Russell House Tavern

Yesterday, after finishing two of my five exams, I joined a big group of friends in search of a long lunch somewhere across the bridge. After being cooped up in my room for 4.5 hours with a laptop and a timer ticking away, I was happy to go anywhere, but was even happier to check out Russell House Tavern, the new restaurant in Harvard Square. Located on a busy section of JFK Street, its easy to miss this place, especially if you’re used to ignoring the Finagle-a-Bagel that formerly occupied this building. The restaurant is actually rather large and when you step inside you’re greeted with a modern but tasteful ambience and a casual, quick fix feel. Bar stools and high tables dominate the floor, with lower, more intimate-looking tables set against the walls. If you venture to the back, a large staircase leads down into a cave-like expanse of richer-looking tables, a more old-world ambience and a hostess ready to seat you. This is clearly the real restaurant. The upstairs lunch area reminds me a little of Pizza Express, Ping Pong and other higher-end chains in England, while the downstairs is more brasserie-meets-gastropub.

We ordered burgers, crab cakes and an assortment of lunch time sandwiches. The grilled cheese was melt-in-the-mouth delicious and the fries were satisfyingly crunchy. The Tavern Buttermilk salad however, turned out to be a huge letdown, with an egregious ratio of romaine and almonds to grapes and fennel and a painful lack of Benton ham. Our waiter was friendly, prompt and helpful with recommendations and the food itself was quick to appear.

I’ll post pictures when I have some, but till then, there’s a delicious-looking selection on Russell House’s own blog (bonus points for hosting on WordPress!)

The Damage: Between $15-$20 including tax and tip
The Verdict: Expecting it to clean up the competition…..Great choice for lunch, large enough to accommodate big groups, can’t wait to check it out for dinner and try the famous Chip-in Farm Egg!

New York v Boston or Boston v Cambridge?

Every so often, when I’m in New York, someone will ask me “how do you like Boston?”. And, every so often, I will hesitate before pulling out my stock answer “it’s fine, you know, its a great student town, but really, it’s nothing like New York.” The reason behind my hesitation is that Boston is actually a great town…err city. It’s clean, it’s incredibly pretty (when not covered with snow and freezing rain), it’s safe and importantly, it’s within easy reach of some wonderful weekend road trips. Despite these and many more merits, Boston’s failure to deliver on the restaurant front has unfortunately landed it squarely in my “nothing like NY” bucket.

It’s not that Boston food is bad, by any means. In fact, the abundance of fresh seafood gives the city a unique advantage and character. However, the more I eat out, the more convinced I am that Boston’s dining experience consists of a few basic cuisines (Italian, Seafood, American), a staid, stuffier ambience and good, but not stellar, food. Underwhelmed by recent trips to Market Jean Georges, Stephanie’s on Newbury and Casa Romero, I decided to spend some more time exploring my own back yard – the small but upscale city of Cambridge, MA. And what a good decision it was…

I just got back from the Cellar, a cute but inconspicuous little place on Mass Av that rightly lives up to its unpretentious name. Much like a Nottinghill gastropub, the Cellar is split into a downstairs bar and a more upscale upstairs restaurant (“Garden at the Cellar”). Neither place takes reservations and the space is small, so you’d do well to get there before 9pm on a weeknight and before 7pm (I’ve been told) on a weekend. Eyeing the line at the restaurant, we decided to head downstairs and quickly found seats at the bar. There’s no waitstaff downstairs and the menu is slightly shorter, but our bartender was very friendly and told us we could order from either place. A quick look at the deliciously-worded list and we decided to order tapas style, choosing a few small plates to share. Our food arrived quickly and was absolutely divine. The Pancetta Wrapped Dates with Goat Cheese and Apple Hash were scrumptiously juicy and bursting with flavour. The Chicken & Thyme Croquettes were crisp, grease-free and perfectly spiced. The Homemade Tater Tots were surprisingly delicate and the Mini Burgers on Brioche with Crispy Potatoes were melt-in-the-mouth delicious. Yum! To top it all off, our bill was less than $15 per person – absolutely incredible when you consider the rip off prices we usually end up paying for dinner. Are you listening Boston?

The Ambience: Dim-lighting, lively vibe, background music at perfect pitch. Crowd is mostly older students and young professionals. Perfect for small groups, drinks and dates.
The Verdict: Cellar – je t’adore! Your terrific menu, delicious food and great prices make you a firm favorite and I look forward to seeing you again soon 🙂