny and crowded in the mornings, when it serves workers in the MIT-owned Technology Square (between Kendall and Central squares). There’s a bar where young people gather later in the day for one of the dozen beers on tap or a glass from the list of sustainable wines. The tables in the dining room — which run along a central track, so they can be pushed together or separated depending on the size of the group—work with the retro metal chairs and student-y bar scene to give Area Four a cool-school feel.

Bargoers or diners might order one of the superior pizzas—which, together with the standout cookies and morning baked goods, are the key to Area Four’s success. The clear focus is on food cooked in a wood-fired oven, and unfussy dishes that show off the ingredients rather than the chef. The open kitchen runs half the length of the dining room, and part of the wall below is lined with neatly cut logs, many decoratively branded with the restaurant’s brawny logo. It’s a reminder that much (though not all) of the food takes a trip into that oven, built by Wood Stone (the same company that created the large oven at the center of Jody Adams’s new restaurant, Trade).

The pizzas, with their painstakingly made, long-risen dough, have something that deprived Boston pie lovers have been longing for: a potent, seemingly inexhaustible supply of garlic. Leviton told me that he based his dough tinkerings on his college-era forays to the dual New Haven shrines of Pepe’s and Sally’s, where garlic reigns on everything “white” and on quite a few tomato-slathered pies, too. The flavor is at its purest in the baby-spinach pizza ($13 for a 10-inch, $20.50 for a 14-inch; shown right), which features a smooth, milky-looking garlic purée that stealthily roars into your mouth beneath a camouflage carpet of papery, charred leaves. Yet unlike at most Italian-American places powered by garlic (as true Italian restaurants almost never are), the flavor was fresh and bright, without a hint of the harsh, burned taste too often synonymous with garlic. And the dough honored its Connecticut inspiration: thin in the middle, with a high, chewy lip. The pecorino cheese that Leviton grates onto many pies added a salty tang that, like the garlic and the dough, was reminiscent of New Haven pizza.