I heard (and read somewhere, Facebook? Twitter?) that Michael Leviton was opening a new place near Kendall Square called Area Four. It’s kind of a two-part restaurant that does coffee and baked goods in the morning, and then a bar and oven in the evening. It’s aptly named after its location, Area 4, in Cambridge.
We managed to score a parking spot right across the street from it and strolled in shortly after 7 pm. There was no wait for a table at that point, but the bar was packed and the place was buzzing. We sat along the window side of the restaurant at a table that cleverly could be transformed to fit a party of four, or stretched apart for a party of two.
The restaurant has a great atmosphere and they scored a 10 on decor and ambiance. It felt like a hip and modern place with high ceilings, dark wood tables, chalk board menus, and metal chairs. I also like how two of the four walls were just windows which let in the natural sun light.
We sat next to two very friendly people, one of which asked me why I was snapping photos of the restaurant (if I was tweeting about being there). I smiled (some what in embarrassment as if I were being caught with my hand in a candy jar) and explained that I have a blog. It turns out that she is a friend of one of my coworkers (it really is such a small world) and she was tweeting about being there that night.
What’s funny is that I had no intention of being there for the opening, but my husband and I were looking for a place to eat dinner after having drinks in Harvard Square. As we headed in this direction, I remembered hearing that this night was their restaurant opening night so we decided to check it out. After our experience – and before I give you my review – I just want to state that I’m not sure if restaurant openings are the best way to gauge a place. I’ll come back to this point later.
The first thing that struck out to both of us was (as mentioned above) the decor and layout of the restaurant. The second best thing about our experience there was the outstanding service. Of course, it’s opening night so it was probably over-staffed, but our waiter (Oliver) was awesome: attentive to my questions about ingredients in the dishes, cautious about my food allergies (omitted the tomatoes in one dish), and very friendly. There were a couple of ladies walking around asking tables how they were doing, and at one point I saw Michael Leviton strolling around and checking things out in the restaurant. [Side note: I recognized him from the Greater Boston Food Bank Chef Challenge event that I helped photograph.]
The restaurant specializes in small plates and pizza with menu options broken down into six categories: small, medium, large, pizza, sides, and dessert. The menus are printed each day and one is presented per table on a clipboard. We decided to try a couple of the small dishes so we started with the roasted squid salad plate which was served with chick peas, parsley, preserved lemon, and black olives ($11). The portion was a good size for two people to share, and the squid was cooked to the right texture where it wasn’t rubbery or chewy at all, and it had a nice grilled flavor. The parsley salad part was overpowering though, and perhaps would’ve made a better garnish or accent. As my husband commented, “It’s like eating a forest”, because it was very bitter and woody in flavor. If they keep it as is, I’d suggest adding a sweet component such as golden raisins, or a stronger acidic flavor like fresh-squeezed lemon juice to help balance the dish. Overall, the presentation was beautiful and the concept is bold, which I admire but the flavors just didn’t quite hit it off for us.
We tried the braised local greens and tzatziki ($6) side dish, which again, was pretty bitter in taste. The tzatziki had good flavor and helped balance some of the bitterness, but they almost gave us too much tzatziki for the size of the dish itself. There were some chopped green olives mixed in too which were good and gave the greens a little bit of a kick. We both liked this better than the parsley of the salad.
We shared the mussels plate which were served in a white ale and gremolata sauce ($12) [note: the roasted tomatoes were omitted because of my food allergy]. Again, the portion was good for two people to share but it could also easily be good for one person as an entree along with their house-made bread used to sop up the broth. This was definitely our favorite out of the three dishes but we both also felt that it was a “safe” dish for any restaurant to carry (I sound like I’m a judge on Top Chef when I say that). This was my first time trying mussels cooked in ale and the flavor was very good.
Lastly, we split dessert and ordered the olive oil chocolate cake which was served with creme fraiche, salted caramel sauce, and a cookie crumble ($8). The cake was delicious and very dense, and paired well with the caramel sauce. The cookie crumble added a nice texture and the creme fraiche rounded the dish out.
We chatted with the people sitting next to us and exchanged feedback on the various things we had between the two tables. They had the Area Four house made mozzarella, smoked tomato, and spicy fennel-garlic vinaigrette small plate ($5.50) and said it was good. They shared the puttanesca pizza ($14) which had anchovies on it and commented that it was “intense”. They also said that the dessert they shared, the soft-serve ice cream (which is apparently to be the house’s signature dessert), was also good but not as strawberry-y as one might hope.
Other things I would like to try on their menu include the duck liver crostini with hazelnuts and thyme ($5.50); the roasted chicken with arugula, pine nuts, capers and golden raisins ($16); and the exotic mushroom and fontina (white pie) pizza ($14). I don’t think you’ll find another restaurant in this area that offers both panna cotta ($8) and a frangipane tart ($9) for dessert so I think their dessert menu scores one for originality.
Overall, and going back to my point earlier in this post about trying a restaurant on their opening night, I think Area Four is a nice restaurant in a good location with a great atmosphere. Their menu and the dishes that we tried might need a little bit of fine tuning, so I would put this on my list of places to go back to in six months to see if things change or if they stay the same. In hindsight, we should’ve ordered another small dish, or should’ve ordered a pizza and one or two small dishes because one of us left there not-quite-full even after having dessert.
This would be a great place for drinks after work any night (not too far of a walk from the Kendall Square/MIT T station) and a nice place for a first date or small group outing. There is free parking available at the 800 Technology Square garage (the hostess will validate your ticket) and plenty of metered spots (you only have to pay until 6 pm) along the street. They don’t have their menu posted online yet so the hostess was kind enough to give me a print out of that night’s menu after I asked for one (thank you!) so that I could accurately report the details of each dish.
Oh and yes, I will definitely go back to check out their coffee and bakery some morning so stay tuned for that post!
500 Technology Square