Harvard Square Tasting Tour: a Culinary Adventure with a Twist

by Orlea Miller ’16

harvard-statue

Bored of the typical Harvard Square eats? Bogged down by midterms? Take a break next Saturday afternoon and take advantage of all that the Square has to offer.

The Harvard Square Tasting Tour is led by Trademark Tours (The Hahvahd Tour; City Wine Tours) and combines history and trivia with an afternoon full of culinary treats. Leaving from Out of Town News at 3 pm, the tour stops at local artisan stops and restaurants including Cardullo’s, Grafton Street, Salt & Olive, Follow the Honey, Russell House Tavern, and PARK.

Tickets are available through Eventbrite (http://www.eventbrite.com/e/harvard-square-tasting-tour-tickets-18100557254) for $43 and include samples at each store and light bites and cocktails at the restaurants.

CocktailsDeviled Eggs

Tour Overview (provided by Grafton Group):

Start: Cambridge Information Booth, located at 1376 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA 02138.

Cardullo’s: Browse delicious gourmet imports at this iconic Harvard Square grocery, and learn about the shop’s history.

Grafton Street: Quick approaching its 20th anniversary in the Square, Grafton Street is the neighborhood destination for perfectly pulled pints and thoughtful fare.

Grafton Street Sign

Salt & Olive: Much like wine, olive oil and vinegars have complex aromatic flavor profiles that, when understood, can greatly improve a dish. Owner Mary Taylor will guide us through a hands on tasting!

Follow the HoneyDid you know it takes 1,125 bees foraging 2,000 flowers to create one pound of honey? Learn all about the amazing world of bees and enjoy a side by side taste test of three honeys from diverse origins led by owner Caneen Canning.

Russell House TavernYou’re at the heart of Harvard Square when you’re at Russell House Tavern. An elevation of the local, neighborhood tavern experience, Russell House offers seasonally inspired American fare alongside a carefully edited and locally influenced drink list.

Patio At Night_6

PARK Restaurant & Bar: Located in the “Lower JFK” area of Harvard Square, PARK is a vibrant destination for friends, family and acquaintances to linger over lively conversation, playful plates and thoughtful drinks.

Tasting of Toasts 3

Hungry for more?

In addition to the three signature dish and cocktail pairings you’ll enjoy along the way, Grafton Group is offering Tasting Tour participants 10% off food at any of their four properties! Settle in to your favorite spot, show your server your Tasting Tour ticket and sit, dine, drink and linger – at a discount!

*Discount is only valid on the day of your tour.

Pictures provided by Grafton Group.

Russell House Tavern: American Cuisine Fused with Global Flavors

by Bovey Rao ’19

Russel House

Taverns elicit images of energetic environments, buzzing with activity as waiters and patrons rush through the space. Russell House Tavern, a hot-spot in Harvard Square, fits that description exceptionally well with a stellar alcohol selection and inventive mixology. The tavern is frequently packed to capacity as a popular post-work destination for students and faculty alike. However, Russell House Tavern stands heads and shoulders above the stereotypical tavern by serving food well beyond cocktail peanuts and stale pretzels. Seven days a week, Russell House Tavern prepares inspired American cuisine with flavors inspired by global influences.

Walking down Kennedy Street, I could see that the restaurant was brimming as a queue extended out into the sidewalk. Fortunately, with a reservation for three at 9:30 pm, my party was promptly greeted by the host and seated. A quick view of the menu presented a diverse arrangement of exceptional bar food and eclectic entrees for a more complete meal. The menu was almost perfectly suited for a tavern, where large groups of people with unique preferences could gather and share portions. In particular, the pizzas on the menu stood out as perfect dishes to be split among a group. With a plethora of options, we began arguing which dishes to order and eventually decided on two pizzas and an assortment of other sharable small plates.

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After an unexpectedly long wait (or maybe our empty stomachs made it feel longer), our hot and steaming pizzas arrived. Immediately, I grabbed a slice of the Cape Cod clam pizza ($13) and delivered it to my mouth. The strings of stretched cheese burned my hands and the sides of my mouth as the savory slice touched my tongue. In an odd way, the pizza reminded me distinctly of an incredible clam chowder. With the flavorful clam and rich pancetta mixing in my mouth with the melty cheese and white sauce, I was transported to the harbor, sitting over a steaming bowl of clam chowder. Breaking out of the daze, I hungrily took a slice of the heirloom tomato pizza ($14). To contrast the salty, savory clam pizza, the tomato pizza was perfectly sweet and refreshing. The namesake heirloom tomatoes had a complex sweetness and cleansed my palette with a juicy freshness. Combined with the flavorful burrata, a cheese made similarly to mozzarella, and marjoram, an herb with citrus notes, the pizza returned me to my senses.

Soon after, the small plates arrived: tuna tartare ($13), Jonah crab cakes ($13), steak frites ($25), and steak tartare ($14). The tuna tartare, a preparation where raw fish/beef is chopped into a fine grind, was a slight disappointment. While the tuna was clearly incredibly fresh, it suffered from an overwhelming sweetness from the melon. The crab cakes were similarly underwhelming, as there was a lack of seasoning. Strangely, the crab cakes were panko breaded, which helped the cakes keep their shape, but masked the flavoring, leaving a bland dish.

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Personally, I was looking forward to the steak frites because it is such a classic French Bistro dish. Expecting a tender medium rare steak with crisp fries, I was mildly disappointed. The steak was a little too tough for my liking, and the fries were simply average. While well-cooked, there was something left to be desired in the dish. Overall the night so far was passable, but nothing spectacular. Until…

The steak tartare was presented with a golden deep fried egg and a peculiar black smear. The waiter explained to cut the egg open to release the yolk and then run the steak through the black smear and the egg yolk. Heeding his instructions, each of us gingerly placed the raw steak into our mouths. I closed my eyes as I chewed the tender steak disintegrated in our mouths and a savory flavor proliferated in our mouths. The gentle balance of the steak with the fatty egg yolk and spicy horseradish was excellent.

As the night wound to a close, my expectations were satisfied, and I am delighted that such a restaurant operates in Harvard Square. While some dishes were slight disappointments, Russell House Tavern is an establishment that I revisit frequently, due to their solid execution at later hours (12 pm Su-Th, 1 am F-Sa). For those looking for something a little more elevated at those hours, Russell House is a strong recommendation.

Russell House Tavern

Location: 14 John F. Kennedy Street, Cambridge MA 02138

Reservation: OpenTable, or by Phone at (617)-500-3055

Stand out dishes: Steak Tartare, Heirloom Tomato Pizza

Overall Rating: 3.5/5

Food: 3.5/5

Service: 4/5

Ambience: 4/5