Background: I used to get to the Boston area far more than I have in recent times. In fact, I haven’t been since 2007. Among the places I remember dining are (in alphabetical order) EVOO, L’Espalier, No. 9 Park, Olena, and Salt’s . . . along with some dive Chinese place that didn’t care if we brought in our own wine, and the Barking Crab.
I went to Cambridge with my wife, who was presenting at a 3-day law conference which was being held at Harvard. Unfortunately, the trip was so focused on business, we didn’t have time for much of anything except dinner.
Our first night was at Craigie on Main. Three of us dined on a hot July night, and were warmly welcomed by the staff. We quickly decided upon having the six-course tasting menu, but we also added a couple of extras (octopus a la plancha, and the bone marrow – both excellent!).
Now, outside looks are deceiving, as it certainly looks like nothing special form the outside, but when I received a phone call a couple of days prior to our visit, confirming the reservation, and was asked about any food allergies, I knew this was a place serious about what comes out of their kitchen. And when we ordered, our wait person confirmed the allergies and made sure nothing on the tasting menu would be a problem.
Simply put: having eaten there, I understand why the chef won a James Beard Foundation award as Best Chef - Northeast.
The wine list is excellent – not huge, but well stocked with a number of excellent selections, affordably priced (though some are, well, “beaucoup bucks”), and filled with great, lesser known bottles. The wine buyer here is doing a great job! We had a 2015 Sancerre (Chavignol) from Gerard Boullay and a 2014 Crozes-Hermitage by Alain Graillot.
Our only problem was that, in adding those two dishes, we ate entirely too much food. The kitchen (IMHO) should have cut out one of the courses on the tasting menu for one that we requested, or at least cut back on the portions. The result, however, was delicious food, but too much of it . . . and we left feeling somewhat stuffed.
The next night, we dined at Alden & Harlow, and were delighted by what we found (and ate). The restaurant has a variety of small plates – seafood, vegetable, meats, salads, etc. – meant for sharing. The waiter suggested six plates would be enough for the three of us, and it was even though we ended up getting a seventh one.
Freshness here is the order of the day, and the prep and cooking is top-notch. The small wine list is VERY well thought-out, with a number of small American and imported selections you don’t see on many wine lists. We had a liter of the 2015 Donkey & Goat “Isabel’s Cuvée” Grenache Rosé – it’s a tiny winery in Berkeley, CA, and only 125 cases total of this wine were produced . . . how it made it to Cambridge is anyone’s guess!
The seafood crudo was excellent, and the Wellfleet clams were to die for!
This was my wife’s favorite place of our three dinners, but – as much as I enjoyed the food, and I did, it lacked that little spark of creativity that would set it apart from other places. Perhaps it’s just that we live in Berkeley, and the SF Bay area is filled with – ultimately – many similar restaurants . . . I don’t know. I’d certainly eat here again, and happily so, but it wasn’t my favorite.
Our final dinner of the trip was at Loyal Nine, and this was the place that the weakest recommendation from others on this site. Indeed, we almost replaced it because of the mixed feedback we received. Fortunately, we didn’t, as this was my favorite meal of the trip!
There were five of us this night, and once again, we opted for the “Shared Supper” – the tasting menu – and at $50/person, this is a HUGE bargain! This meal had all the spark and creativity that Alden & Harlow (for me) lacked, and that alone is enough to make this meal memorable for a long time to come . . .
I lost count of the number of courses we had, but everything was fresh, flavorful, and executed flawlessly. Especially outstanding were the Pemaquid Oysters, dressed with smoked porter vinegar – amazing!
Again, a very good wine list – not huge, but very well thought-out – with a large number of by-the-glass selections, and most bottles priced at either $40 or $60.