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Sticking up for Harvard Square

l
LAinBoston Dec 18, 2007 05:55 AM

Not sure why Harvard Square gets labeled a "culinary wasteland" on this board. As a student who has lived here for 7 years now, I figured I'd explain why I really like it here.

All of these places are within a 10-15 minute walk at most, which doesn't seem too far for anyone interested enough to visit this site.

Burgers - People vary, but it seems safe to say that most really like either Bartley's or O'Sullivan's, if not both like I do. And get a shake at Bartley's - the Godzilla Western Elvis Frappe is my favorite (a whole day's calories in a cup).

Fine Dining - I've had meals at Upstairs and Rialto that were as good as almost anywhere in the city. I haven't been to Craigie Street, but it's right here too. And Chez Henri has always been good to me (plus the bar menu which is obviously well liked).

Sandwiches - Darwin's is pretty good, but I like Oxford Spa even better. And the dueling Cuban's at Montrose Spa and Chez Henri are always tasty (I'm partial to CH).

Pizza - I'm partial to noch's, but that might just be a sentimental thing. And Armando's is pretty good too, if a little inconsistent. Oggi is a nice addition as well.

Bar Food - Charlie's Kitchen is my favorite dive anywhere, and at $5.25 their double chesseburger with fries is quite the bargain (it's gone up a whopping 30 cents in 7 years). Cambridge Common is also good for buffalo tenders and their highly regarded sweet potato fries. And the beer selection at both places is great too.

Ice Cream - Again people differ, but Herrell's and Lizzy's are both pretty good (especially the Charles River Crunch at Lizzy's). And you can still pick up Toscanini in nearby grocery stores. And Berry Line is pretty good for Pinkberry-style fro-yo.

"Date Places" - West Side Lounge and OM both have good food, a fun vibe and great drinks. Cambridge 1 is always reliable. Garden on the Cellar is a little further away, but surprisingly good. Small Plates seems like a nice addition, though I haven't been yet.

Bakeries - Rosie's up on Mass Ave for brownies, Hi Rise for pretty much everything else.

"Ethnic Food" - Some of the Thai and Indian places around the square rightly get some criticism. But Tamarind Bay is pretty good, and the food court in the Porter Exchange is really a hidden gem.

Other favorites - Burdick's for hot chocolate, Formaggio for the best cheese selection in town. Cardullo's for a great chocolate selection and other treats. Brunch at Henrietta's Table. Chinese delivery from Zoe's.

I'm sure there are others I forgot, but hopefully this is helpful for anyone looking to eat well in the neighborhood.

  1. a
    autopi Dec 18, 2007 06:05 AM

    i agree. i think harvard square has way more options than some other neighborhoods i could mention. compared to boston metro, cambridge in general punches above its weight, in my opinion.

    1. hiddenboston Dec 18, 2007 06:05 AM

      I can see where you're coming from to an extent. There are indeed some good restaurants around Harvard. Bartley's is one of my favorites, and several others mentioned by you are places that I believe are worth going to. [Note that some of them aren't in Harvard Square, though--Armando's (Huron Village), Porter Exchange (Porter Square), O'Sullivan's (Somerville).]

      For those of us who have lived here all our lives, however, many of us lament the transformation of Harvard Square from a funky, offbeat place to a generic outdoor mall with little to offer other than its restaurants. I agree that it isn't really a culinary wasteland, but it is no longer the fun, quirky neighborhood that it used to be, IMO.

      2 Replies
      1. re: hiddenboston
        BarmyFotheringayPhipps Dec 18, 2007 06:24 AM

        I'm with hiddenboston on this one: there are plenty of good places to eat in Harvard Square (you don't even mention Flat Patties, which I think squashes both Bartley's and the Charlie's Kitchen burger like a grape), but you do your argument no favors by including so many places that clearly aren't in or in some cases even particularly near Harvard Square. And the issue isn't really the food so much as it is that so much of the uniqueness and charm of the area is gone.

