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Apr 8, 2010 06:17 PM

Dinner at Russell House Tavern

Had an awesome time at the opening of the new restaurant tonight. Ceasar salad was great, pate was awesome, chocolate dessert was to die for. Bartenders were not not that That attentive though. Beautiful place!! Welcome to the square!!!

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  1. Just ate there tonight. Place was hopping at 9:30 on a Monday night. Service was efficient, although the front of the house seemed a bit disorganized (and not helped by a group of people standing outside smoking and blocking the door, although the restaurant can hardly be blamed for that). The atmosphere inside is I guess a kind of modern take on a pub; on the dark side and somewhat loud, but comfortable, with a both an upstairs and downstairs bar that look to be a nice addition to the Square.

    We had the fried poached egg to start, then grilled bluefish with orange and fennel salad for me, and cheesy baked pasta with ramps, mushrooms, and peas for my DC. The fried poached egg was a revelation: a perfectly soft-poached egg inside a fried, crunchy exterior, served on brioche with pancetta. A very creative and well-executed take on a classic flavor combination. The bluefish was fresh and perfectly cooked (moist and flavorful, not dried out at all); the pasta was rich and cheesy and flavorful. One app to split, two entrees, and one beer came to just under $60.

    Overall I was quite pleased. Our one (very minor) complaint was that the descriptions on the menu of the food items were not comprehensive (the pasta had mushrooms in it which were not listed on the menu), so if you have allergies or food dislikes it would be wise to ask in advance.

    1. Wow - we went there last week and had an amazing experience. Four of us and we ordered just about everything on the menu (okay, that's overstating it) but everything looked so good. Some stand outs were definitely the farm egg, the liver mousse, the lobster pot, the salt and pepepr shrimp, the crab cake, and OMG, the serrano ham dish with the bruleed cheese might be one of the most delicious and creative things I've eaten in a long time. Entrees were equally great - perfectly cooked fish, the pork trio was incredible, and delicious pizzas - thin crust and creative flavors. Chef Scelfo has not disappointed and continues to live up to his foodie reputation. I'm excited to go back and will report on all the other things we want to try.

      1. Had dinner at Russell House on Friday evening. Had been once in the past to have a drink and some oysters at the bar. Having never left the upstairs bar, I was surprised at how big downstairs was! We were seated right away and the waiter came by to offer still or sparkling (that's a nice touch). We ordered a couple cocktails, and waited....and waited...they eventually arrived, after our first course, about 25 minutes after having sat down. That was disappointing. The food, however, did not disappoint. We had the salt and pepper shrimp, the egg, a pork and walnut terrine (awesome - served with an herb gelee), the pork sausage pizza, and some fries. All was really well seasoned and cooked. We ordered a bit more fried food than we had meant to (our own fault!), but it was really solid. We also had a nice pinot noir from Cali, and a meritage as well. Overall, a nice dinner with many inventive options and great wait service. My only complaints were the length of time we had to wait for a cocktail (which is something I have read in other reviews, so it seems to be a persistent issue), and the atmosphere downstairs being a bit "too much" in my opinion. It's lovely, don't get me wrong, I just think the upstairs is more our speed. We will definitely be back, and we look forward to that.

        Russell House Tavern
        14 JFK Street, Cambridge, MA 02138

        25 Replies
        1. re: bgraves

          the servers have to go upstairs for drinks which adds quite a bit of transit time, even if the bartender is lightning fast.

          was in for a quick drink and a bite last night at the bar. had the pork rillette which was fantastic, although slightly under-salted for my taste. i like the space, although it feels a bit like "pottery barn does a bistro" and even though less than half full was very noisy.

          bartender was friendly and attentive and the food my neighbors got looked great and i'm looking forward to my next visit.

          seems like a great addition (finally!) to the square.

          1. re: hotoynoodle

            Definitely a loud space. Odd that servers have to go upstairs for cocktails when the downstairs bar is bigger; there's no service station at the downstairs bar? How odd.

            In general, the barstaff is slower than average, but I'm willing to trade off a little wait time for a place that is aiming high, using quality spirits and fresh ingredients, and not free-pouring. I suspect it will take a while for the whole staff to get up to the bar manager's skill level. I like the $5 cask wines from Westport Rivers: that's a good deal.


            1. re: MC Slim JB

              i can't say that happens all night, but i did see it happen more than once and wondered myself about it. could be a stocking issue?

              1. re: MC Slim JB

                When I was there last night (at the bar) they were bringing my beers up from the downstairs. Go figure.

                1. re: jgg13

                  were you that really drunk guy that touched my arm with both hands and made me jump out of my skin? :P

                  ok, sounds for sure like each bar has different stock. that would drive me nuts as a server.

                  1. re: hotoynoodle

                    Haha no. He got the boot not too long after you left. He tried to take the money you left and use it to pay for his drink. We were the couple on the other side of the corner w/ the woman you were talking to in between us.

                    1. re: jgg13

                      oh! how were your burgers? they looked awesome!

