This is the seventh restaurant post in the ongoing series Welcome to My New Hood, a series highlighting the neighborhood between Harvard Square and Porter Square in Cambridge. Other posts in this series: Rafiki Bistro (now closed), Super Fusion Sushi, Temple Bar, Giulia, Cambridge Common, and Ten Tables Cambridge.
I’ve seen lots of restaurants come and go, but I think Chez Henri has been in Cambridge ever since I moved here almost twenty years ago (man, time flies).
Known best for its pressed Cubano Sandwich, Chez Henri actually has a lot of interesting Cuban/French inspired dishes that makes it just a bit different from your typical American style gastropub on this stretch of Mass Ave between Harvard and Porter in Cambridge.
Just recently, news came the this neighborhood stronghold is being sold and may be renamed. Chef-owner Paul O’Connell has indicated that he hopes to sell it to Dylan Black, current owner of Green Street who used to work at Chez Henri.
I met Chef Paul O’Connell at East End House’s Cooking for a Cause benefit event last year. He was super friendly, sharing with me fascinating stories about how he has cooked for Julia Child (who used to live in Cambridge really close to the restaurant!) as well as the food blogger, “Julie” of “Julie and Julia” fame.
I’m a little sad to see this neighborhood institution go. I’m hoping that the new owners preserve what’s great and unique about Chez Henri, namely its famous cubano, interesting Latin focused dishes, and solid French cooking. Initial news reports seem to indicate this is the intent of Dylan Black and his team, which is encouraging.
Nevertheless, if you want to taste the Chez Henri that you’ve known and loved the past 15 years, you might want to head over there before the end of the summer, which is when the changeover is expected to take place.
Here’s a look at the first meal we had there after moving into the neighborhood.
Bryan started with Blanquette de Lapin, which is homemade cavatelli tossed with white wine braised rabbit, cream, and herbs ($15).This dish is definitely more French than Cuban (not sure if it has any Cuban influence, in fact). The texture of the homemade pasta was great, and Bryan liked the overall flavors of the dish. I personally found it to be a bit too heavy and rich, and could only handle a few bites of it.
I started with the Bistro Salad (pictured up top), a pile of fresh greens tossed in a dijon and herb vinaigrette mixed with crispy potatoes, warm bacon lardons, and a soft boiled egg ($12). This is a classic French dish, and they dine a fine job on it.
This Cuban-inspired appetizer was a special of the evening, and thus not on the regular menu. The shrimp was cooked just right and the dish had a nice kick that came from the Cuban spices.
We also enjoyed Pressed Cornish Hen, which came with red Kouri squash polenta, truffle pan jus glace viande, and charred greens ($24). The chicken was juicy and tasted pretty good with the nicely browned skin.
For dessert, we shared a Strawberry Shortcake with Pineapple Sauce. Bryan and I have always loved biscuit-based strawberry shortcakes, so we enjoyed this particular dessert. It’s not something that blew me away, but we liked how it wasn’t cloyingly sweet. The ice cream added a balance to the entire dessert.
We thought all of the dishes at Chez Henri were pretty good, and definitely a step above several of the other gastropubs down the street. Of course, the prices are higher here, so you do pay a premium for the more upscale food. Nothing particularly blew us away, but everything was solid.
If you sit at the bar, you should most definitely try the Cubano, probably one of their most famous items. I didn’t get one at this meal, but I’ve tasted it before, and it’s quite good.
We’ll miss you Chez Henri. Hoping the “new” you preserves the best of what you already have and adds even more to the neighborhood.
Thanks for a great 19 years!
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