        1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps
          a
          autopi Dec 18, 2007 06:49 AM

          fair enough, but that's a different point from what the OP was responding to. i mean i agree that harvard sq is essentially an upscale outdoor shopping mall like they have in the burbs. and i deplore that too. but that's a distinct issue from whether or not it is a "culinary wasteland."

          it's also true that some of the places listed are rather a fair ways apart, and not necessarily "harvard square." but then, so are a lot of places that get lumped into "jamaica plain"--i mean, zon's is over a mile and a half from dogwood, but both are considered "JP." a mile and a half from the harvard square t stop probably gets you to most of the places listed.

      2. sailormouth Dec 18, 2007 06:46 AM

        Harvard Square's problem is not that it doesn't have some good and interesting places to eat, it's problem is that it is drowning in drech. I like most of the places you mentioned, and, as HB mentioned, some of those you mentioned are not in HS but elsewhere.

        There are plenty of places I really like in the Square, but work needs to be done.

        And yes, like a big fat grape under hobnailed boots on a fat man, Flat Patties crushes them all.

        1. gini Dec 18, 2007 07:08 AM

          You’ve made quite an effort here and that’s admirable. Onto your food observations:
          I like Bartley’s, but the burger at O’Sullivan’s is a softball-shaped hunk of meat served on a rapidly disintegrating bun. Service is sweet and I’ve become quite fond of their steak tips, but their burger – no thanks.
          Upstairs on the Square does serve a very nice brunch as well as a lovely tea service, but their dinner options are less than inspiring. On a recent visit there, my friend’s salad was composed mostly of over-sugared cherries and sour butternut squash. She was not amused.
          Chez Henri’s bar has been good to me too.
          Craigie Street Bistrot is my go-to for higher-end dining in Harvard. A girl can’t eat there every night though.
          For sandwiches, don’t forget about Hi-Rise in Harvard.
          I like the Sicilian at Pinocchio’s too. Armando’s is not in Harvard Square, but I like their plain slices.
          Charlie’s Kitchen is a pretty great dive, I agree, but not really a destination for anyone not within 2 miles of Harvard Square. Cambridge Common is really inconsistent for me – sometimes I’ve found hairs and unidentified objects in my food. I like to stick with things that go into the fryolator (fries, tatertots) and/or the beer.
          Cambridge 1 is reliable, but again, not something I’d go out of my way for.
          Rosie’s baked goods are often rock hard. Also, they’re in Porter Square, not Harvard. I’d rather go to Burdick’s. In fact, I mostly want to go to Burdick’s all the time. Especially at this time of year.
          All of the Thai, Indian, Korean/Japanese places I’ve been to at Harvard have been mediocre, good at best. They’re ok if that’s the only option you’ve got, but again, not something to go out of your way for.
          Casablanca is consistently good.
          Zoe’s is in Porter. Formaggio is in Huron Village. Porter Exchange Mall is in Porter. I like ‘em all a lot.
          You’re right: you’re not going to starve in Harvard, but it’s not someplace I’d steer folks to for great chow. There are far better neighborhoods in Boston/Cambridgeville to go chowing in.

          37 Replies
          1. re: gini
            heathermb Dec 18, 2007 07:14 AM

            I've really come to enjoy sitting at the bar or in the lounge area at Monday Club Bar (downstairs at Upstairs on the Square). Their burger has become one of my favorites and I just love the tomato soup / grilled cheese combo - especially when the weather's like this.

            Also, I discovered Pinnochio's only about two months ago and thank goodness or else I'd be twice my size had I been going there these last seven years!

            1. re: heathermb
              gini Dec 18, 2007 07:20 AM

              Thanks for the tip on the Monday Club Bar - I haven't been there yet and their burger and sandwich sounds just up my ally!

              1. re: gini
                t
                terrycatch Dec 18, 2007 09:11 AM

                As with so much about Boston, talking about Harvard Square requires qualifications and context. No, it's not what it use to be...but what is, in terms of lifestyle amenities. That caveat notwithstanding beside the point, Harvard Square is the only piece of Boston that consistently provides the sense of energy, fun, and excitement that even comes close to what we love about our favorite global cities. The restaurants? They may not measure up to New York or London, but the prospect of oysters and a salad at the bar at Harvest or the steak and eggs at Om will do us quite nicely of an evening.

