Harvest [Cambridge, Harvard Square]

Harvest is one of the more storied restaurants in the Boston area. Many of Boston’s great chefs transited though Harvest, and the room itself was on the cutting edge of design in Ben Thompson’s Design Research and Marimekko days.

Since taking over stewardship of the Harvest space (around 1999?) , the Grill 23 group have been pretty diligent in sustaining a legend. Although the room is no longer design-forward, it remains an elegant place to dine. The terrace has been improved under their aegis, with the addition of a fireplace and infrared heaters. It’s one of the more pleasant outdoor dining spaces in Boston.

The menu still flashes traces of whimsy and avant garde that Harvest was famous for, for example a swordfish pastrami starter and breakfast “pizza” on a hash brown “crust”. The wine list, though modest, harbors a few gems. House-made sorbets remain a fixture. A desert of stylized apple tart was artistic and delicious.

A half bottle of 1999 Chateau Musar was a delightful find. This aged Bordeaux blend from Lebanon was positively elegant. They also have full bottles of the 1998 on their list.

However…on our most recent visit, execution was the downfall. The swordfish pastrami and salmon tartar tostada were both beautiful to look at, but the swordfish lacked verve and the tostada was neither finger food nor easily forked, making it awkward to eat. The hash brown crust under the “pizza” was burnt to a consistent, very dark brown. But the most disappointing failures of execution were from our waitperson, not the kitchen. Her descriptions of cocktails and menu items proved to be inaccurate. A salad with dressing requested on the side was accompanied by something closer to cream cheese in consistency, too firm to drizzle or even dip forkfulls. When asked, the waitress insisted that was the house blue cheese dressing. Only later did we discover that she must have picked up something else, as salads waiting on the pass were drizzled with dressing.

An order of Eggs Benedict arrived with eggs that were hard-boiled, either from over-poaching or sitting under a salamander. Attempts to flag down passing waiters were fruitless. A bus-person offered to find our waitress, to no avail. Finally a trip to the front of the house to find someone brought the beverage manager to the rescue, who performed a deft save with a quick turnaround of Benedict with properly-poached eggs. When our waitress finally did reappear, we informed her of our misadventures and commented that we felt somewhat abandoned. Without apology, she stated she had been working inside. Apparently all the waitstaff serving the terrace tables had indoor responsibilities as well, which resulted in long stretches with no one being attentive to the terrace.

We long felt that Harvest was one of those places where “adults are in charge”, but on this occasion the adults were stretched thin. That said, there was one adult present, the beverage manager Chris. In addition to the save on the Eggs Benedict, he was engaging when discussing the wine list, and (in contrast to our server) left a favorable impression.