The Red House in Harvard Square [Cambridge, MA]: a bum steer and a real low

It’s rare I post a pan. Sometimes I’ll chime in with a complaint, but I try to keep it mostly positive. This is a case however where I feel my fellow eaters deserve fair warning. Having seen several recommendations for The Red House on chowhound over the years, and walked by it any number of times, we had visitors over the weekend for whom I thought it would provide the perfect mix of location, good but not challenging or super expensive food, and a nice atmosphere with the ability to make a same-day Saturday night reservation. Boy, was I wrong on everything except the ability to make a reservation.

I don’t really know where to start: the 25 minutes before we were able to place a drink order? The 40 minutes that it took to get 2 dozen oysters? The clearly-not-fresh mussels? The fact that they “ran out of” a cocktail on their bar menu?

The wait at each and every phase of our ordering and dining experience was absurd. They weren’t completely full, tables weren’t really turning since they do have a lovely outdoor patio, and it truly took 25 minutes and me standing and finding our server and bringing her back to the table before we were able to order drinks. They’d run out of the drink my guest tried to order, indicating they must premix a batch of it. They’d run out of the striped bass special which 2 of us tried to order for entrees at about 8:30pm. Finally food showed up and there was not one redeeming dish among the lot of them. The oysters, in contrast to the mussels which tasted like they’d been left to age on a pier, were fresh and flavorful, however after 40 minutes of waiting for them they arrived full of crunchy pieces of shell. There was literally not one dish, drink or food item that I would ever, ever order again.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had such an utterly terrible restaurant experience. It’s hard to imagine how this place stays in business. I dearly wanted to just get up and leave after the oysters since Parsnip across the way had open outdoor tables, but unfortunately this would have really upset the evening for our guests in a way that lousy food and service thankfully did not. It’s surprising to me that this place ever got a nod on Chowhound and I hope anyone reading this steers clear.

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Thanks very much for the warning (because this had been on my list too from CH) and glad that it did not ruin the evening for your guests.

Thanks for the warning. I wonder if they just changed ownership/ kitchen/ service staff, etc given your experience seemed to be rather different that can be attributable to a mere difference in taste.

Yes, this was well beyond a taste preference or unrealistic expectations. Had you eaten there previously? How long ago?

Ran out of a cocktail could mean that they ran out of a spirit, liqueur, or syrup. While I keep an eye on my inventories, it happens especially when there is an unexpected run on a drink or specific ingredient. Or the distributor is currently out or otherwise delayed.

And batching cocktails is not an evil word especially for efficiency and consistency (as long as citrus and other perishables are added on the spot). Some of the best bars in the city batch their drinks.

I hear you, and it’s nice of you to give them the benefit of the doubt. But this is no craft cocktail establishment we’re talking about. So, if at 8pm on a Saturday you’re out of rum, mint, simple syrup, or green tea… send someone out for more, brew another pot, or suggest a variation. Perhaps you would drop by and give them some help.

The pear abomination that my guest ended up with instead was pear vodka plus champagne and cranberry juice in a champagne flute, no garnish, not visibly chilled. A tepid pink glass of sweet alcohol.

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