Celebrating the 20th Anniversary of Harvard Square’s Rialto

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Illustration by Ellaphant in the Room

September 19 marks the 20th anniversary of Rialto, the Harvard Square restaurant in the Charles Hotel that turned chef-owner Jody Adams, above, into a culinary superstar. In honor of the occasion, we canvassed the venue’s many distinguished alumni (and Adams herself) to take stock of the ingredients, people, and dishes that have made the place a destination for international dignitaries, Harvard bigwigs, and locals alike.

 

On the Menu Since Day One

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Illustration by Ellaphant in the Room

Fisherman’s stew (originally called soupe du poisson).

“I worked hard to get that right, and I have had so many people say that it tastes like it was made in the south of France. I am very proud of that.” –Jody Adams

 

Beloved Regular

The late philanthropist Joan Parker, wife of the author Robert B. Parker, dined at the restaurant twice a week. “Joan used to say, ‘It’s my living room, and my dining room.’ The bar was her living room; the dining room was her dining room.” –J.A.

 

2007: The Year of the Supergroup

At one point that year, the kitchen was run by chef de cuisine Carolyn Johnson (executive chef, 80 Thoreau); sous chef Nuno Alves (executive chef, Tavolo); junior sous chef Andrew Hebert (executive chef, Trade); and line cooks Phillip Tang (chef-owner, East by Northeast), Patrick Gilmartin, and Adam Gendreau (the latter two became co-owners of the now-defunct food truck Staff Meal).

 

Secret Ingredient

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Illustration by Ellaphant in the Room

“When I worked there, there were a couple of back waiters from Morocco with a recipe on how to make preserved lemons. I still use them as a staple ingredient in the pantry.” –Gabriel Bremer, chef-owner, Salts (kitchen manager and sous chef, 2000–2001)

 

Most “Only at Rialto” Moment

“Sandra Day O’Connor and Desmond Tutu having a chat outside the kitchen one day—they had been in separate parties.” –Carolyn Johnson, executive chef, 80 Thoreau (line cook and chef de cuisine, 2002–2009)

 

Ingredient That Has Stood the Test of Time

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Illustration by Ellaphant in the Room

“I love the ­flavor of Aria olive oil—it’s not super-refined. It’s fruity and assertive with a little spicy kick, and overall versatile.” –J.A.

$15 for 500 milliliters, Formaggio Kitchen.

 

 

Essential Wisdom from Jody

“I would always get really stressed out about something…. Jody would always say, ‘Joanne, it’s just dinner.’ I still carry that with me when things get stressful.” –Joanne Chang, owner, Flour Bakery + Café and Myers + Chang (pastry chef, 1995–1997)

 

The Julia Child influence

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Illustration by Ellaphant in the Room

“Julia used to come in quite often. She often ordered the steak, and it was Julia who told me that I needed to change the quality of the meat that I was serving—that I had to get prime sirloin, and aged meat. I did what I was told.” –J.A.

 

On Overhauling the Restaurant in 2007

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photograph by heath robbins, courtesy of maryann thompson architects

“It was very dark, old Boston—I found it a little depressing. The idea was to create an environment that was really light, and airy, and uplifting, and also elegant, because Jody’s food is so elegant. Rialto is such a power spot, with a lot of interesting people in deep conversations, so we wanted to create a series of nooks.” –Maryann Thompson, architect

 

Staff Lifers

16 Years Louinique Occean, bread baker
18 Years Stacey Alickman, server; Mohammad Karachi, server
20 Years Chantale Vilcent, prep cook; Jean Millien Garcia, steward and staff MVP: “Garcia is in charge of the dish machine at Rialto, and is one of the most reliable and consistent members of my team—he keeps the rest of us in line.” –J.A.

 

First official write-up in Boston’s pages

“Boston’s most exciting new restaurant, featuring Chef Jode Adam’s French Italian and Spanish specialties with an excellent wine list to match.” –October 1994 (We’ve since learned the proper spelling of her name, we swear.)

  • Jason S.

    Paging Mark Williams…

  • Chris Hitchcock

    Claire and I started loving Jody’s cooking when she was at Michaela’s over 20 years ago — we followed her to Rialto and it quickly became our favorite Boston restaurant. We don’t go there as often as we’d like, but we go there more than anywhere else; and we especially love her summer barbecues which started, as I recall, as a Bastille Day celebration long ago. We’ve taken several cooking classes at Rialto from Jody as well. Jody is a creative chef, a impressive cookbook author, a great teacher, a warm host, and at this point, a good friend.