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Posted by aaron at 09:01PM, Saturday, December 03rd, 2005

Upstairs on the Square (restaurant review)

91 Winthrop Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts (Harvard Square)

Stuck with an interminable wait for a table at an unpleasant place up the street one Thursday night, being ignored by the staff, and not looking forward to a long meal surrounded by noisy Harvard kids, we called up Upstairs on the Square to see whether we might get a last-minute table. No problem. Fifteen minutes later we were seated right in the middle of the Monday Club dining room, which, though it threatened to be busy and distracting, turned out instead to be the locus of some excellent energy, and the setting for a great meal.

The service we got was pleasant and timely, if not brisk, which is always commendable with younger servers like our waitress. We enjoyed some truly excellent cocktails (our friend Chris was pleased when his Hendricks martini arrived in a chilled glass) along with Wellfleet oysters -- which were good, but served with an iced cucumber and lime leaf sauce that, while interesting, just didn't seem to go with briny oysters. We drank a nice bottle of the excellent Au bon Climat Pinot with our meal. Brian had steak frites, which was great. Chris had sheepsmilk ricotta cavatelli, which he described as subtle but extremely fresh, and light enough that the sourness of the ricotta came out in a nice way, with "beguiling little flavor bursts." I had rebluchon ravioli with matchsticks of Granny Smith apple, in a truffle fondue: this was pretty extraordinary, the crunchy matchsticks offering a light contrast to the rich and tasty ravioli. Coffee and espresso to follow was adequate, which might be seen as high praise coming from a self-proclaimed espresso snob.

The decor is on the edge of postmodern acid-trip kitsch, but we enjoyed the warm and bright surroundings on a damp March evening. There's a fireplace, which added some welcome dry heat. The crowd when we were there was very Harvard, but also very different from the crowd from which we'd just made our escape: animated but quiet, energetic but with a welcome diversity of ages and conversation topics on which to eavesdrop. Entrees were reasonable, starting at under $15, and going up to about $25. The service from everyone was great, and we're happy to recommend this easy-to-overlook restaurant, in a location that can always use good options for fine dining.
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