                1. re: terrycatch
                  gini Dec 18, 2007 09:31 AM

                  "Harvard Square is the only piece of Boston that consistently provides the sense of energy, fun, and excitement that even comes close to what we love about our favorite global cities."

                  Seriously? Only Harvard Square accomplishes this?

                  1. re: gini
                    sifsw Dec 18, 2007 09:38 AM

                    Well, if Davis Square is the Paris of Massachusetts, then....

                    Second above on the Monday Club Bar at Upstairs on the Sq.

                    1. re: sifsw
                      finlero Dec 18, 2007 09:52 AM

                      Qualified third for the Monday Club Bar.

                      The innovative appetizers and desserts are particularly excellent. The entrees, while often better than the Soiree dining room upstairs, have tended to impress me less than their bookends.

                      1. re: sifsw
                        yumyum Dec 18, 2007 12:56 PM

                        Actually Somerville is the "Paris of New England".

                        I've been trying to find the actual quotation, but I kid you not. Me, I've always felt that way.

                        1. re: yumyum
                          hiddenboston Dec 18, 2007 01:07 PM

                          Yeah, but what part of Paris? (chortle) Somerville wasn't always a funky destination spot, of course. I still remember the famous Billy Bulger quote from long ago, "Will everyone in Somerville please come out with your hands up."

                          I've always loved Somerville, though, warts and all. And they have about as many good restaurants as Cambridge does, IMO.

                          1. re: hiddenboston
                            yumyum Dec 18, 2007 01:10 PM

                            Believe me, I remember when Mike's and the Mount Vernon were pretty much the only game in town. I was young and appalled. But now I am older and as I've matured, so has the Ville's dining scene.

                            *Somerville is for Lovers*

                            1. re: yumyum
                              sifsw Dec 18, 2007 01:28 PM

                              Ah, Somerville IS for lovers--see it is Paris.
                              There have been a few attributions to the Utne Reader as first calling Davis Square "the Paris of the 90's." That's when I first moved there and recall the men drunk with love, falling out of the doorway of Sligo on a snowy winter morning....One year, ArtBeat constructed an Eiffel Tower in the square. Those were back in the days when Rudy's was the fanciest food in the neighborhood.

                              1. re: sifsw
                                yumyum Dec 18, 2007 01:32 PM

                                Utne Reader ... nice one -- I read that article too. But I believe they were referring to another citation. Damn you, google, damn you!

                                Don't forget the romance of being serenaded early in the morning by the sound of the plows after a snow emergency. Do I sound bitter?

                                1. re: yumyum
                                  sifsw Dec 18, 2007 01:54 PM

                                  Oh, caught in my googling! I too curse it today. I thought for sure I'd beat you to the true source, even though I've tried before to find it unsuccessfully. Caught in my Utne pretension.

                                  In summer, the lilting sounds of the parking ticket nymphs and those who gently call out, trying to evade their charms. The youthful exuberance that cascades from the Joshua Tree in the wee hours...

                                  What was the diner that used to be where Diva is? I never went there, nor knew anyone who did, and so wondered if it was a lost treasure or scary or somewhere in between.

                            2. re: hiddenboston
                              finlero Dec 18, 2007 01:22 PM

                              > And they have about as many good restaurants as Cambridge does, IMO.

                              Good restaurants, perhaps. Good, upscale restaurants? Not yet anyway. Nothing against Gargoyles and EVOO, but to me, they can't hold a candle to Cambridge's top tier (Salts, Craigie Street), or even its excellent second tier (Blue Room, Chez Henri). Give it time though...

                              1. re: finlero
                                yumyum Dec 18, 2007 01:27 PM

                                Agree, but I believe the Harvard clientèle (prof's + rich parents + visiting dignitaries = $$$) support the upper tier better than our Tufts analog does. Plus, for upscale, we Somerville folks just drive to Cambridge.

