Sunday, January 28, 2007

Head cheese in the basement

It's easy for a New England restaurant to offer a menu of seasonal local ingredients in summer, when neighborhood farms are loaded with corn and tomatoes and strawberries, all celebratory and exuberant.

But what to do in winter, when the ground is frozen and the pickins consist of turnips and apples?

The answer can be found at
Craigie Street Bistrot. Or at least, it can once you find the restaurant, which is in the basement of an apartment building a few blocks north of Harvard Square.

The philosophy at CSB is that local, organic produce is tastier and more nutritious (not to mention being more beneficial for local farmers instead of corporate agribusiness). The menu changes daily, and is based upon whatever looked good at the market that morning.

So what looked good the day of our visit? Among other things, the fixins for my appetizer, a fresh, wake-up-call salad of endive and peppery-bitter watercress with duck prosciutto. The Boy won this round, though: he had grilled Spanish octopus with cipollini onions on a bed of
cardoon puree. Octopus can be tricky--it's easy to turn it into rubber. But this was amazing: scallop-like in texture, and beautifully matched with the sweet onions and creamy puree.

For the entree, The Boy had tuna poached in curry oil with celery root and cauliflower--not spicy, but warming and full of flavor. But this time I won (!): thick slices of pork belly (the fat so sweet and melty it made ya wanna cry); chunks of peppery boudin noir; and a fried rissole of fromage de tete (aka head cheese, aka brawn).

What made it especially delicious was the oh-so-Cantabridgian table of four to my left (your right), who spent a great deal of their menu perusal disussing the inedibility of anything made from pig's blood or brains. Neophytes.

The other ingredient du jour, apparently, was truffles, which had arrived from Spain that afternoon and were being liberally shaved over everything for a supplement of $20. The waitron wasn't quite sure how to take my (joking) request to have them shaved over our gingerbread pain perdu (with intense ginger ice-cream) dessert. The Boy wasn't sure how to take my request to have them shaved over the busboy. Kidding, sweetie, kidding!

So a lovely evening; the only downside (my constant complaint) was that the room is tiny and loud. It's partly what happens when you're dining in a low-ceilinged basement, and partly what happens when you're surounded by the Boomers (demographically and vocally) of Cambridge.

I mean, I love being able to live like this; I just hate having to share it with the kind of people who also live like this.

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