Dining Out at Area Four
In addition to the pizza, the things to order are salads, mac ’n’ cheese, chicken, and dessert. (Save room.) The salads are bold and straightforward. You don’t often think of salads as being masculine, but you don’t see a “kitchen-sink” salad ($12) very often, either. It’s a take on a California chopped salad, light on the romaine and radicchio and heavy on the Tuscan salame, chunks of fontina, roasted mushrooms, and vinegary pickled banana peppers—not a dish for wimps. The anchovies in the lemon vinaigrette and the green olives add a powerful lashing of salt — a flaw of all the salads, which otherwise have marvelously fresh ingredients. Salt and all, though, I craved more of that kitchen-sink salad whenever I went back, and also the toasted, peppered almonds on the arugula salad ($8), with greens and shaved fennel. Even better, if yet saltier, was the salad of shaved Brussels sprouts and Tuscan kale ($10), the main ingredients shredded so thin they were unrecognizable and topped with deep-flavored roasted hazelnuts.
Mac ’n’ cheese ($11) showed off the power of the oven, the big shells al dente, napped in a thick béchamel sauce, and baked in a shallow cast-iron skillet for maximum browning. The gremolata-and-croissant-crumb topping was superb, and a clever way to use day-old or unsold croissants. The dish is big enough for a satisfying bargain main course.
But spend a bit more for the roast chicken ($19; shown right), really a warm main-course salad. It’s like the best of a holiday meal after you’ve gone back for seconds, with everything mixed together on the same plate: arugula leaves, squares of butternut squash, toasted pumpkin seeds, and sourdough croutons permeated with cider vinaigrette and chicken jus. It’s an unapologetic take on chef Judy Rodgers’s chicken-and-bread salad at Zuni Café in San Francisco, which, along with Gordon Hamersley’s roast chicken, is the best chicken dish in the country. It’s also a very worthy rendition, the bird brined and marinated and full of flavor. Don’t miss it.
You can miss the roast fish, which changes daily. The swordfish I tried ($24) was fresh, but not much helped by acidic tomato sauce; the roasted vegetables with it were more impressive. And the grass-fed-beef meatloaf cheeseburger ($14) on a buttered kaiser roll seemed a bit dry (a comment that will drive Leviton crazy, as we have our differences on how grass-fed beef should taste). But I did enjoy the burger’s excellent mushrooms, caramelized onions, and spicy house-made pickles. More-successful meat dishes included an appetizer of coarse-chopped, Marsala-marinated duck livers on homemade crostini ($6.50), and fennel-sausage pizza with pickled banana peppers ($14 for a 10-inch, $21.50 for a 14-inch).
Dessert is where Leviton’s team really has fun. The homemade soft-serve ice cream ($6) can be topped with sauces, each better than the last: marshmallow, fudge, salted caramel, and berry. You can add bacon, maple candies, and other options for just 50 cents a pop. The rich, frozen-custard-like base is a perfect vehicle for smooshing in everything else. Oh, and the cookie crumbs! They’re an ingenious use of leftover cookies from the bakery. Repurpose, recycle, reinvent: This is the kind of green dining that everyone will enjoy.
500 Technology Sq., Cambridge, 617-758-4444, areafour.com.