Monday, November 7, 2011

Catalyst, Kendall Square, Cambridge

As some of you may have heard, I have recently begun writing a weekly column for Boston Magazine's on line food edition Chowder, called Taste Test.  The premise behind Taste Test is for me to check out restaurants soon after they open, or launch a new menu, or make some other substantial change to their offering, choose a dish that best encompasses their food philosophy and report back to you all- the viewing audience.  It has been a truly wonderful experience to work with the team at Boston Magazine, not to mention collaborating with such an amazing piece of Boston culture.  Boston Magazine is awesome, truly and completely.

Last week I made my way over to Catalyst, a newly opened restaurant in Kendall Square.  Catalyst was opened by Chef William Kovel, formerly of the late great Aujourd'hui in the Four Seasons which shuttered several years ago.  Kovel's reputation from that time led him to work as consulting chef at 28 Degrees in the South End for some time, and now finally brought him to his own space- the realization of many dreams coming true.  I had the opportunity to meet with Chef Kovel last December, just as the space for Catalyst had been acquired and he was mulling chair decisions and table top looks.  I toured the empty space and he marked where each section of the restaurant would fall- the partially open kitchen, the massive bar, the conference room spaces....his vision was clear, and it was evident that this restaurant would be a treasure.  When it opened last month I was thrilled to finally get to see the reality of the space, and the creations of his menu.

We began by splitting a salad billed as:  Arugula, Endive, Asian Pear, Walnut, Berkshire Blue Cheese, Whole Grain Mustard Vinaigrette.  Understanding our desire to share the salad, it was delivered to our table on separate plates, making what could be an awkward venture, easy and appealing.  The salad was absolutely delicious.  Peppery Arugula and lightly spicy Endive paired with sweet pear and tangy blue cheese created a dish that touched on every flavor sensation.  The combination resulted in a crisp, refreshing salad, but which packed a full and addictive punch. This salad would end up being the star of the evening.

Next we also shared a second appetizer, the Crispy Quail, served with Black Mission Fig, Gastique, Mizuna, and an Autumn Berry Jam.  Delicate as a quail is, this was served on a single dish and we were left to divvy it ourselves.  Though I appreciated the touch on the salad, here it would have been difficult to split the quail with finesse.  Quail has a very strong flavor, similar to the dark meat of a chicken, rich and gamey.  Paired with the figs and jam the sweetness was a nice contrast, though I felt that the gastique was lost in the mix.  The mizuna, a Japanese Water Green, provided a nice relief with its peppery flavor.  Though the quail wasn't as crisp as anticipated, the dish showcased, once again, a strong suit of Chef Kovel's- layering flavor components to create "perfect bites" when all are brought together.

I dined on the Garganelli, Chicken Oysters, Bacon, and Black Truffle Butter for my main course.  I'll refer you to my thoughts found on for the full review.

Finally, we ended the evening with the Bosc Pear Tart, House Made Crème Fraiche Ice Cream, and Candied Almonds for dessert.  Here, again, Kovel showed off his skill of layering components.  The tart itself was tender and moist, with butter and pear flavors in even distribution.  It was decadent and sweet, the contrast was brought in with the slightly tangy Creme Fraiche ice cream, and then the wonderful and satisfying crunch of the almonds.  

Catalyst is absolutely an experience.  The space is warm and welcoming, and the staff, for the most part, are knowledgeable and helpful.  Kovel's presence is felt in every dish, and throughout the space as he wandered from station to station ensuring proper execution.  Are there missteps to be had?  Absolutely, the restaurant has only just celebrated its one month birthday, however over all, it is apparent, from the moment of entry, that attention to detail is chief and that the restaurant as a whole will attempt to dazzle their patrons.     


Delicious Dishings said...

I had a great first visit there and then a good, but not great, second visit. Can't wait til they work out all the kinks!

Kristen said...

Congrats on the Boston Magazine gig! I am definitely a fan of Catalyst, from my one experience so far. I'm off to check out your review of the main course.

Anonymous said...

What a fabulous review of Catalyst. I have been wanting to try it since it openend but thought I should wait a while. I may now bring that date forward.

Congratulations on the Boston Magazine writing. Truly deserved!

Elizabeth said...

I had a really nice experience at Catalyst. the pastas were excellent

In and Around Town said...

I went for some dessert and am looking forward to heading back after giving them some time to work out the kinks.

Emily @ A Cambridge Story said...

Glad you enjoyed it. I went in for a blogger dinner which was excellent and had a less desirable experience the second time with friends. I may wait a bit before returning but am confident they'll work everything out!

Bianca @ Confessions of a Chocoholic said...

I love Catalyst, and I'm still thinking about the garganelli pasta! Congrats on the Boston Magazine gig!

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