Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Alden & Harlow, Harvard Square, Cambridge- SNEAK PREVIEW DINNER

I'll be perfectly frank- I'm not sure that there has ever been so much anticipation for a restaurant to open.  Beloved Michael Scelfo (formerly of Russel House Tavern) has taken over the old Casablanca space in Harvard Square and is utilizing it to bring the city of Cambridge his own vision- named Alden & Harlow.
We can start at the beginning- with the space which as Club Casablanca opened its doors in its prime spot in Harvard Square in 1955.  This was a special spot- a place where the diverse and often eclectic inhabitants of Harvard Square would meet for a meal, for a pint, for a stiff drink and immerse themselves in a deep discussion or in an equally deep book.  Its dark, almost cozy atmosphere seemed to breed intermingling of is clientele, each who brought their own unique story to tell.  Students and professors co mingled here, visiting celebrities and the occasional dignitary.  Casablanca was a home away from home.
It is only fitting that this place, which only closed its doors in December, 2012,

would be the place for Scelfo to transform into his place.  The thing with Chef Scelfo is that his food spills on to your plates like your Italian grandmothers meatballs.  Saying things like "he cooks from the heart", or "love is the primary ingredient" is beyond contrite- the food enjoyed from his kitchen has all of that at its surface and then plunges layers below to the true joy of food.  Alden & Harlow will encapsulate all of this , offering dishes straight from Scelfo's home kitchen and serve them in a "hey, can you pass the..." kind of way.  Welcome to Scelfo's table.
I had the joy of attending a preview dinner for Alden & Harlow recently and with as much anticipation as I had walking through the doors, I wasn't disappointed.
We began our evening with a selection of "snacks"- grilled Cauliflower with a sesame caponata, grilled Romano Beans wit plums, basil and Cotija Cheese, and smoked Cashews with currants and rosemary.  These are not delicate foods.  These are not foods to pick at and decipher- these are dig in and fill your tummy foods. The grilled cauliflower brought out the beauty of the classic vegetable pairing it with gentle sweetness of golden raisins, the twinge of sesame seeds and a gentle spice providing the suggestion of heat to the dish.  The Romano Beans, which I consider to be warriors on their own- strong and hearty by nature, were softened with the sweet plums, a unique pairing for sure.  I loved the addition of the fresh basil and the saltiness of the Cotija cheese, which to me made this a roundly flavored dish appealing to salty, savory and sweet.
The star of this round however, we all agreed as our spoons fought in the bowl
for second and third helpings, were the cashews.  Never before had cashews been brought to such a special level for me.  Smoked in Scelfo's own smoker, tossed with just a little oil, sweet dried currants, hearty rosemary and a bit of salt- their flavor profile was incredible.  Every bite provided the wondrous tastes of rich nut, earthy rosemary, and sweetness and all perfectly married together with the beauty of salt.  Basically- these were like eating salty peanuts on extreme crack.  I just have no other way to describe their heaven.  They will be on the menu with A&H opens, go, order, devour.
After we had had our fill of the snacks, our first course was served- grilled local carrots over a buttermilk yogurt, spicy honey and pistachio granola.  Have you ever had a grilled carrot?  If not- I suggest you do so soon.  The beauty of carrots is that they are incredibly sturdy, but have a bit of natural sugar to them, so when you put them on the grill they become beautifully smoky and have a sweet caramelizing.  Paired with the creamy and tangy buttermilk yogurt the contrast was spot on- delicate paired with sturdy, sweet to the tang.  Furthering Scelfo's impeccable sense of appealing to all flavor senses, the spicy honey played a background role offering sweet heat in sporadic fashion, while the pistachio granola, gave a breakfast feel and a perfect about of crunchy texture.
Our second course combined smoked mussels with grilled squash, parsley
flavored croutons and a bit of tarragon.  Two notes here- I love tarragon for its fresh flavor, and I adore mussels.  This offering combined them both and made mussels a much more exciting dish than they normally are.  Here instead of it being mussels and broth, the grilled squash lent a satisfying "umph" to the light shellfish.  The contrasting flavors were really the highlight here- fresh herbs of parsley and tarragon with the smoke of the mussels and the squash played together well.
We ended our meal with an overnight roasted beef bacon served with creamed corn and vinegar glazed radishes.  What could be wrong with anything named "beef bacon"? Impossibly tender chunks of beef roasted to perfection with that perfectly wonderful smoky bacon flavor and just a hint of sweetness.  Oddly enough though, as incredible as that beef was, I came very close to licking my plate to finish off the creamed corn.  Unlike anything you've had before this creamed corn had the right amount of textural kernels, creaminess, natural sweetness and a little saltiness which always draws to mind the idea of popcorn for me.
We enjoyed what will be just a small part of what will make Alden & Harlow great.  Every dish will be expertly crafted as these, with flavor profiles to showcase and enhance fresh, local ingredients and house made accompaniments where possible.  They will welcome you into their home with plates made for passing and sharing, and, if you ask me, fighting over the end of.
Alden & Harlow hasn't yet announced their firm opening date, though we anticipate it later this fall. Keep your eyes peeled my friends- this will be one that you will want to pull up your chair, settle in with a glass of wine or an expertly crafted cocktail and stay for a while...

1 comment:

Bianca @ Confessions of a Chocoholic said...

Ahhh I can't wait for Alden & Harlow to open! That beef bacon is making my mouth water!

Restaurant Reviews: A dead art?

Last December I declared 2023 the year I would return to food writing.  It was a bold statement (even now as I look at my last published dat...