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cool but quiet early dinner in Cambridge?

I'm giving a talk at Harvard in October and as a somewhat scholar of food culture, I've been asked if I have any suggestions. I wanted Craigie but they're totally booked that day. I'd love something that's either been important historically (but is still good) or something that's considered to represent cutting edge Cambridge cooking now. I like Oleana but it's a little too far from where we'll be (I need to catch a train after).

It would help if it were a place where conversation can be heard.

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  1. Did you check on Open Table or did you call? Sometimes you can be lucky by calling even though Open Table shows no availability.

      1. re: LeoLioness

        Bondir is in the same area as Oleana.

        1. re: LeoLioness

          Second for Bondir- amazing food, beautiful room

        2. I think at Craigie you can sit at the bar without reservations. They even have nicer tables in the bar area that do not require reservations I believe. I'd call and ask how that works. If it's an early dinner, and you arrived just before they opened, you'd probably be fine.

          1 Reply
          1. re: ikt

            The tables in the bar area do require reservations, but the bar itself doesn't, and they're my favorite seats in the house. You'll probably want to get there by 5:15 to get one, though (they open at 5:30 and a line has generally formed outside by the time they do). It may be tough to have a good conversation if there are more than two of you.

          2. how many people are in your group?

            agree about trying to call rather than using opentable -- no place allows all slots open on-line.

            check out west bridge in kendall -- about a 10 minute walk from the red line.

            1. 'historical' or 'cutting edge' are the sticking points i think, for harv sq that is. Park and Russell House both get good CH reviews. Rialto and Upstairs on the Square hardly ever are CH mentioned but you might want to check their menus.(The latter is prob the oldest fine dining spot in HSq, perhaps bested by Harvest. both 30+ yrs. i think. But not the history of say Jacob Wirth or Union Oyster House, both in Boston.

              But there is a really easy solution. I wouldn't hesitate to suggest a 10 minute cab from Harv Sq to Strip T's in Watertown, chef'd by Momofuku 6 yr veteran. 200+posts (mostly) raves on this thread.

              If you go, you HAVE to order the grilled romaine dish described here:
              They are always solid booked because they are both tiny and really the rage , but if you book for early, it shouldn't be a problem (and they keep walk- in tables as well). Ask for Juin or Jon when you call.

              but maybe you live in nyc and have had your fill of momofuku.

              Otherwise, Bergamot is very inventive and close to Harv Divinity School (up Kirkland). Others, but still in Area Four- near Oleana- are Catalyst and West Bridge for recently opened and very representative of latest trends> farmhouse cooking,farm and sea to table, etc.
              From them, it's a 5 min walk to Kendall Sq T(red line to South Station) or 15 min cab ride to So.Station.

              There are recent threads on all the places i mentioned, so use Search in upper right corner of page, to find them.
              Do let us know how it goes!

              6 Replies
              1. re: opinionatedchef

                strip t's has grand food but it is not by any means quiet. had dinner there last night and the four of us left much earlier than we normally would because we were tired of shouting across the table at each other. Salts would be my choice for a quiet dinner, or Rendezvous. If coming into Kendall Square is an option, consideer EVOO or West Bridge. Rialto and Harvest are old, established and of the two I much prefer Rialto. Cambridge Street isn't easy to access if you aren't driving but East by Northeast has innovative asian fusion food that is very interesting. As between Bergamot and Bondir, both good suggestions, Bondir is by far the more interesting and the quieter venue.

                1. re: teezeetoo

                  i really like Rialto and do not understand why it does not get more attention here. Monday's dollar oysters are a real treat.

                  1. re: cambridgedoctpr

                    we used to love it but we are bad-tempered people who had a terrible restaurant week there several years ago (we took rw as an opportunity to introduce some friends to it so that made our disappointment more profound) - i didn't expect the full treatment but i felt you shouldn't do rw at all if you don't show up and just mail in the performance. so we took it out of our rotation and haven't returned, except for the infrequent stop at the bar for a bite before the regattabar

                    1. re: teezeetoo

                      restaurant week is hit and miss. It is still my favorite italian place in Boston - along with Coppa. But i need to get to Erblauce

                  2. re: teezeetoo

                    TZ, i'm surprised to hear that you think Bondir is more interesting food than Bergamot. We've been both places, and while I felt the portions were too small at Bergamot, I found the actual preparations to be more inventive/intriguing than Bondir where the chef does not use much if any wine, spirits, cheeses, spices/herbs to flavor his food, wanting to let the foodstuffs speak for themselves, unabetted. Not your eperience?

                    1. re: opinionatedchef

                      I much prefer Bondir (except I like Bergamot's bar) - the food is, to me, light years more inventive, the combination of available ingredients leading to constant and interesting change, and the chef infinitely more daring. while not everything works, i'm always intrigued to see what will appear (have a ravishingly good seckel pear salad recently with an almond vinaigrette that actually surprised my palate which is a grand thing). I find Bergamot ok, better on the apps than on the mains as is the case with a lot of restaurants, and not in the same class at all as Bondir.

                2. I would suggest Ten Tables in Cambridge. It is very close to Harvard Sq and the food is excellent.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: RoyRon

                    i think ten tables is good, but nowhere even near the culinary skill level of bergamot.

                  2. I haven't been to Bergamot myself, but the walk there will take you past Julia Child's home (the kitchen interior was transported to the Smithsonian) and Savenor's, her grocery & butcher. She has signed the sidewalk in front of Savenor's with a "Bon Appetit". So you'd get some historical.

                    Upstairs at the Square has been in Harvard Square 30 years, previously above the Hasty Pudding, owned by the same lovely and hospitable pair of women. I have always had great delicious experiences there, and it's interesting and festive, though would def fall into historical rather than cutting edge.

                    I'm assuming you're going with a group of faculty types? I think you'd be happy at Rendezvous in Central.

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: dulce de leche

                      this, this and this - in that order.

                      (Upstairs gets some flack from the board, but I like it.)

                      1. re: dulce de leche

                        Bondir is a good choice.
                        I'm a fan of Upstairs on the Square. I've been there several times and never a complaint. They like to give you the dining experience so plan on at least two hours.

                        1. re: libertywharf

                          If you decide to go to Upstairs on the Square, check out Charlotte Silver's book about growing up at its predecessor, Upstairs at the Pudding, for history and gossip.


                        2. re: dulce de leche

                          Upstairs on the Square does have a great history, but I would also point out that its menu is hardly stuffy or stodgy. You're not going to be eating clam chowder and hardtack. Depending on your tastes, it could appeal to both desires here.

                          1. re: FinnFPM

                            had a fantastic swordfish dish there this summer!

                        3. i second the bergamot and bondir recs and add rendezvous and catalyst to the list. all in that farm fresh circle.

                          1. Salts is IMHO better than most of the restaurants mentioned, satisfies your criteria, & across the street from Cragie.

                            1. I had a fantastic meal recently at Rendezvous... great food and the best service I've seen in a while. and you could probably jump from the restaurant into the T in Central after.

                              1. All good suggestions so far. If your aim is to stay close to Harvard, I'd add TW Food into the mix.