                            3. re: yumyum
                              BarmyFotheringayPhipps Dec 18, 2007 02:09 PM

                              When Allstonian and I were doing the Somerville Christmas Lights tour on Saturday, our trolley guide (Jon Bernhardt, a WMBR cohort of Chowhound's own Joanie) mentioned another nickname I love: "Somerville: The Cambridge of Medford."

                              1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps
                                Joanie Dec 19, 2007 04:36 AM

                                To Barny: I really wanted to take my nephew and niece on that tour w/ Bernsy (my fundraising nemesis) but they were out of town that weekend. We would have been stuck at JP Licks probably for food after, but it sounded like fun. I'll just keep driving by that infamous lit up monstrosity on the J Way.

                                1. re: Joanie
                                  hiddenboston Dec 19, 2007 04:52 AM

                                  That place (Dominic Luberto's house in JP) is the talk of the town today, BTW. Some argument about police details needed there or whatever. I personally like the house on the Lynn Fells Parkway better.

                                  Back to Harvard Square: Am I getting the impression that a number of people like Flat Patties better than Mr. Bartley's? I'm hoping to go to FP in a few weeks, but might need to get there sooner if this is indeed the case. I'm really jonesing for a burger these days...

                                  1. re: hiddenboston
                                    BarmyFotheringayPhipps Dec 19, 2007 07:09 AM

                                    I definitely far prefer Flat Patties to Bartley's, but that should be clarified on two points: I genuinely dislike Bartley's, because I find the burgers greasy and the toppings overkill. Also, the main thing about Flat Patties that I love is that as a native Texan, I have a specific idea of what constitutes a right, just and proper burger: a wide, flat patty on a toasted bun with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, onions and, crucially, mustard instead of mayo, ketchup or any kind of secret sauce. Flat Patties is one of the very few places in town where I can get that, and it's the one that comes closest to my own Platonic ideal of burgerdom.

                                    1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps
                                      hiddenboston Dec 19, 2007 07:17 AM

                                      Ohhh, if only I didn't have two Christmas parties to go to later today.....maybe I'll hit Flat Patties over the weekend. Thanks for the info!

                                    2. re: hiddenboston
                                      yumyum Dec 20, 2007 11:52 AM

                                      NO -- you are not getting this impression!!! Bartley's and Flat Patties are two different animals. I recently tried and like FP's but I *really* like Bartley's ... however it's not fair to say that "people" prefer one over the other. Some people do, but others prefer Bartleys -- "you can't beat their meat."

                                  2. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps
                                    yumyum Dec 20, 2007 11:49 AM

                                    I LOVE that Illuminations tour of my hood. So glad you guys came along and enjoyed it too. Oh, and yeah, a lot of people know Joanie. :-)

                              2. re: gini
                                hiddenboston Dec 18, 2007 10:38 AM

                                What about Jamaica Plain, Davis Square, the North End, the South End, Allston, etc.? I'd consider those all at least as interesting as Harvard Square.

                                1. re: hiddenboston
                                  a
                                  autopi Dec 18, 2007 11:52 AM

                                  as i noted above, from one end of Jamaica Plain to the other is a little over 1.5 miles. that, coincidentally, is about the distance between harvard square and davis square. so if we're comparing apples to apples, davis, porter et seq should be included in "harvard square"--if hyde square, jackson square, forest hills, stony brook are all part of "JP."

                                  and no matter how you slice it, the chow is waaaay thicker on the ground in cambridge/harvard square whatever than it is in JP. not even close, in my opinion.

                                  anyway, the point wasn't that h.sq. is the "most interesting" neighborhood (whatever that means) for boston chowhounds. it was only that it's not nearly as bad as it is often made out to be.

                                  1. re: autopi
                                    hiddenboston Dec 18, 2007 12:06 PM

                                    But in order to consider wrapping those parts of Somerville and Cambridge into a Harvard Square dining discussion, any discussions about dining in the South End of Boston would need to include the North End, Back Bay, Chinatown, Beacon Hill, the Financial District, and Faneuil Hall. Plus, it's possible that Davis Square folks would probably consider Harvard Square to be part of the Davis Square area rather than the other way around.

