>> Monday, August 13, 2012
Harvard Square is forever a changing scene when it comes to restaurants.
Back when I first moved into the area (over 10 years ago!), it seemed like the only way to get really good food was go somewhere really casual (e.g., Herrell’s ice cream, Bartley’s Burgers, Veggie Planet) or really fancy (Craigie Street Bistrot, Rialto, or Upstairs at the Pudding).
There was a gaping hole for nice, gastropubs that offered excellent food, a great drink list, and reasonable prices.
The past five years, several casual yet great food-focused options have popped up right in the Square. Russell House Tavern is by far the most popular one, serving excellent new American cuisine along with a great selection of drinks. The Monday Club just recently opened its food bar, another great alternative for reasonably priced and fantastic small plates, pizzas, and pastas.
Add to that list places like Tory Row, Ten Tables, Garden At the Cellar, and now Park, you have a solid list of great gastropubs serving innovative and well executed dishes that go with great beer on tap.
Park replaces Redline, a tired, American pub/nightclub whose dated presence just wasn't working anymore (or perhaps it was the food, which I never found to be that exciting?). After a massive renovation, Park re-opened just a couple months ago to great fanfare, not the least of which came from the very influental Boston Globe writer Devra First.
The interior resembles an old library filled with cozy little sitting areas where you can lounge in leather couches while staring up at endless shelves of books. The tables are a bit smaller and lower to the ground here, but I really like it because it's more low-key. It's like relaxing in a friend’s living room - there’s a bit less noise and a bit more space.
I had been intrigued by the “toasts” that they offered. Though I was tempted to order the tomato-themed set of three toasts, Bryan really wanted to try the Bacon 3-way toasts [$12], so we went that way instead.
The "Bacon, Egg, and Cheese" is unusual in that it's made with lamb bacon, Gruyere cheese, and a quail egg. It was excellent. The bacon was well crisped, the egg was just a tad runny, and the toast was nicely browned.
Similarly the House cured Maple Bacon, Confit Tomato and Arugula toast was tasty and my favorite of the bunch.
The Prosciutto, Summer Melon and Balsamic (there was no toast involved, just a Chinese ladle filled with tiny bits of melon, prosciutto, and balsamic), was more interesting in concept than actual execution. The flavors were alright, but I did not think the creative presentation added anything to the flavors.
We had heard some pretty incredible things about their popular ever-changing daily Meat Pies. They only make a certain amount per day and invariably run out early. As predicted, they had run out of the last meat pie by the time we ordered (even though it was like 7PM - Grrr!).
According to the chef, the meat pies keep them creative. Though most of the menu is relatively constant, the meat pie changes daily. It gives them the creative outlet to continue innovating, dreaming up new variations and styles of this comfort classic.
Bryan did manage to order a meat pie on a subsequent solo visit and reported back that it was sausage-based and was “pretty good.” (He is a man of few words, alas).
The side dish Sautéed Garlicky Greens [$6] was fine but a bit underwhelming. It's serviceable if you're ordering a side of vegetables to be healthy, but the flavors were only OK. Any Cantonese restaurant's version of garlic wok-fried vegetables beat this hands down in terms of flavor.
Bryan really liked the Salt and Pepper Shrimp Pickled Jalapeños, Napa Cabbage and Cilantro [$10], which was recommended to us by the waitress. Though the pan-Asian inspired flavors were not my personal favorite (it was just a bit sweet & sour for my tastes), the shrimp was executed well and the dish was still enjoyable.
Seared Scallops Corn purée, shaved asparagus and house-cured bacon vinaigrette [$23]
The scallops were perfectly cooked - nicely seared, juicy, and sweet - and were served alongside thinly shaved asparagus and topped with bacon. The flavors were solid, though it was the type of dish that I sort of felt like I could recreate at home.
Bryan loved the Grilled Lamb Belly Summer succotash, Madeira [$19]. It was extremely tender, “fall-off-the-bone” soft and full of deep, rich flavor that was brightened a bit by the Madeira wine. The accompanying succotash was great, chock full of fresh peas, corn, and fava beans. I would totally come back and just order myself a full side of of succotash, it was so good.
Park is a welcomed addition to the burgeoning food scene in Harvard Square. It offers a nice selection of well-executed creative dishes at a reasonable price point. The food is good, and we like the focus on fresh seasonal ingredients as applied to comfort foods. The bar has a lot of craft cocktails that we have yet to try and the beer selection looks great as well.
Is it my first choice for dining in Harvard Square? Probably not. Being a person who loves fresh farm produce more than meat-focused comfort foods, I tend to gravitate towards restaurants with lighter fare.
Nevertheless, the food is solid (Bryan definitely liked the restaurant more than I did overall), and it's a great option to have in the Square. The menus has a nice variety of options, the dishes are executed well, and it's fun going there.
I'm sure we'll return.
59 JFK Street
Cambridge, MA 02138