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Looking for replacement in Harvard Sq. for Chez Henri, Casablanca, etc.

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The last one of my regular haunts in the HS area, Chez Henri, closed a few weeks ago, and I'm at a loss... I've never managed to warm up to Grafton St., or Sandrines; I like the Harvest, but I can afford it only rarely... Upstairs on the Square might have done the job, but it will be closing soon too.

The only other place that I've found that's in the same wavelength as the ones mentioned above is Bergamot, which I like a lot, but I think it's outside of the Harvard Square orbit. (Also, as with Harvest, I can't afford it very often.)

I'm open to suggestions.

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  1. The Abbey will be opening in February (fingers crossed). If you don't mind going outside the HS orbit, I always find Highland Kitchen to be good, though it has a different vibe than Chez Henri.

    2 Replies
    1. re: tartandfit

      HK also has a version of a Cubano, which is ok so long as you do not compare it to the ones you've had at Chez Henri.

      1. re: Bob Dobalina

        And then there's Dave's (Pasta) in Davis Sq. where the Cubano is as great or greater than Chez Henri!

    2. The Red House is pretty cozy: not fabulous but solid and comfortable.

      1. Do a CH search for Park. Lots of positive posts about it. We like it alot. Same owners as Russell Tavern, which a number of CHs have liked too. Even though Park is large, it has intimate sections and is dark and comfortable for conversation. While it is a hike, like Bergamot, Ten Tables on Craigie- has its fans, as does Garden in the Cellar on Mass Ave down from Putnam. Also, the Casablanca space's new restnt is soon to open iirc.

        6 Replies
        1. re: opinionatedchef

          we had a very meh dinner at park, which included our waiter arguing with me about corked wine, 3 out of 6 dishes being mediocre at best, and then same waiter disappearing when we were upfront about having a show at 8:00. we finally had to get a manager so we could pay and get out.

          just had lunch at russell house and was shocked to see all kinds of summer cocktails still on the drinks list, watermelon on the tuna tartare app and the wine list was dreadful. i went hoping to get charcuterie (which i've loved in the past) but it's not available at lunch. i don't get that? not like it's made a la minute. our server was lovely though.

          rialto has a very affordable bar menu and $1 oysters in the lounge on mondays

          1. re: hotoynoodle

            I've wondered if there would be a drop off at RH when scelfo left ...

            1. re: jgg13

              I hadn't been to RH in quite a while so my husband and I decided to grab a burger and glass of wine a couple of weeks ago. Our server was fine and we got our wine pretty quickly, and then literally two minutes later we got our burgers. They were dry and cooked medium-well as opposed to med-rare. Fries were fine.

              We were so turned off that we didn't even want them refired. The only explanation I can think of to have them come out so quickly and be so dry is that the burgers were par-cooked and then finished at the last minute.

              No thanks, and I wouldn't be able to drag my husband back unless it appears that something has improved. Hard to imagine that such a terrible burger would come out of the kitchen if Scelfo was still there.

              1. re: bear

                The food has gone way down hill recently in my opinion as well. The fried egg app is OK, and the charcuterie (when you can get it), but the rest of the menu is off limits now. We had a flatbread the time before last that was nearly inedible (was removed from bill).

                1. re: kimfair1

                  at that same lunch one of my dc's had a flatbread and it was so gloppy with cheese it looked too revolting to even have a bite.

              2. re: jgg13

                The food and consistency at RH was in decline before Scelfo's departure. All of the Grafton Group restaurants trend toward just enough above average to maintain their business unfortunately.

          2. Russell House Tavern is very enjoyable.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Trumpetguy

              +1. Russell House Tavern is one of my favourite restaurants in Cambridge.

            2. In the vicinity of Chez Henri, the West Side Lounge is worth trying. Very reasonable prices and cozy atmosphere. If that doesn't work for you, Temple Bar is down the block, also worth a shot. In the Square, I second OP's on Russell House and Park.

              4 Replies
              1. re: katzzz

                If the West Side Lounge counts as being in Harvard Sq., then I'd also add Guilia. And right in the Square is Toscano.

                1. re: katzzz

                  Has something happened to the management and staff at West Side Lounge? I tried to have a drink here last night and everything seems different - the menus are laminated and all prices end in .95. My prosecco was flat. The craft cocktails seem to be less crafty. Is something up?

                  1. re: gini

                    Uh oh. That doesn't sound good.

                    1. re: gini

                      The .95 is a sign of having no clue.

