567 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge 02139
Where to eat in Central Square? A bevy of new eating options has accompanied the gentrification of this gritty neighborhood. But on an overcast Saturday evening in May, after a lengthy day in the lab, we chose to return to an old favorite — the Central Kitchen. This small bistro-sized space has been drawing Central Square hipsters and guidebook-clutching tourists alike for 11 years and seems to continue strong. The restaurant describes itself as “devoted to the rustic Mediterranean style,” particularly of France, Spain and Italy, although French influence seems to be the strongest at present.
We didn’t have a reservation on a Saturday evening, but were still rapidly guided into the dark interior and presented with menus. As we mulled over the options, the couple next to us devoured a platter of fresh oysters washed down with vodka martinis — tempting.
We opted to peruse the wine list in our pursuit of a perhaps less ardently alcoholic libation. We were suitably impressed with the reasonably priced selections in the $30-50 range, including a number of interesting bottles from the Old World, choices from both Alsace and southern France catching my eye. Yet we couldn’t resist a well-priced bottle of Château Mourgues du Grès, a respected producer in the ancient, yet always excellent value Costières de Nîmes wine growing region in the Southern Rhone, reasonably priced at $36 for the bottle from the much hyped 2007 vintage.
The fruity, spicy palette of the wine paired excellently with my starter of warm goats cheese salad. The arrangement on the plate was not in the traditional French style- instead I was presented with a single large slab of the cheese covering a bed of fresh leaves. The cheese had a lactic edge although would have benefited from reclining on something firmer than the layer of (apparently) mashed potato that separated it from the leaves with their pernod vinaigrette.
For entrée, I decided on the the house-aged steak. The quality of the meat was excellent, cooked to a bloody perfection with some suitably crisp frites. My dining companion went for the chicken fricassée, which was also traditional in interpretation with its rich sauce redolent of thyme. A connoisseur of poultry, she found the meat both tender and flavorsome. In a detour from the usual script a mushroom ragù accompanied the bird, equally notable for its flavor. On a high after the success of these entrées we decided to brave a swift dessert. Torn between the Taihitian vanilla crème brûlée and the pistachio panna cotta we opted for the latter to satisfy my penchant for the green nut. Although promisingly green, it disappointed with a coarse texture and earthy rather than nutty flavor. I will stick to Ben & Jerry’s for now to satisfy my pistachio desert cravings.
Service was friendly and unobtrusive; refreshingly, they made no attempt to foist expensive bottled water on us. With many entrées over $20, Central Kitchen not cheap by any stretch of the imagination — though it is still a bargain compared to many overpriced and disappointing downtown eateries. The Central Kitchen looks set to remain a Central Square favorite.