>> Saturday, March 31, 2012
This is the first restaurant post in the new series, Welcome to My New Hood
- UPDATE - CLOSED
How do you respond to heartbroken customers when you take over a space that had been occupied since the 1930's by the same restaurant?
Many people mourned the closing of the Forest Cafe (in all its gritty and inexpensive glory) when it finally shuttered its doors in 2009. The question remained for quite some time, "who would take over the space"?
Last year, the same folks who run Clear Conscious Cafe in Central Square (that coffee shop at the entrance of Harvest Coop), decided to open up a restaurant that focused on fresh, local ingredients with an aim to offer really good, vegetarian friendly dishes.
It's been over a year now since Rafiki Bistro first opened. The menu has changed a few times. The brunch is no longer available. It's moved a bit more towards French bistro and a little less vegetarian-focused.
After we moved to this stretch between Harvard and Porter, we resolved to try every single restaurant "in the hood." Here are our thoughts after our first visit.
The ambiance is warm and cozy, which was perfect since we came on a cold, mid-week evening. Only a few tables were occupied. The bread came right away, accompanied by a white bean dip.
After much indecision, the waiter convinced me to get the crab and avocado crostinis, which turned out to be pretty tasty. I liked how they were served on a bed of arugula (one of my favorite salad vegetables). The arugula's pungeant, peppery flavor actually cut the richness of the avocados and crabmeat nicely.
Bryan got the duck cassoulet (a traditional French casserole made with meat and white beans), which was hearty, full of flavor, and an excellent value for the price (around $12 or so).
A black chalkboard outside the restaurant claims that their scallops are among the best in town. We do agree that the scallops are perfectly cooked and absolutely delicious, although the preparation is relatively simple and, if given similarly high quality ingredients, something one could probably execute at home. Nevertheless, we are happy to enjoy this relatively healthy and delicious meal while dining out.
I order one of the few vegetarian options on the menu, a "napolean" of fried polenta and roasted vegetables. The dish is quite enjoyable, with nicely fried polenta cakes and perfectly roasted root vegetables.
It's a bit sad that so few people were at Rafiki Bistro that night. I know they have offered several promotional discounts (such as through Groupon) and I wonder if they are struggling. Although most of the dishes were perfectly solid, nothing really blew us away.
I do like how several of the options seem healthier than your typical restaurant offerings. It's not a bad place to stop by if you just don't feel like cooking but want something that's pretty good at a place where there's probably no wait.
1682 Massachusetts Ave.
Cambridge, MA 02138