                                    This all gets very confusing. Maybe we should talk about restaurants in Forge Village, Lanesville, or Brant Rock instead. ;-b

                                    1. re: hiddenboston
                                      a
                                      autopi Dec 18, 2007 12:32 PM

                                      you make a good point. it just shows the relative uselessness of neighborhood by neighborhood comparisons since sizes vary so wildly. (perhaps the outlier here is jp, which is very, very large in comparison to all the other neighborhoods. comparing the north end to harvard square to chinatown etc. is probably not too far off.)

                                    2. re: autopi
                                      BarmyFotheringayPhipps Dec 18, 2007 12:31 PM

                                      "and no matter how you slice it, the chow is waaaay thicker on the ground in cambridge/harvard square whatever than it is in JP. not even close, in my opinion."

                                      If you want to talk thickness on the ground, though, Brighton Ave between Packards Corner and Union Square Allston -- a distance of a little over half a mile -- knocks Harvard Square into a cocked hat.

                                      1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps
                                        a
                                        autopi Dec 19, 2007 05:54 AM

                                        that may be, but that's not the point. the point is that harvard square is not as bad as some make it out to be. the point is not that harvard square is the best chow destination in the city.

                                  2. re: gini
                                    StriperGuy Dec 19, 2007 07:25 AM

                                    Yah, seriously has Terrycatch been to the South End lately?

                                    1. re: StriperGuy
                                      t
                                      terrycatch Dec 20, 2007 07:01 AM

                                      Frequently. I'll take HS in comparison.

                                  3. re: terrycatch
                                    BarmyFotheringayPhipps Dec 18, 2007 09:48 AM

                                    Tourists and students make for "energy, fun and excitement"?

                                    1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps
                                      Bob Dobalina Dec 18, 2007 11:12 AM

                                      They tend to be more active than the suburban soccer moms. ;)

                                      But back to the OP, point well taken as to how good we've got comparatively. I often forget that I am in easy walking distance to such great varieties of chow.

                                      Enjoyed a small Burdick's dark hot chocolate the other cold night, but is it me or did they start making it sweeter than in the past? I seem to remember past cups being almost bitter and grainy with chocolate (which I loved). Has anyone else noticed this?

                                      1. re: Bob Dobalina
                                        finlero Dec 18, 2007 11:57 AM

                                        I've only been to Burdick once since they remodeled, and while I didn't notice a difference in the taste of the hot chocolate, I did notice that the whole place was a disorganized zoo. Everyone on staff appeared to be making a sincere effort to do as best as they could, but there were simply too many orders and not enough time. The extra tables and dearth of ceramic cups have removed a lot of the dignity and refinement of the place. It used to be bustling; now it's just crazy.

                                        Anyway, Bob, if you went at a busy time (as did I), it wouldn't surprise me at all if their quality control was a little lax, ergo causing the chocolate to be sweeter than it should have been.

                                      2. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps
                                        t
                                        terrycatch Dec 19, 2007 07:11 AM

                                        Whoever they are...there is more street life here long into the evening than the other Boston locales mentioned. In one observer's/participant's experience.

                                  4. re: heathermb
                                    MB fka MB Dec 19, 2007 05:38 AM

                                    I dine at the bar there a lot too. I find their salad apps to be a perfect snack. they are good to single diners at the bar, too.

                                  5. re: gini
                                    a
                                    Aphex Dec 19, 2007 03:02 PM

                                    Where is the Hi-Rise in Harvard? I remember seeing a sign when I took a CCAE class but didn't see the actual storefront.

                                    1. re: Aphex
                                      finlero Dec 19, 2007 03:04 PM

                                      A few doors up from Burdick.

                                      -----
                                      Hi-Rise Bread Company
                                      56 Brattle St, Cambridge, MA

                                      1. re: finlero
                                        Allstonian Dec 20, 2007 06:17 AM

                                        In fact, it's in the cafe space in the front end of the second CCAE building. (i.e., not the building next to the Brattle Theatre, but Blacksmith House or whatever it's called, down between Burdick's and the Loeb.)

