I have to say, there is nothing better than catching up with old friends. Spending time with those people you've known "forever", and even better doing so over a good meal. So when a good friend asked us to head to dinner with she and her boyfriend, I jumped at the idea. She and I have very similar tastes in food, and always love trying places that we haven't gotten to check out before, so we easily decided to check out Small Plates, a tapas style restaurant in Harvard Square, Cambridge.
Tapas style is one of my favorite ways of eating- small plates of food, designed for sharing, tasting, and trying. For someone who is forever asking for bites of my companions food, this is really the best way to go out to dinner with me :-). Small Plates has a beautiful location, tucked back from busy JFK street, you almost forget for a moment where you are and allow yourself to be transported to a quieter time where "strolling" is all the rage. Inside, the restaurant is cleanly designed and exudes a quiet elegance.
Once we had all arrived, we began to peruse the menu, each of us calling out dishes that sounded appealing to us. Since it was small plates, we decided to start off with six chosen dishes plus one "gimme" thinking that if that wasn't enough food we'd just order a few more plates. You may be wondering what a "gimme" is my friend and I, through the years, have realized that there are some things that we just order and its obvious we'll order them. Things that we love, and are usually just sorta small little things. Here, it was the rosemary and garlic marinated olives, elsewhere it may be sweet potato fries. Along with the olives, we also ordered the Mussels, the Pissaladiere, the Baby Artichokes, the Jerk Chicken, the Two Killer B's (sliders), and the Spicy Tuna.
The olives arrived, and soon there after each of the next plates began to arrive. The olives, the treasured olives that we had been so excited about, were terrible. I tried several to try to find a flavor other than soap in them, but sadly that's all I tasted...soap. Hmmm ok- I still held on for the next dishes. The Two Killer B's were tasty-the mini burgers themselves were nothing special really, but they were served with a homemade ketchup which I thought was fantastic. It had great depth of flavor to it- and a lovely texture. The Spicy Tuna, served with a "crispy sushi rice cake" and a "wasabi grapefruit drizzle" was the highlight of the evening- perfect seared tuna, just enough spice...the tuna was great. The rice cake however was not crispy, which was a shame as I would have thought that the texture combination between the soft tuna and the cake would have been great, and I couldn't detect the wasabi or the grapefruit. Despite those- the tuna was definitely the star of the evening. The final highlight of the evening- the Jerk Chicken. Served with mashed plantains they had great contrast between the sweet of the fruit and the spice of the jerk. Delicious.
The remaining dishes however- eh. The Pissaladiere, which, I've learned, is a type of pizza made/served in the South of France, near Nice. Traditionally, it is served as a white pizza, without tomatoes, and is served on a crust thicker than regular pizza dough. Small Plates version was a mixture of various roasted veggies and chevre all on top of puff pastry. It was ok. I didn't really find anything special with this one. The mussels were cooked fine, the sauce tasted hauntingly of tomato juice without much addition. They had added in two snails which were a nice touch, but mine was a bit over cooked. Finally with the mussels that had place a piece of bread which is rather traditional to serve with mussels and always appreciated, however this one was rock hard. Even with a knife in the mix it was incredibly difficult to chip off a piece, and then it was quite a gnaw to to be able to swallow it. Sad, I have to say.
The baby artichoke was another miss in my book- the artichokes were over cooked rendering half of it inedible. They were served with poached shrimp which were ok by the reports of others, panchetta and preserved lemon. The lemon made a very strong impression on the dish, which is really neither good or bad, but the panchetta was nice and crispy and added good texture contrast.
After plowing our way through these, we decided that we were still pretty hungry and so we decided to order just two more- the Paella, and the Chicken Soulvaki. We ordered, and were told by our waitress, who was incredibly sweet, that there would be just a slight wait as the kitchen was backed up. Ok- a slight wait is fine- good company over rules any annoyance of a wait. So we sat, and we chatted. And then we waited some more, and chatted some more, and then we decided to get a bit more wine, so then we waited some more, and more again. Finally, the dishes arrived, but no wine- so we cancelled the wine. Honestly for a tapas place where the very nature of the cuisine is to enjoy different rounds of food- the wait for two small plates was insane. The really upsetting part though was that once we had finally survived the wait, the last two plates were again- meh. I have to say-they were not at all memorable.
Small Plates is definitely off my list for a return visit. I love the location, the interior and our waitress was wonderful, but the food was just not what I was hoping for at all. With all of the other delightful tapas spots in town, I have to completely remove this one as an option.