Since moving to Watertown in the summer of 2012, I've been spending quite a bit of time in Harvard Square. My neighborhood borders Cambridge and it's a quick one mile walk or drive over to the square.
One of my favorite Harvard Square spots for the last few years has been Russell House Tavern (read my review here). Their burrata, black mission fig and garlic pizza is to die for. So imagine by surprise and delight when I learned that the head chef, Michael Scelfo, would be branching out and opening his own place.
If you don't know Chef Scelfo, let me tell you, he has the best food-centric Instagram account I've ever seen. Each time I open the app throughout the day he is plating something incredible or showing his followers the behind the scenes magic of his delectable dishes. Follow him @mscelfo.
Chef Scelfo's solo venture is called Alden & Harlow and it opened in the space formerly occupied by Casablanca.
Once you spot the sign, you walk down a short flight of stairs into the ground level space.
To help lighten up the underground location, the team has put in sky lights where possible and has a living wall of lush green plants. I am obsessed with this!
I shared my first visit with a friend and we were seated in the back of the dining room by the far end of the bar and the open kitchen. Though you wouldn't know it from the outside, the restaurant space is absolutely enormous.
The open kitchen had an awesome sign above the counter from Brown's Bar-B-Q.
I also found it hilarious that over the bar there is a chalkboard that simply reads, "Drugs."
Once settled into our cozy two top, our waiter brought over the menus. We started with the cocktail menu.
Our bread plates, napkins and utensils sat a top the dinner menu, which has a touch of whimsy from blue ink cartoons.
Toward the bottom of the menu there is a line that states, "It's all done in house, friends are noted & we use local when we can." High five, Chef!
After careful consideration on the drink menu, I chose a cocktail called the Golding's Bastard. The drink is Mezcal, Pimms, Demerara, lime and ginger beer.
The drink had a strong smokey taste from the Mezcal and I loved the vertical lime wheel as the garnish.
While we looked over the menu our waiter brought us a plate of pickled green beans topped with sesame seeds. I used to avoid pickled things (too acidic), but now I have grown to really like them. These beans still had their snap despite being pickled.
We had such a difficult time narrowing down our top menu picks that we just decided to get them all. When in Rome, right?
The first dish to arrive was the butternut squash salad with currants, pecorino cheese, hazelnuts and brown butter. The squash came in ribbons and it was such a brilliant color. The dominant flavor was the pecorino cheese. That cheese taste, combined with the ribbon texture, made it feel like eating spaghetti!
Next we tasted the charred broccoli which was served over squash hummus and topped with a cashew nut crumble. I loved the char taste on the broccoli and paired with the sweetness from the squash hummus, it was a perfect balance of flavors.
We hadn't planned to order this next item, but our waiter strongly encouraged it, so we went with his recommendation. These are the pickled Verrill Farm corn cakes, served with shishito peppers and garnished with popcorn. How fun is that?
The corn cakes tasted more like a dessert item, but no complaints here! I can't get enough of shishito peppers lately, so I was thrilled to see those as an element on the plate. All around us I watched people receiving this dish widen their eyes in total wonder. The presentation is really inventive.
After tasting our way through the smaller plates, we moved onto the big guns.
My dinner date could not resist the menu item called the "Secret Burger." She said, "I don't usually go for a burger, but how could I not do it? It's a secret. I have to know!"
The burger arrived and the waitress (not ours, but another helper) spilled the beans, "The burger has our secret sauce - Russian dressing with anchovies."
My dinner date described the burger as, "Perfectly juicy. The patty was cooked medium and was very tender. That tenderness was balanced by the crunch from the lettuce. It was also a really delicious bun."
For my dinner, I ordered two of the small plates to come at once. First, the little gem leaves served with cacio y pepe, croutons and sweet lemon pickles.
The salad had full lettuce hearts, a wonderfully creamy dressing, generous shakes of peppers and pickled lemon pieces that tasted like candy. This was so decadent it was hard to believe it could be classified as salad!
I also ordered the grilled carrots, served with house yogurt, spicy honey pistachio and granola. I love the presentation with this sweeping spoonful of yogurt sprinkled with crunchies.
If you're a carrot lover, this is an excellent dish and a healthy portion size that could definitely allow for sharing.
When our dinner plates were cleared, our waiter asked if we'd like to see the dessert menu. Both girls with mega sweet tooths, we had to look.
Unfortunately, we wound up feeling a bit too stuffed to around another round (even one with chocolate), but I will definitely consider dessert on my next visit.
My favorite part about my first visit to Alden & Harlow was that each time I thought I had a favorite dish, a new plate arrived and dethroned it. I mean it when I say, every single dish we ordered was a stand out.
What was also great for me, was how vegetarian-friendly the menu was. I had a smorgasbord of choices.
If you're looking for a new place to dine with family, friends or coworkers, I can't say enough about Chef Scelfo and his team at Alden & Harlow. This meal was A+ in every way.