Pammy's [Cambridge, near Central Square]

#1

We finally made it to Pammy’s recently, after a few previous near hits. It’s a good enough restaurant, although flawed in many ways (in my opinion), and celebrated enough to deserve a thread of its own.

My wife and I shared their soft shell crab appetizer, described on another thread, a pasta dish, a main course and dessert.

The pasta was bucatini with shrimp. The texture of the pasta was the knockout part of the dish – I’d return every day just to feel that perfectly chewy texture in my mouth. The description promised chili oil, and if there was any heat in that dish, then, by god, I’m a hot 20-something-year-old. The shrimp was oddly sweet, and served on a skewer above the dish, like an amused by-stander. Unannounced on the menu was a shower of raw kale leaves blanketing the pasta. I don’t know about you, but I prefer my kale announced. [Edited to add: the texture of the pasta component of this dish was further enlivened by crunchy little sticks of – possibly – fried bucatini.]

Our main course was a fantastic aged prime rib. It’s $58, but worth every penny of beefy greatness. [Edited to add: There was rapini scattered over the meat that to me was a distraction. If I’m going for the animal pleasure of aged beef, then I don’t want some green stuff whispering in my conscience telling me that I could be doing “better.” Plus, I’m not a fan of these vegetables if they come with tough stems attached. There was also a bowl of fingerling potatoes on the side, They’d have been a good sidekick had they been a little less al dente. ]

The dessert was an affogato where a decent vanilla ice cream surrendered to the worst espresso we’ve had in a decade.

The service was amusing, but I’ll comment on it later.

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#2

Nice write up! I was gifted a certificate to this place last holiday, but I still haven’t gone yet. Thanks for putting this back up on my radar list.

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#3

It’s obviously personal preference but I like restaurants which add components to their dishes (often based season or availability) and use their menu descriptions only as a general direction without much detail

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#4

I’m rather disappointed to hear this lukewarm review of Pammy’s. It’s one of those places that I keep in my back pocket for some special evening. Here I only excerpt parts of your review for which I have a question or comment.

I know I’m a little slow today but seriously what does this mean? That the spice was not perceptible at all?

I like even the toughest of veggie stems but I agree in a restaurant that’s a tough proposition. Even at home, I spare B from the tough stems when I plate out our food, reserving those for me. And under-cooked potatoes are one of my pet peeves. Big-time yuck.

I hope you don’t leave us hanging after making a statement like that.

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#5

We’ve dined quite a bit (10+ times) at Pammy’s as it is relatively local for us. I have to say my experiences have been consistently excellent. It is hard to think of many bad dishes, let alone a dud meal. The combo of wife (FOH) and husband (kitchen) keeps the place firing on all cylinders. We have always hypothesized that it would go from a place we regularly patronized to somewhere we never went if they branched out and opened another place as both are strong presences. From your experience, I can’t help but wonder if one or both were not in house than night?

We generally stick to the small plates and pastas on the menu. The seasonal flavors have always worked for my palate, and their pastas are some of the best around (your description of the texture is spot on).

Service has always been professional and friendly, and I love the atmosphere. I would be interested to hear about your experience. Hopefully it was just an off night. Sorry for your experience though.

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#6

OK, a lot of questions to respond to:

  1. @digga: No, the dish was not hot. Given that chili oil was explicitly mentioned on the menu description, whereas kale was not, you’d expect heat. There wasn’t any.

  2. @uni: I liked enough of what we ate to make me want to return, but I have to say it was not the kind of out-of-the-“cricket-field” (aka “ballpark”) experience that our first meals at Biba (going back), Oleana, Strip-Ts, Shangri-La, Hungry Mother, etc., were (picking a range of price points) – the kind of meals that make you want to return the next day, and the day after, and eat your way through the entire menu.

Although we are also small-plates people, I do think the 45-day prime rib was very, very good, although the accompaniments were not.

Judging from the pictures on their website, Pam Willis was not womaning the FOH the night we were there. Which brings me to the service:

The pluses were that people were indeed largely friendly, and our water glasses were regularly refilled. But there were odd slip-ups here and there. The waitress who took our order, and those of the people at several tables along the row we were in (by the windows) brought bread to the people two tables down, then stood around chatting by the bread station. Eventually, about 10 minutes later, a young man in a flowery shirt brought us our bread. She, our waitress, was also only superficially knowledgeable about the food – she struggled with pasta-shape descriptions – and she showed a complete absence of curiosity about anything. They serve water in repurposed milk bottles, each with a bulge at the neck. We guessed (correctly as it turned out) that the bulges were for the cream, but when we asked her she shrugged and said “I don’t even know” and walked off.

