Restaurant Review: Waypoint in Cambridge
The king crab at Waypoint, Michael Scelfo’s “coastally inspired” Harvard Square eatery, is a luscious, dreamy dish. Of this, I am sure. I tried it four times…over three visits. The plump, butter-poached knob of sweet decapod crustacean ($22) gets its richness from several sources, including the silky, eggnog-hued aioli—luxed up with nutty brown butter—that runs down the sides, into the feathery folds and crevices, and onto the surface of a glistening pool of chili oil fragrant with citrus peel, Sichuan peppercorn, and toasted garlic. There was also, if I’m remembering right, a pea leaf.
Another winner, “Pig’s Face” pizza ($16), sort of a wink-wink nod (not literally) to the flavor profile of mortadella, was topped with whipped pecorino, sage, pistachio, and the fatty, gelatinous bits of salty meat picked from the jowls and neck of an overnight-roasted oinker. I’ve heard complaints that it’s too greasy—it was a little greasy—but I loved it. Especially washed down with a brash, tannic red from the indie-leaning wine list.
I enjoyed the tallow-fried peanuts ($6), recrisped in beef fat and tossed with anchovy and pickled chilies. I was a fan of the uni bucatini ($18), house-milled-flour pasta naughtied up with bottarga (salt-cured roe), velvety blobs of sea urchin, and a still-gooey, wood-smoked egg yolk. Roasted bone marrow ($16) had a deep, savory musk and an ethereally custardy plushness that…
Hoo boy. Look, folks—while we take a quick breather—I want to make it unequivocally clear that I’ve long admired Scelfo’s cooking. I love it down the road at Alden & Harlow (our 2016 pick for Best Restaurant, General Excellence), and I love it here. But we’re talking serious, unmitigated richness. Lush, opulent food that doubles and triples down on the hedonistic pleasures of fat, salt, supple textures, and pure-pigment flavors deployed full strength. It is gorgeous the way a Strauss symphonic work is gorgeous: big, confident, sensuous, and over the top, using every last instrument in the orchestra. It is the art of accretion. It is that extra stick of butter you add to a gurgling pot of scraped corn when your cookout guests aren’t looking. It is every Instagram filter bumped up to 100.
And did I mention delicious? Scelfo sure knows what tastes good. To complain is a bit like saying Van Gogh used too much paint—except Starry Night isn’t something temporal one has to get through. At Waypoint, the constant fortissimo is seldom a problem on a per-dish basis. But it’s unrelenting. Palate fatigue looms large. For maximum impact—no matter the art form—it helps to punctuate the experience with the odd respite. A bracing salad, a light Mozart interlude, a modicum of white space. And that, in a nutshell, is my sole criticism of Waypoint.
There isn’t. Enough. White space.
And that—minus a minor quibble or two—is all I got. Service is exemplary. The beverage program, with its meticulous cocktails and deep-tracks absinthe geekery, has but a handful of local peers. The hipster-cool dining room is anchored by evocative industrial décor straight out of a brooding Toulouse-Lautrec nightscape, complete with dramatic pendant lighting and green-hued glow.
But it’s the gorgeous food that’s deservedly getting the most attention. Boneless Maine lamb shoulder ($64), enough for three famished carniphiles, was an all-out showstopper. When this luxuriously marbled cut meets extended gentle heat, the copious pockets of fat melt into near-liquid globules of flavor, basting the interior and creating a weblike network of “fault lines”—along which the brick-oven-burnished beauty ultimately collapses a few magic moments after reaching your table, a bed of braised escarole, white beans, anchovy, and pickled lemon cushioning the fall. I can’t think of a better lamb dish out there.
Other highlights: Peel-and-eat shrimp ($18), brined then cold-smoked and served with crackers, buttermilk yogurt, and supple house-made hot sauce, had a heady hickory perfume. Octopus polpetti ($18) was a clever seafaring spin on spaghetti and meatballs, amped up with chilies, mint, garum (fermented fish sauce), and ricotta salata.
Only rarely did the richness train kill the dish outright. A Creekstone rib-eye ($68), well sourced and expertly cooked, fought the good fight but ultimately lost to its overwrought plating: a lugubrious puddle of romesco sauce, thick as peanut butter. (Might have been better served banchan-style, to deploy at will.) Squid-ink gemelli ($17), meanwhile, with ham, swordfish lardo, and pecorino–smoked pine nut crumble, was so intense we called it quits after a few polite bites.
To be fair, Waypoint isn’t alone in its palate-busting tendencies. Appetizers and entrées once had vastly different blueprints. The bigger main course required flavors diffuse enough for a diner to get from beginning to end without crying uncle. Appetizers, by contrast, were the chef’s place to dazzle guests with bursts of intensity before they settled in for their long winter’s…blanquette de veau, or whatever it is people ate back in the barbarous days (i.e., 2002) of starter-main-dessert. The small-plates revolution liberated chefs to go all appetizer-strength, all the time. The freedom! But that only works when small plates are, well, small. As portions have crept upward—when was the last time you had a “small plate” that was truly tapas-sized?—it seems there’s little appetite for reverting back to entrée-strength drudgery. Understandable. But over an evening, it can be exhausting.
Lucking out with an ace server, then, takes on special importance—from a strategic standpoint alone. Over my visits, Waypoint proved pretty flawless on this front. Presided over by the excellent Jen Fields, director of operations (and sommelier extraordinaire), the front of the house has a no-nonsense, no-pretension, deeply informed MO. Sometimes with a dash of comedy.
One evening, we asked our server for advice on the “Pig’s Face” pizza. “Not a lot of ears or eyeballs or anything like that,” she deadpanned. Bizarre, I thought…until I spied the genuine look of relief on my buddy’s human face. She then, without missing a beat, rattled off an impassioned description of an unfamiliar albariño (a 2014 Albamar Finca O Pereiro, $70) that was exactly as described—crisp, minerally, full-bodied—and exactly what we were looking for.
Scelfo, too, knows what you’re looking for—you just have to pace yourself. With any luck, with an assist from a staffer unafraid to speak up when, you know…the pig factor gets out of hand.
★ ★ ★
1030 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-864-2300, waypointharvard.com.
Octopus polpetti, $18
Smoked and salted shrimp, $18
Cinnamon-sugar doughnuts, $9
Critic Jolyon Helterman’s work has also appeared in Hemispheres, Cook’s Illustrated, and Coastal Living.
★★★★ Extraordinary | ★★★ Generally Excellent | ★★ Good | ★ Fair | (No Stars) Poor