There is a quiet strip of Massachusetts Avenue that runs between Harvard Square and Porter Square that has become home to some of the city's best restaurants - The Abbey, Giulia, Temple Bar, West Side Lounge - just to name a few. While you may have to walk 10-15 minutes from either T stop, those extra few blocks are worth every step.
Temple Bar, at 1688 Mass Ave, has just welcomed a new executive chef, Richmond "Rich" Edes. In the three months since he's joined the team, the menu has been completely revamped. Much to my surprise, it has even more vegetarian options than on my last visit.
I arrived at Temple Bar on a Monday night at 6pm. Minus some road construction, it was a quick ride from Watertown. Temple Bar has a parking lot behind the restaurant with about six spots and I managed to snag the very last one. Score!
Inside, the restaurant has a very welcoming, cozy feeling. The circular chandeliers cast a warmth over the whole dining room.
Knowing there was a new chef at the helm, I was excited to read through the menu.
While we were perusing the options, our waiter, Patrick, brought over a basket of house made bread. It included a summer wheat and rosemary focaccia. Don't mind if I do!
First we ordered a round of cocktails. My dinner date went with the evening's drink special, the 1492. It was tequila, agavero, lemon and a mezcal rinse.
My drink was also garnished with a lemon rind. I went with the Basilisk which was vodka, basil, lemon, lavender bitters and prosecco. It was so light and refreshing. I have easily had three of these.
We finally decided on a few appetizers, entrees and side dishes to share. The first dish to arrive was actually a surprise from the chef! It was the sweet corn veloute. It normally comes garnished with crab ravioli, but mine was sans crustacean.
The bright yellow hue of the veloute was stunning and it tasted so rich, creamy and decadent. I loved the addition of the shishito peppers. What I was most impressed with was that you'd never know this dish was missing a protein. It really stood out on its own. It was so delicious that I honestly contemplated turning my body away from the main dining room and licking my bowl.
For our appetizer round we shared three plates - the vegetable tasting board (back), the wild mushrooms (left) and the pierogis (right).
My friend had tasted the wild mushroom dish before and insisted we start with that. It was mushrooms, snap peas and violet mustard topped with a farm egg.
Personally, I love mushrooms so I really enjoyed the strong, earthy flavor. I also think it's always a good idea to put a runny egg on top of just about anything. The egg, mixed with the mushrooms and the snap and crunch of the pea pods was truly excellent.
Now, this is something that really sets Temple Bar apart. Rather than a traditional charcuterie plate of meats and cheese, they make a vegetarian tasting board. On the night we dined there, the plate included: a green salad, spring rolls, baba ganoush, and pita chips.
For me, the green salad was a bit watery. It was also described as having feta cheese, which I didn't see or taste at all. The spring rolls were my favorite item on the plate. They were jam packed with fresh veggies and wrapped in a paper thin casing. The baba ganoush had strong notes of lemon, so if you like that citrus taste, this a winner. Sadly, the pita chips were hard as a rock.
The third plate in our appetizer trifecta was the pierogis which are stuffed with brie, broccoli and charred onions. I wanted to order these just at the mention of brie!
The yummiest element of the dish was charred flavor from the onions. Overall, the pierogis had a heavy salt flavor, but it was welcomed!
Moving onto slightly larger plates (you know, since soup and three appetizers wasn't enough) we dug into the heirloom tomato salad with sugar cantaloupe, ricotta cheese and sunflower seeds. I was really impressed with the presentation of this dish. The vibrant colors - red, yellow, peach and green - just awaken all your senses.
I can't believe I am saying this because I usually frown upon fruit, but the cantaloupe was the highlight of this dish! It was so sweet and juicy and paired perfectly with the ricotta.
Next up were the Brussels sprouts, cooked in olive oil and sea salt. I felt this preparation was terribly bland. I wanted to toss some pepper or sriracha on there!
When the clock struck eight, Temple Bar dimmed the lights and set a more romantic mood. I always laugh when this happens, because almost every restaurant does the exact same thing at the exact same time. Had I been on a date, this is probably the moment when we would have moved just a little bit closer to each other.
Under the mood lighting, we were delivered the summer squash pizza with creme fraiche, garlic and almonds. It had wonderfully thin crust (check out those bubbles!), a great crunch from the almonds and a serious amount of garlic. Warning: this is not a first date food!
We each only had one piece because we were getting so stuffed. I wound up taking the pizza home and having lunch for the next two days. The slices were just as fabulous on day two and three.
We weren't going to have dessert because we were already so full, but when Patrick started describing the choices, we immediately jumped on the dark chocolate pudding with salted caramel and brioche croutons.
The pudding arrived in the most adorable presentation.
After one bite, my friend said, "Oh man. There will always be room for this." The pudding was velvety and the salted caramel layer on top was ooey gooey heaven! Honestly, the dish didn't need the croutons at all.
I really enjoyed my return trip to Temple Bar. Chef Rich has created a menu that celebrates the local food that's currently in season. He's also the master mind behind all the house made breads.
Temple Bar is a great place for drinks at the bar, a girls night out, or a celebratory occasion - promotion, birthday, etc.
Visit (and order the dark chocolate pudding) at 1688 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02138.
*Though my meal at Temple Bar was complimentary, opinions are 100 percent my own.