                      1. re: hotoynoodle

                        Very tasty, although the poached egg stole the show. I'd had the egg on the anti-benedict for brunch but not the full dish ... amazing. For the burger, this might not do it the justice that I mean to imply but as the bun started soaking up some of the juices it almost reminded me of the biscuit in a sausage biscuit. The muffin had a biscuity texture, and the nooks & crannies were soaking up the grease and other goodness. The burger itself was a perfect MR, and the bacon & onions were really good.

                        Wasn't my favorite burger ever, but for $10 I think it stands as one of the better price/performance around. We got the fries w/ the burger, and the aioli it came with was really good too.

                        1. re: jgg13

                          thanks for the info! i don't get to the square these days much anymore (since it's become a pedestrian equivalent of a shopping mall -- just full of chains), but this will be a must-try soon again for me.

                          watching the plates passing by, i was amazed at the portion sizes for the prices.

                      2. re: jgg13

                        Tip-stealers should not just be booted out, but flogged.


                        1. re: MC Slim JB

                          honestly, i was surprised he got served at all.

                          1. re: MC Slim JB

                            what hotoynoodle said. he was definitely drunk, may or may not have been under other influences and/or "not all there", and may or may not have had an actual address to call home. once hoytoy left he started eying the money pile - to take the optimistic view he might have thought he was helping the bartender by handing her the money for hoytoy but it really didn't look that way. The gf told the bartender that it was HTN's money and that's when they ousted him. THey'd been watching him for a while.

                    2. re: MC Slim JB

                      While sitting at the downstairs bar, I've witnessed the bartender making drinks for tables, so I'm not too sure about that.

                    3. re: hotoynoodle

                      That must have been an unusual night, as I've visited Russell many times and while I prefer the upstairs to down, I would bet more money than I have that not only do the bartenders downstairs make drinks for tables downstairs, there is also a service station at the downstairs bar. As you walk downstairs and look to the end of the bar on your left, the service window sits almost directly across from the last seat.

                      In terms of beer, there is indeed an upstairs/downstairs dynamic. However, it is in the opposite direction. They do not have every beer they offer on tap available at the upstairs bar, so if someone happens to order one of those they have to retrieve it from the downstairs bar.

                      All that said, I almost always sit at a bar so can't speak to the speed of the table service.

                    4. re: bgraves

                      I was there Friday night, too, and had a very similar experience. Service was slow, but food was very good.

                      1. re: pemma

                        This place is clearly my favorite new restaurant for the moment.....we went there a few months ago and had a terrific experience. Went again Sat night and had the same great experience. Food was excellent, service was TOP NOTCH --everyone --from those in the kitchen to the front of the house, to our waiter --- clearly passionate about good food and drink and it shows. That delicious fried poached egg may be my most favorite Boston dish ever. Really really good. I love everything about the place --the casual vibe, the passion of the employees, and of course the really really good food.

                        1. re: twentyoystahs

                          what really strikes me is how many recently opened places are trying to wander this same path, fare and drinks wise, like stoddard's, and just not hitting the mark.. grafton group knows their stuff.

                          1. re: hotoynoodle

                            I dislike Grafton Group's other restaurants, only patronize Temple Bar since Scelfo's hiring and RHT. So I credit Scelfo more than that restaurant group for RHT's success.

                            Stoddard's missing the mark shouldn't have been a total surprise, as it's from the people behind Ivy, another place that has never thrilled me, though I've judged Stoddard's on its own merits.

                            In the same general neighborhood, I think the success of Garden at The Cellar and The Gallows is largely built on their kitchens. Nobody's really hitting a home run from a bartending/beer/wine perspective, though they're all solid.

                            I like the food at the Woodward alright, but the scene is off-putting, the prices seem to bear a hotel premium, and its bartending overall isn't everything I'd dreamed it would be.

                            Deep Ellum scores better for beer and cocktails than food; Lord Hobo gets its highest marks as a beer bar; the food, while decent, seems overpriced to me, and it's another one where I've found the cocktail-making underwhelming.

                            Green Street still does a pretty fine job all around. Highland Kitchen probably deserves a mention in this category, even if they don't style themselves in the gastropub category.


                            Highland Kitchen
                            150 Highland Ave, Somerville, MA 02143

                            Deep Ellum Bar
                            477 Cambridge St, Allston, MA 02134

                            Lord Hobo
                            92 Hampshire St, Cambridge, MA 02141

                            1. re: MC Slim JB

                              even though i dislike the food at grafton st. and think of their other locations (other than temple) merely as "bars", all their spots are insanely busy, so there must be something.

                              i'm a laggard about the gallows and have yet to get over there.

                              when eastern standard opened, it hit like a meteorite because there was basically nothing else like it. only chains and clip joints in the north end were hitting that price point. the food was not a revelation, but well executed to wide appeal. then they managed to get over the moon with amazing bartending and a very interesting wine list. (the latter is not as good as it once was, but still ok).

                              although i know not everybody can have jackson running their cocktail program, this is not a difficult formula.

                              your list does not include marliave which aspired to this same sort of thing and which i have given up on entirely.

