Thursday, October 16, 2014

Alden & Harlow: First Impressions

Although Alden & Harlow opened in January 2014, I felt bad that I hadn't dined there until very recently. And now that I've dined there, I feel like I've cheated myself out of some excellent meals, and I promise myself to frequent this restaurant more often. As I mentioned yesterday, I recently dined there with a Chilean winemaker and I also attended another wine tasting there earlier this week. If you haven't been there yet, I advise you to rush there and experience its delicious cuisine.

Alden & Harlow, located in Harvard Square on Brattle Street, is owned by Chef Michael Scelfo, who may be familiar to you from his stints at restaurants like Russell House Tavern and Temple Bar. I'm acquainted with Chef Scelfo's culinary skills from Russell Tavern and several local food events, and was pleased that he finally had his own restaurant. The website states that it serves "thoughtfully sourced, honest American food" and they use local ingredients whenever possible. Many of those local purveyors are identified on his website and sometimes on the menu as well.

This is a far larger restaurant than a I expected, with a lengthy bar to your left as you enter the restaurant. It has a homey, casual vibe, and was relatively packed on the Thursday evening that I dined there.

I like that they have an open kitchen, which to me is a sign of the confidence of the chef and his team.

The menu contains primarily small plates, perfect for sharing, including Snacks (7 choices at $8 each) and the main plates (22 choices at $12-$18, with one exception). The menu changes frequently, though a few items (like their Secret Burger) remain, though the preparation may vary. You may have heard that vegetables take a prominent place on the menu, and that is correct, but carnivores will find plenty to interest them as well. We had a few of their vegetable dishes, such as their Grilled Cauliflower, and and they certainly looked enticing, and were well received by the others dining with me.

From the Snacks menu, I loved the warm, Pistachio Crusted Halloumi with roasted cherry tomatoes and warm bread. The soft, creamy and briny cheese was complemented by the nutty pistachio and it was great to smear on the bread slices. And the tomatoes added a nice touch of smoke and acidity to the dish. For the price, I think it was a very good value as it was large enough to share with 2 or 3 people.

Maybe my favorite dish of the night was the Chicken Fried Local Rabbit ($15) which comes with celery, apple, blue cheese, and chili oil. For a detailed explanation of their rabbit dish, check out a Anatomy of Alden & Harlow’s Chicken Fried Rabbit in Boston magazine. Though some of the accompaniments for this dish are different, the main info about the rabbit is still applicable. Chef Scelfo loves eating rabbit, as do I, but also understands that it is a tough sell at restaurants. Earlier this year, I wrote about all the reasons why people should eat rabbit, noting that people's reluctance to eat rabbit was primarily psychological, and that they need to get past those mental barriers. Chef Sclefo tried to make this rabbit dish more accessible to diners, and I think he succeeded.

This dish is superb comfort food, a thick crispy piece of a silky and flavorful rabbit and pork belly mixture, For a fall evening, this was a perfect dish to fill your belly. The addition of the apple and blue cheese adds an interesting element to the dish. It is large enough to split with someone else, though it would be tough for me to have to share such a compelling plate. I understand why so many people have raved about this dish, and I highly recommend it to everyone. Put aside your reservations about eating rabbit, and just give this dish a try. I bet you become a convert after enjoying this fried rabbit.

The Grilled Lamb Sirloin ($18) with cocoa rub, grilled carrot mash, and spring green puree, were perfectly cooked slices of lamb, tender and flavorful, with mild cocoa notes, and they were perfect accompaniments to the wines we were drinking,especially the Carmenere. Again, this is a dish you can share, but you might find yourself wanting to eat all the lamb yourself. The carrot mash was tasty too, with a nice creaminess.

The Crispy Berkshire Pork Belly ($15), with Anson Mills grits and roasted peaches, was another winner. The skin on the top was very crunchy, and topped the silky and alluring fat beneath. Who doesn't love pork belly? And the grits and peaches made a delicious side for the meat. Peaches and pork is such a great pairing.

I had a little room for dessert and there are four choices available on their Dessert menu, priced $9-$11. I opted for the Baked Apple & Olive Oil Cake Trifle, with Aleppo & Honey Whipped Cream and brown sugar. This is a great seasonal choice with lots of flavor, a spicy kick, and a nice balance of crisp apples and smooth cream and soft cake.

Every dish I tasted was a clear winner, from an excellent presentation to well-balanced and compelling flavors. I now understand why Alden & Harlow has received so many accolades, and Chef Scelfo has created a destination for food lovers of all types. Kudos to the chef and I'll be dining there again very soon, to further explore the menu.

Alden & Harlow on Urbanspoon

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