                                  6. digga Dec 18, 2007 09:33 AM

                                    Anyone have any updates on the old Greenhouse space? Another production from the Miracle of Science group, innit?

                                    5 Replies
                                    1. re: digga
                                      f
                                      figg Dec 18, 2007 09:45 AM

                                      I have no idea but all I want for X-mas is Greenhouse out of there and something decent.

                                      As for the OP, there are some decent HS spots but I think it could be much better. The restaurants are shooting fish in a bucket and they know they can get by with overpriced, mediocre food. I moved here from the bay area and read HS described as Berkeley-esq, which may describe my disappointment.

                                      1. re: figg
                                        l
                                        LAinBoston Dec 18, 2007 11:12 AM

                                        I'm not saying it's NYC or Paris, all I'm saying is I can't really understand when people say "woe is me, I have to meet friends/relatives/coworkers in Harvard Square - too bad the place is worthless." Which happens a lot on this site.

                                        I can't really comment on the overall feel of the place, since I've only been here during the overly commercial days. But I think the food is quite good. Great call on Harvest, by the way. A favorite of mine that I somehow forgot.

                                        And I know some of the places I mentioned are not technically in the square. But they are only a short walk away. And they seem worth mentioning to those who insist they can't find anything else worthwhile.

                                        Clearly there are other great areas in the city. I recently posted my little roundup of JP lunch spots. But I also think Harvard Square deserves better.

                                        1. re: LAinBoston
                                          hiddenboston Dec 18, 2007 11:21 AM

                                          Good point. As is so often the case, the truth is usually in between. Harvard is no longer the interesting, exciting place it used to be, but there really are some good restaurants in the neighborhood. I am looking to do a food trip in Harvard over the coming weeks with one or two other folks, and we have what I think is an impressive list of places from which to sample, including Flat Patties, Pinocchio's, Cambridge 1, Mr. Bartley's, and, just outside of the Square, Chez Henri.

                                          1. re: hiddenboston
                                            p
                                            phoebek Dec 18, 2007 11:55 AM

                                            I'd also recommend--on the other side of the square--Garden at the Cellar. Have only been there a couple of times, but really enjoyed it.

                                          2. re: LAinBoston
                                            MB fka MB Dec 19, 2007 05:59 AM

                                            I lived near the square for a long time and you just get sick of what's available there - and I'm saying in the immediate square, for argument's sake.

                                            There are good cheap eats to be had - Bartley's or Pinocchio's for example - and great fine dining (Harvest, Upstairs on the Square), but I think there is a lack of good low/mid-priced, sit-down and relax for a quick bite type restaurants, esp. if you have picky eaters in the crew (no Tamarind Bay, for example).

                                            There are a lot of restaurants in the square that are in this price-point, but food is just not worth the calories, IMHO: Bertucci's, Fire & Ice, Redline, all the Thai places, Grafton Street, Z Square, etc. Maybe Cambridge 1 is the only middle of the road place (price-wise) that has solid food?

                                            Most often I would end up having a grilled cheese at Shay's (because, of course, I'm drinking pints in Harvard Square!), pho at Le's (even though I think it has gone way downhill), or a snack at the bar at Harvest or Upstairs on the Square (spending more than I wish sometimes). Or I head out to Chez Henri, Cambridge Common, Forest Cafe, which I don't consider Harvard Square, especially not in the winter when that walk can suck.

                                      2. p
                                        pollystyrene Dec 18, 2007 08:58 PM

                                        I agree, LA. While it falls short in the "ethnic" category, Harvard Sq. has good food for almost any mood and price. I'd also add Sandrine's to the Fine Dining list.

                                        1. g
                                          Gabatta Dec 19, 2007 04:03 AM

                                          Good post. I am a big Oxford Spa fan as well. I would also throw in Veggie planet to accomodate our vegetarian friends.