A the end we had a chunk of steak and a fair amount of potato left. We asked to take them away. Unlike any other restaurant at that price point where items served separately are packed separately, we were given a container of steak with potatoes squeezed in on top.


As an aside – and this is not a reflection on Pammy’s – the people at the next table, on hearing that we were planning to see a movie after dinner, cut in to tell us that “We see a lot of movies – which one are you planning to see?” We said “Booksmart”’. It’s a terrible movie they told us – we left halfway through – see “Rocketman” instead. My wife tried gamely to say “we see a lot of movies too” – and attempted to say we’d just come back from a long movie weekend in NY, where we saw several movies at MoMA, introduced by the people who made them*, and Raging Bull at the Metrograph with a conversation with the producer at the end – but they were unimpressed. We asked them what they planned to see next. “We’ve seen everything worth seeing” they loftily informed us.

As it turned out they were dead wrong about Booksmart. It’s a very funny movie and well worth seeing.

*One of the movies at MoMA was the premiere of American Factory – also to appear on Netflix. At the risk of being the bore at the next table, I highly recommend it.

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#7

PS: @uni: What are the dishes that you’ve found consistently excellent at Pammy’s? I do want to return, and guidance would help.

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#8

The menu at Pammy’s is continually changing. Sometimes dishes come back on a seasonal basis, but often they don’t. Looking at the current menu, it has changed significantly since my last visit.

Things I have had and enjoyed on the current menu include the Lumache pasta (this is one of the longest running items on the menu); and Cavatelli (excellent if you don’t mind the kale, they usually do a great job braising their greens and not serving the late season tough stuff, which makes your experience even more unfortunate); octopus (I have generally stopped ordering this anywhere as it has become somewhat ubiquitous and I overdid it, Pammy’s generally cooks the mollusk perfectly though). The antipasti was added about a year after they opened and is now a permanent item. They do a good job with the salumi and accompaniments.

Generally, their specials are always worth ordering, and then I pick small plates and pastas that look good to me. The past few summers they have had a dish of heirloom tomatoes over garlic toast which is simple but incredible. They do a great job with artichokes. There was a seared foie gras on the menu this winter that was a beautiful dish. I’ll order any crudo on the menu. They often have different bruschetta varieties on the menu which are usually worthy. The pastas are ever changing. A few I can recall liking are their rabbit malfaldine; spaghetti 2.3 (basic with red sauce and cheese, but well done); nodi marini (with guanciale, rabe and an egg). The used to have half portions of some of their pastas but seem to have gotten away from that unfortunately.

As I mentioned I don’t order many entrees, but that isn’t specific to Pammy’s. It’s more of a general trend for me lately. I’d rather taste lots of small dishes. I have found several of their seafood entrees not to be my preference, with the fish cooked more than I prefer.

Their cocktails are usually well done, but I generally stick with the negronis on tap. I rarely drink wine these days, but Pammy’s has a great list both by the bottle or glass, and reasonably priced. I do really enjoy the lighting, decor and space in general. Also, they may have the best bathroom situation around.

I hope you have a better overall experience if you get back there.

How was the soft shell? I pretty much have to order it anywhere where available this time of year. Cafe sushi had it as part of their omakase last week…delicious.

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#9

Thanks @uni. Very useful to know.

About the softshell: If you look at my first post on this thread, there’s a link to my description of it.

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#10

That statement made me laugh out loud on a day when I needed it (I left car sunroof open last night and we don’t have a garage).

That alone might get me and B to Pammy’s. Oh, and also the tomato on garlic toast. And cavatelli. And artichokes.

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#11

Fooddabler, I approve your film taste. Those people at the other table are idjits for not liking Booksmart. (And obviously not cinephiles either.)

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#12

I cannot speak to your hunting skills, but you’re clearly a moviewali of discernment and taste. The odd thing was that one of the objections our unwelcome advisors had was the “language” in the movie – and they added “We see a lot of movies – we have no objection to occasional language.” (The infinity of possible responses to this left us speechless for a few vital seconds.) For the record, the language was far chaster than anything I overhear these days on a college campus, or among redcaps at South Station.

I know we’re straying far from food on an eating site, but I feel that the bathroom scene in Booksmart would have led to eating, had vomiting not intervened.

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