                  2. Thanks for all the suggestions! They give me much to work with.

                    BTW, I'm not sure what the "restaurant economics" of the HS area are like these days, but it sure looks depressed to me. I'm nostalgic of those days not so long ago when the problem was to choose from the many great options available...

                    I noticed recently that Om (probably the first casualty of 2013) has been replaced by a Shake Shack, swarming with (what certainly looks like) minimum-wage employees, and somehow getting around the rules against fast-food joints in HS. I wonder if this is a sign of things-to-come for the area.

                    25 Replies
                    1. re: kynnjo

                      Is Subway Sandwiches (in the Garage) not considered fast food? Or is Shake Shack in the same vein as Tasty Burger?

                      1. re: yarm

                        not to mention dunkin donuts, which has been there for a long, long time....... I actually think the food in harvard square is better than it's ever been overall. Chez Henri was a great bar but had been going down hill service wise for a long time and while I loved Casablanca for years, the food and the atmosphere, the energy just wasn't there anymore. Will always miss it, however,

                        Yes there are several new fast food type burger places, but Bertuccis left since the landlord wanted a non chain and if you want the old dives, I still like charlie's kitchen for nostalgia. Panera is far from a good addition. The OP has gotten some great suggestions for new hangouts. It's not the same Harvard Square, in good and bad ways. I miss the bookstores more than the old hangouts, except for Casablanca.

                        Om is not great loss. Good for a while and then downhill. I've been around since 1973...and I still like Grendel's for a snack, the fireplace,at off hours.

                        I agree with the OP about Harvest; however, going to the bar and ordering a few small plates from the bar menu can work.

                        1. re: Madrid

                          I'm surprised by your assertion about the food, (btw, what new places account for your assessment?) but it's not just the food: atmosphere is just as important. I too was a Casablanca diehard, and kept coming back even when the quality of the food started to decline, just because I liked the place... (BTW, I miss the bookstores too.)

                          1. re: kynnjo

                            Russell house takes the food to a new level. I've only been twice but loved the food. City wide, the food has gotten so much better since the 70's -80's. In college used to go some muffin place near if not where Crema is now. Big difference! It was the Pewter Pot, I think. So I guess i have a longer view of it.

                            I'd love to try Park, and I did like West Lounge the few times I tried it. Grafton St years ago had an excellent seared raw tuna that was a steal at the price...long ago. Loved Upstairs at the Pudding especially the roof deck and creeping up the old staircase to the main dining room before they had to move. Did not like the Upstairs at the Square. Atmosphere completely different and kind of gaudy. Harvest opened when I was in college and was a like having Chez Panisse in Cambridge but I could not begin to afford it. Could not afford it even for a snack until I came back decades later.

                            Everything is louder and brighter......there's not that distinctive atmosphere anymore, which I still loved at Casablanca even when the bar was full. Same for Chez Henri bar....even full and noisy, still felt intimate in some kind of way. Didn't like the dining room at all.

                            I'm obviously a lot older than you are as I remember the HS
                            food as being marginal and awful.....I really miss most of all the Spanish food where Orinoco is now. Looking back on it, I think it was mostly canned and microwaved...but the atmosphere was so much more meaningful.

                            1. re: Madrid

                              Iruna's generous "filet a la Baronessa" medium rare swimming in butter, garlic, lemon & fresh parsley surrounded by potatoes in an earthen crock was all we ever ordered for our main - a steal at $12.95 back in the day. This included a simple side salad & crusty bread. Usually started with an app of bubbling hot baby eels in garlic butter.

                              1. re: Taralli

                                Yes!!! Iruna, and the outdoor patio was delightful. I do like Orinoco so this is so far from a slam on them, I'm glad they are in Harvard Square in that space....a good inheritance. But Iruna was old Harvard Square bohemian. Not much bohemian left. Those days are gone.

                                1. re: Madrid

                                  The Beat Hotel is neo- bohemian :)

                                2. re: Taralli

                                  You just took me back 30 years. I probably sound like an old coot, but those were the days. Not that the days today are any bad, mind you, but those were the days.

                                  1. re: Uncle Yabai

                                    The Blue Parrot, or the Idler... In the aptly named Idler, I often saw the *waiters* reading the paper or even *playing chess* with each other, and more than once I had to get up and walk up to one of them to get their attention...

                                    BTW, I loved Iruña, but it's not the kind of all-purpose, all-occasion, default haunt (à la Casablanca) I feel is in shorter supply now than before.

                                    1. re: kynnjo

                                      ah yes, the Sundae Greenstreet, where i learned how coffee and banana flavors go well together. And then there was Henry V; and the kosher deli that Dershowitz co-owned, and The Voyager, and the Orson Welles, Peasant Stock, and.....

