The Blue Room Makes Its Triumphant Return
Liz Vilardi, Nick Zappia, and their son were just winding down a two-week Cape Cod vacation last summer when they got an expected call on a Sunday night. One of the managers at the Blue Room, the Kendall Square mainstay Zappia has owned since 1996 (Vilardi joined her husband in 2000), told them the kitchen fans had shut off, the fire alarms were sounding, and they were evacuating the building.
“We basically threw everything in the car and made it in record time back to Boston. It was awful,” Vilardi recalls.
That was 367 long days ago. When the restaurateurs—and the fire department—arrived, they realized flames were trapped inside the ductwork at One Kendall Square, on the block that also encompasses Flat Top Johnny’s pool hall and Beantowne Coffee House, Eater Boston reported. The hood fans had done their jobs exhausting the heat out the top of the building, but that meant 10-foot flames were pouring out, Vilardi says. Officials blasted thousands of gallons of water into the ductwork to quell the blaze, which flooded the Blue Room.
While the damage wasn’t hugely extensive—and sister wine bar Belly didn’t require any renovations, Eater reports today—it still took months before the stakeholders could find time to finish the investigation, and months longer to figure out who should pay for everything.
With real work beginning just this past July, the Blue Room reopens tonight at 5 p.m. with a refreshed interior, a rustic new menu, a pared-down wine list, and cocktails from what has been for the past 25 years one of Cambridge’s hidden gems. Belly Wine Bar returns next week.
Melissa Chamness is back on board as the Blue Room’s general manager, and she oversees the spirits program. It was her idea to bring back the “greatest hits,” including the Rose Martini, the first drink legendary bartender Reggie St. Paul ever made at the Blue Room in 1991. It has Plymouth gin and St. George raspberry liqueur, and is garnished with a rose petal, “because that’s how Reg did it,” Vilardi says.
The wine cellars weren’t damaged by flames or water, so Vilardi, who also owns Central Bottle wine shop, is excited to share some extra-vintage bottles. Overall, she’s pared down the by-the-bottle list by more than half, too.
“It’s a restaurant, which means there should be a little bit of everything, with a focus on the food. [Wine] is not why people are here. That’s what Belly is for,” she says. “We have 40 well-curated bottles that match the grill, match the season. Lots of lean, racy, white wines, and refrigerated reds [right now], and we can turn over the list often.”
Chef Joe Guarino is a new hire. The Blue Room has always been fueled with open-flame cooking, and rooted in coastal, Mediterranean flavors, though it has gone through a few different stages of refinement in 25 years. Guarino “very much embodies Blue Room spirit, but his focus hangs out around North Africa and Morocco,” Vilardi says, and the dishes are more rustic and homey now, versus tweezered and pristine.
There are grilled Cape oysters with harissa butter and squash agrodolce, a Vadouvan spiced pork chop with zucchini and freekah, tagliatelle with crab, bottarga, and chili pesto. Vilardi, “a carnivore to the core,” is surprised by how much she loves the grilled treviso salad. “We char it really hard on the outside, leaving it kind of raw on the inside, which is funny to hear someone equate treviso with the way you cook a steak,” she says.
The Blue Room is open for dinner tonight from 5 to 10 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 5 to 11 p.m. They will close for Labor Day on Sunday and Monday (though they will be open those days going forward), and then hit the ground running Tuesday, September 6.
One Kendall Square, Building 200, Cambridge, 617-494-9034, theblueroom.net.