                                          To all the posts lamenting the fall of Harvard Square I'd say that sure it has changed overall (arguably for the worse), but where in America has not over the past 10-20 years. Overall I would say that Harvard Square has actually done a better job resisting the mallinization and big box stores than most areas. The Cambridge Local First ogranization has done a great job promoting local and unique business, making up somewhat for Harvard U's failings in these areas. However none of these comments or discussion really have anything to do with the chow.

                                          1. MaineRed Dec 19, 2007 06:43 AM

                                            I know when we end up in Harvard Square it's a "sigh, let's pick the best of the worst" feeling... Garden in the Cellar is now our default, Charlies for big screens and beer, Casablanca for a nice glass of wine, Legal's for oysters...hop from place to place and you end up with a nice night. yes, it's changed drastically just in my memories (15 years and counting) and mostly for the better but this is my list of complaints:
                                            - increase of chains (can't stand it! *another* Chipotle?! are you kidding me! a Starbucks and Toscanini's is gone?)
                                            - banks, one on every corner still isn't enough
                                            - increase of traffic - both car and human. I can't wait for that area to be ped-only, some day soon...

                                            If there is a Harvard Square committee that tries to preserve what makes (made) HS unique, they have failed miserably. and if there isn't, there should be and i want to be on it :)

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: MaineRed
                                              g
                                              Gabatta Dec 19, 2007 03:04 PM

                                              Take it up with Harvard University. They own most of the real estate, and could make a big difference if they chose to. For instance, the Tasty could still be there had Harvard tried to be accomodating to keep a local landmark in place.

                                            2. Dr.Jimbob Dec 20, 2007 02:24 PM

                                              I may be one of the people who is excessively down on Harvard Square as a culinary destination. I will concede that it has made major strides forward since the '80s when I was a student here. However, I still don't think of it as a destination place, rather a place where I find acceptable places to eat if I'm in the area for a talk or a movie or a concert or a rehearsal. I'm also bemused that a number of the Harvard Square culinary destinations really aren't in Harvard Square, and even though the distances are shorter than in Jamaica Plain, I'd also point out that in JP, many people will use cars to drive back and forth. That's not taken as a given in Cambridge.

                                              I have two observations on this issue: one is that I definitely share MaineRed's sentiment that as the rents have gone slowly up, Harvard Square has progressively evolved from a funky, interesting, characterful and colorful neighborhood into an anonymous strip mall. For me, it was the replacement of the Tasty by Abercrombie and Rhymes-with-Rich and the replacement of Briggs & Briggs (a wonderful music store) with an Adidas store that signaled the real degeneration of the Square. Davis Square now strikes me as having the lively, funky feel that Harvard Square used to have. But it doesn't strike me as an overwhelming place for funkiness or night life (even back in the '80s, the place was creepily dead on any weeknight after 9 or 10 pm, though I think that's more about Boston puritanicalism than something specific to Harvard Square). There was a Boston Globe article recently where Harvard defended their policy on tenant selection, but nothing in the pattern of shops would suggest that anything other than the bottom line drives who gets to rent there.

                                              The other observation that I'll make is that it is often true that major tourist destinations around the world are less than ideal chow destinations. (Think of all the nightmarish multi-lingual mediocrities around pretty much any major tourist destination in Europe, from Sultanahmet in Istanbul to the Latin Quarter and all the really bad riverside joints in Paris.) I understand that with clueless tourists prancing around, there's something of a captive audience that means that anybody with enough slick salesmanship can generate a certain amount of sales, but why a genuinely great culinary destination doesn't blow the competition away mystifies me. Apart, I suppose, from the observation that it takes lots of work to keep a place genuinely great, while mediocrity is quite easy to maintain.

                                              I have a few places that I turn to when I'm in Harvard Square, though I most definitely do not rely on the Square for Chinese food (Zoe's is not even vaugely close or convenient to the Square, and not the best Chinese delivery option IMO anyway, I'd go to Qingdao Garden or MuLan or Shangri La in Belmont before Zoe's). As I say, though, I do concede that things are much better than they were two decades ago.

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