                              1. re: hotoynoodle

                                Marliave is always just meh for me. I want it to be better, and I love the oyster happy hour, but the service is lacking and it's just not very friendly.

                                Folks at RHT have been genuinely nice everytime I've gone, if a little slow at the bar. And I'm a sucker for Scelfo at Temple.

                                Gallows has the same genuinely happy to see you vibe, and the price point works. I'm happy that someone has hit on this formula .. it's been a long time coming here.

                                10 Bosworth Street, Boston, MA 02108

                                1. re: hotoynoodle

                                  Oh, come now, we all know "successful" doesn't necessarily mean "any damned good"! [Cough, Cheesecake Factory, cough.]

                                  Marliave's original concept was tilted much higher; even the cafe menu was more ambitious and pricier. It was "old-timey food done better" downstairs more than gastropub, luxury neo-Continental upstairs. I still like the cafe menu there, and the bartending can be good in spots, but it's still a frustratingly inconsistent experience. A lot of potential not quite being realized.


                                  10 Bosworth Street, Boston, MA 02108

                                2. re: MC Slim JB

                                  I love the physical location at Grafton, but the food is mediocre at best and the bartenders there are not very nice and serve some of the worst pours in all of greater Boston.

                                  I do like Temple Bar for Scelfo chow and drinks most of the time, though the service is iffy.

                                  1. re: MC Slim JB

                                    Yea, I really didn't have any high expectations for RHT given Grafton's other places. I mean Redline?

                                    I'm still a tiny bit jaded since they really just took the best gastropub features and dumped a lot of money on a nice location. They just had to get a little tiny raw bar in there to riff on ESK, eh? Still, good is good, but I haven't patronized them as much I would have had they not blatantly copied everything.

                                    i think Lord Hobo's mussel app for 10 bucks is a really good deal, but that's all i really look at, ha ha.

                                    Lord Hobo
                                    92 Hampshire St, Cambridge, MA 02141

                                    1. re: tatsu

                                      That raw bar looks silly as all getout, completely shoe horned in. Doesn't really bother me, I don't really do seafood so not a big deal one way or the other.

                                      I was completely apprehensive about RHT - both due to the lineage (although I've been told that Temple got much less douchy/sucky in the several years since I've been) and how many of these joints miss the mark pretty badly (post 390, marliave).

                                      Still, I'm a fan. Take the burger for instance - not a world beater, but it also came with a ginormous bit of tasty fries w/ a great aioli for $10. These days a $9-11 burger is pretty common even at mediocre spots. Throw in some real awesomeness (the crispy poached egg, for instance), decent enough drink making (I like their riff on the fort point a lot), nice beer list, and some humor (the 'harvard square happy meal' - burger, brooklyn lager, fernet shot, or the brunch special eye opener that was a chartreuse/beer concoction, side of bacon + shot of fernet) and I'm sold.

                                      1. re: jgg13

                                        I'm with you -- I HATE Harvard Square and was not that interested in RHT, but I'd follow Scelfo to the moon and what he's done there is really good.

                                        A bunch of us had a meal there recently, probably ate one of everything off the menu, and everyone was satisfied.

                                        My only (tiny) complaint is the bar service can be really slow. I don't usually notice such things but I remember saying "hey, it's been like 30 minutes and you still dont have your drink" last time.

                                        Still, I'll go back -- which is saying something for the Square.

                          2. Really really enjoyed my dinner there when it opened. Here's my review online:

                            Russell House Tavern
                            14 JFK Street, Cambridge, MA 02138

                            1. Stopped in for drinks on Saturday and had a great time. I've been here for food but never just for drinks and had some of the best service I've had in Boston in a while. Love the complementary, in-house filtered sparkling water, it's eco friendly and doesn't start the night off with that off-putting, "oh you just want tap?" feeling. Our waiter was very knowledgeable and specific ie "You want a rye old fashioned? Would you like new school with orange/cherry muddled in or old school without the fruit? Any preference on the Rye?" Wow, why can't more waiters be this passionate, knowledgeable, and friendly?

                              When I told him we had a few friends coming, he asked how many so he could grab and reserve a bigger table. When my girlfriend mentioned she was hungry but not really in the mood for something heavy, he brought out some simple crostinis to nosh on and tide us over. Drinks were very solid (albeit a bit strong/could've been mixed a little longer).

                              When I think of great service I think of feeling taken care of and that's exactly what this was.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Klunco

                                Went there for lunch recently. This was late, around 3:30 (they close at 4 for lunch), which I'm sure explained it. But -- we were served two OK sandwiches (brioche toasted until it was tough around the edges, lots and lots of melted cheese, tomato; crab cake that was good but very salty and fried with nothing to cut it) with huge mounds of old fries. You could tell my husband's were from the very bottom of the batch because his were dark brown and hard. Mine were just lukewarm and limp. We almost had to chase down our waiter for the check. I know it was the end of the lunch service and not the best time to go, but I was so unimpressed I doubt I will ever be back. If you're going to do a half-assed job, just close up earlier.