                                      1. re: opinionatedchef

                                        Mavens, when the Winthrop Square redevelopment had just been finished. Two doors down from Caffe Paradiso.

                                    2. re: Uncle Yabai

                                      Not really for the chow, but the Cafe Pamplona still has that old Harvard Square bohemian taste...

                                      1. re: Uncle Yabai

                                        To go back even further, in 1969 I was stuck in the Harvard Square T stop in a blizzard listening to two homeless men discussing the relative merits of the Waldorf vs. Hayes-Bickford cafeterias. Conclusion: the toast was better at the Waldorf.

                                    3. re: Madrid

                                      I think your muffin place may have been "Mug 'n Muffin"...my hangout as well for a while. Breakfast 3 times a week right after applied math. And as other CH's have pointed out, the Spanish place was Iruna. Remember Blue Parrot and Ha Penney (downstairs from Blue Parrot)? During the blizzard of '78, Blue Parrot was not only open for business, but someone in the kitchen was a serious cross-country skier and hauled fresh produce from the wholesale market in Chelsea. And does anyone remember Oxford Ale House, formerly in the Border Cafe space?

                                      1. re: MaxEntropy

                                        max, remember all that, but i spent alot of time at the Idler, which i thought was under the blue parrot?

                                        1. re: opinionatedchef

                                          The Idler was on the same block - so was Ferdinand's - but MaxEntropy is correct that the Ha'Penny was downstairs from the Blue Parrot. Both are mentioned in this fun read from the Harvard Crimson from September 1974:
                                          http://www.thecrimson.com/article/197...

                                          1. re: Allstonian

                                            Ah yes, Ferdinand's! Ha' Penney shared a kitchen with Blue Parrot -or was it Ferdinand's? - at lunch they would offer a special or two from upstairs at a very reasonable tariff - hence very popular with students! I fondly remember the early days at Harvest, the great food and all the great chefs who passed through that kitchen. I still have furniture and fabric from D/R. We owe Ben and Jane Thompson a great debt of gratitude.

                                            1. re: Allstonian

                                              Wow, all, that was really something! thk you for linking.when i was in college, i didn't want to spend my dad's money on eating out, so i always cooked from Haymarket trips (25 cents per chicken breast, and i'm still alive) so i ate out only rarely. But i have to say that seeing those Blue Parrot prices really flipped me out. I have absolutely no memory of them. If they weren't explained, I actually would have thought them from the '30's. (But then again, the one price i do remember from my childhood was ice cream being 10 cents a scoop.)

                                          2. re: MaxEntropy

                                            around this time in 2001, there was a long, long thread on long gone favorites in cambridge that i've never forgotten. it was the year i turned 50, an appropriate time for nostolgia.

                                            1. re: MaxEntropy

                                              I remember the night the Oxford Ale House burned down. I was working at the Club 47 and at the break we went out to find the bar was engulfed in flames. The band was not pleased.

                                              1. re: Berheenia

                                                did bob and rayann have anything to do w/ 47 before they started Passim?

                                                1. re: Berheenia

                                                  ber, i just realised, and found it possibly fascinating that Daedulus was Voyagers was Hemispheres. Makes it seem like the same owner, eh?

                                                  1. re: opinionatedchef

                                                    OC - was racking my brain to try to remember the name of Voyagers - thanks. It had a nice run - who were the principals behind it?

                                                    1. re: opinionatedchef

                                                      I have a framed Passim menu hanging in my kitchen, cappuccino stains and all, from Bob and Rae Ann's last night there when they closed and it became Club Passim. A friend was performing that night and he was really honored and touched to realize that he was the last act in such a legacy.

                                                      My then-teenaged son brilliantly suggested that we snag a menu on the way out and now it brings back wonderful memories whenever I notice it.

                                                      1. re: opinionatedchef

                                                        It was a Thai restaurant for probably two decades between Voyagers and Daedalus, House of Siam, I believe. First time I tried Thai food ever, and it was a revelatory experience for me.

                                        2. There's also Daedalus, don't think they've closed..

                                          @cuevamanos

                                          1. If you are willing to go as far as Bergamot (or even Chez Henri), why not take the Red Line or your car down to Central Square for Rendez Vous? The food is good, the price is fair, and at least they have a French-ish name.

                                            @hungrytommy

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: hungrytommy

                                              or even Craigie-on-Main

                                            2. kyn, you may have alrdy discovered the very popular new Alden and Harlow in the Casablanca space?