Eating Around Harvard Square
Harvard Square experiences a resurrection every fall as students return to campus and classes begin again. While the faces are constantly changing, the restaurant landscape has all but stood still—until now.
Not since the opening of chef Jody Adams’ Rialto inside the Charles Hotel 12 years ago has the culinary scenery looked so fresh.
HARVARD SQUARE EXPERIENCES A resurrection every fall as students return to campus and classes begin again. While the faces are constantly changing, the restaurant landscape has all but stood still—until now. Not since the opening of chef Jody Adams’ Rialto inside the Charles Hotel 12 years ago has the culinary scenery looked so fresh. That’s not to say it hasn’t been good. Ethnic restaurants, those collegiate staples, have flourished here for years alongside a few white-linen-tablecloth continental spots. And now a new generation of experimental chefs—offering deconstructed dishes and aromatherapy cocktails—is infusing new life (and fun) into the Square.
John F. Kennedy Street is already peppered with Thai, Japanese, Indian and Chinese. So the owners of Conundrum, which opened in the spring, decided to forge their own path. It’s paved with a hodgepodge of flavors. Chef Eric Wernsing plays with Southwestern, French, Japanese and Mediterranean flavors in dishes such as his yellowfin tuna with a three-potato spring roll in a ginger-kaffir lime sauce. He also hits Mexican notes in a shrimp Culiacán appetizer spiced with chipotle butter. For dessert, Wernsing’s partner, pastry chef and general manager, Jen Pearson, mixes a tasty assortment of sorbets and defies reason with her Bananas Conundrum (chocolate crepes filled with sauteed bananas, chocolate ice cream and marshmallows). It’s worth every heart-stopping calorie.
Om opened this year, flaunting exotic decor straight from Nepal and a hot young chef named Rachel F. Klein (see more about Klein in our chef profile on page 78). Klein makes a deconstructed Caesar salad that’s far from stodgy (anchovies are piled alongside strips of romaine and a soft-boiled egg) and a sophisticated version of the Southern man’s breakfast, steak and eggs. The Om lounge menu takes a more Asian slant, offering momos (handmade Tibetan dumplings) and a variety of skewers. The specialty aroma-infused cocktails, such as the Manhattan Nirvana (a classic Manhattan with essence of sweet orange) and RoseMaya (a gin martini infused with rosewater and cucumber), make happy hour more so.
No special-occasion visit to Harvard Square (parents’ weekend, perhaps?) is complete without a trip to Rialto. Chef Jody Adams, one of the city’s most beloved chefs, plates delicious Mediterranean and French cuisine that feels new and innovative even after more than a decade in business. Her signature Tuscan-style Wolfe’s Neck Farm sirloin is sprinkled with truffle oil; slow-roasted Long Island duck accompanies braised escarole and Sicilian olives. Sunday nights the chef offers a three-course menu of rustic comfort dishes such as paella or lasagna that correspond to a monthly theme. Drop in anytime to sit at the bar and sample the outstanding burger.
UpStairs on the Square is where young intelligentsia meet tweedy Cantabrigians. You can usually find examples of both sitting at the first-floor Monday Club Bar noshing on steak frites and frisée salads. The second floor, dubbed the Soirée Dining Room, is whimsically washed in cheetah print and the color pink, but don’t let the atmosphere fool you. The food here is serious business. Eye of the rib-eye steak is served with sweet and sour condiments and Eva’s Garden herbs, and a roasted-beet salad arrives on a rectangular plate flanked by horseradish panna cotta and flecks of passion fruit. The playful wine list changes constantly, and dozens of wines by the glass are always on hand.
No two cuisines are more appreciated by the Ivy League crowd than pizza and Indian food. Both are offered here with gourmet flair. Grafton Street Pub & Grill’s chef, Dan Pogue, covers his pies in goat cheese, baby spinach, yellow tomatoes and garlic oil, raising pizza from freshman fodder to upper-class cuisine. And at Tamarind Bay, there’s no dousing of sorry chicken curry with too-rich sauces. All dishes, including the clay-oven-cooked specialties, are made to order with all natural ingredients, such as chopped mint, homemade yogurt cream and tender meats.
Where To Dine
Conundrum 56 JFK St., Cambridge 617-868-0335, www.conundrumrestaurant.com
Grafton Street Pub & Grill 1230 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge 617-497-0400, www.graftonstreetcambridge.com
Om 92 Winthrop St., Cambridge 617-576-2800, www.omrestaurant.com
Rialto The Charles Hotel, One Bennett St., Cambridge 617-661-5050, www.rialto-restaurant.com
Tamarind Bay 75 Winthrop St., Cambridge 617-491-4552, www.tamarindbay.com
UpStairs on the Square 91 Winthrop St., Cambridge 617-864-1933, www.upstairsonthesquare.com