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Romantic but fun and cozy dinner in Cambridge

Hi all -
This is my first post.
My husband and I will be in Cambridge tomorrow night to move my sister's stuff out of her apartment -- (a horrible chore). So we are treating ourselves to night in Boston area (staying at the Hotel Marlowe).

We are hoping you all can help us find a nice place for dinner. I like adventurous, different food, and my husband will probably want beef in some form.

We are mostly looking for a romantic but fun atmosphere (not super stuffy or crazily expensive -- thinking max entree price of $30) where we can relax and enjoy eachothers company after our horrible moving day.

Thanks in advance!!

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  1. Not sure if this rec. fills 100% of your desires but checkout Cuchi Cuchi on Main St. Camb. It's a tapas place but very funky, somewhat cozy, different and memorable. It gets busy so call ahead or show up real early.

    1. Oops, I forgot to say....

      We want to stay out of downtown Boston. So we are looking for a place in Cambridge/Somerville area.

      1. A couple of thoughts that are cozy, hit your price point, and will have a nice steak:

        Blue Room -- New American with wood-fire grilling, good cocktails
        Casa Portugal - excellent Portuguese in a modest fine-dining setting, great seafood
        Elephant Walk - fine-dining Cambodian, with steak frites on the French half of the menu
        Green Street - traditional New England fare with some modern twists, superb bartending, nice/casual atmosphere
        The Rendezvous at Central Square - outstanding New American, good wines and drinks
        Salts - romantic little place with sophisticated updates on French and American bistro cooking, great wines, pushing your price limit
        Sandrine's - tony Alsatian French, usually a filet on the menu, good wines.

        11 Replies
        1. re: MC Slim JB

          Thanks for the quick responses!
          Mc Slim -- do you have a favorite of all your recommendations?

          1. re: steviegene

            Hmm, that's tough; I like all of these for different reasons. You might have to choose based on where you can get a reservation (Rendezvous seems to be a tough table these days, for example).

            I might give the nod to Casa Portugal, just because it's a little unusual (notice how much French and New American there is on that list) and lesser known. I happen to love Portuguese food -- have you ever tried pork and clams? -- and this place, while hardly as fancy as many of the others, feels a little more formal than most Boston-area Portuguese restaurants. It has a nice kind of Old World flair to it. I love it when we get the owner as our waiter: he's kind of unsmilingly formal but very good.

            I'd probably say Salts is the most romantic as well as the priciest; its cooking is a little subtler and more refined than most. That duck dish for two is justly famous, the service is tremendous, and they have an awesome cheese table.

            The Blue Room is a very solid all-around performer, consistently very good if not much talked about anymore. It's one of a handful of fine-dining places in Cambridge with very strong bartending.

            Green Street has the best cocktails of the bunch, but its menu might seem a little pedestrian: in some respects, it's kind of glorifed comfort food, which is no bad thing in my book, but maybe not perfect for a romantic dinner. I'm a fan of the Cambodian at Elephant Walk, not so much of its French food (except the desserts), but the atmosphere isn't as appealing as the Brookline one. Sandrine's is more about the Alsatian dishes (like flammekeuche and choucroute garni) which I love, but many people find a bit on the heavy side (think German food lightened with French technique and sauces).

            Not sure if I made that more confusing!

            1. re: MC Slim JB

              Casa Portugal gets an undeserved bad rep on this board and I am glad to see MC stick up for it. They have the largest wine list of the Portuguese restaurants and an excellent Port list. The service is fairly european, bistro style -- attentive, but not someone filling your water glass every 2 minutes and dining there is unhurried. I prefer the Carne Alentejana and a couple of other plates at Sunset, but CP is a lot more consistent and the service is far better.

              I would also add Trattoria Pulcinella to the list -- excellent service, good wine list, good food. Its at the far end of Cambridge, though.

              MC I thought at least the Cambridge Elephant walk had subbed Kobe Beef Roquefort for their steak frites. Their steak au poivre with frites was my comfort dish a few years back, but I have partially stoped going there in protest to removing it.

              1. re: itaunas

                I honestly have not been to the Cambridge Elephant Walk in several years -- we like the ambience of the Brookline one so much more -- but I also shun the French side of that menu, which I always thought was a weak sop to the inevitable person in the party who's too timid to try Cambodian food.

                I'm glad they gave Cambodian food a foothold here, got a lot of people to try it who might not have without that French safety net, but I always thought Carambola in Waltham, with its more authentic, pure-Cambodian, family-style menu was the best of the bunch. Too bad they've made that into a regular old Elephant Walk, too. For steak frites, there's too many pure-French places that are much better (the Petit Roberts, Pierrot, Beacon Hill Bistro).

                1. re: MC Slim JB

                  Although I preferred it when it was Carambola, if that had been an Elephant Walk when I worked in Waltham we would have frequented it more because "Cambodian" was just a bit "too ethnic" for certain coworkers. So I would vote for keeping the Waltham one an Elephant Walk and making the Cambridge one Carambola + steak au poivre :-)

                2. re: itaunas

                  Thanks again!

                  Ok, after looking up the places on the web, Im leaning towards either Portugese or Blue Room - for good-looking food and romantic yet casual atmosphere. I suspect my husband (who is an avid fan of simpler foods and strong cocktails) would prefer the Blue Room. Someone on another board also recommended the Temple Bar ... but I notice that it is not mentioned much on this site, so maybe its not very good...

                  Anyway at either one of these places (Blue Room or Casa Portugal) is there a particular area or table I should request for a romantic dinner?

                  Thanks,

                  1. re: steviegene

                    I personally don't recommend Temple Bar for food: it's very ordinary. That place is more of a hard-drinking dating bar than a serious restaurant.

                    Casa Portugal is basically one big room, no special tables there, maybe a window seat. I actually like dining at the bar at the Blue Room (I'm a big fan of that anyway), mainly because their bartender is such an old-school pro and an attentive server, to boot. Otherwise, I'd ask for a table in a corner; the main dining room can get a little loud.

                    1. re: MC Slim JB

                      We also love eating at the bar...
                      Are there nice tables in the bar area ?

                      1. re: steviegene

                        I'd choose, in order: seats at the bar itself, a table in the dining room, then a table in the bar area (they're a bit tight). But not everyone likes bar dining. I have to be careful with my spouse, who's a bit height-challenged and finds some barstools uncomfortable (dangling legs).

                        1. re: MC Slim JB

                          Do you think I need to make reservations if we plan to sit at the bar?
                          Or can you even make reservations for such a seat --

                          thanks for being patient with all my questions.
                          (Also you mentioned that the Blue Room has great cocktails - any specific recommendations?)

                          1. re: steviegene

                            I'd call and ask about that: I suspect most places don't reserve bar seats. You could reserve a table, see if there's bar seats available when you arrive, and on the off-chance that they're not, take the dining room table.

                            Ed4's suggestion of The Helmand is a good one. I omitted it from my list because I find it uncomfortably hectic, rushed, and loud on weekends. It's a much more pleasant experience earlier in the week when it's not so packed.

          2. Check out Helmand. It's within a couple blocks of your hotel, and it's delicious. It's elegant without being super expensive. Afghan food should be sufficiently exotic, with several beef options.

            1. I would suggest Craige Street Bistro or Oleana.

              1 Reply
              1. re: SEH

                Fun and Cozy in Cambridge = Oleana. Many of the other recommendations here would be great choices too, but Oleana is the clear winner in my book for cozy. Gargoyle's bar is pretty cozy too, and the food is excellent but perhaps a bit less adventurous than Oleana.