We’re so excited to share this one with you guys. Alden & Harlow is one of our favorite restaurants in the area, and for good reason. Owned by Chef Michael Scelfo (previously the executive chef at Russell House Tavern), Alden & Harlow takes American food to a whole new level of delicious.
The restaurant opened in 2013 in the old Casablanca space in Harvard Square, Cambridge. The style is modern blended with vintage; a lot of wood, tile and leather tied together with funky wall signs. Beyond the doors, there is the bar – adorned with beautiful light fixtures and wooden structures. Once you walk past the bar there’s the main dining area, lined with soft booths and a generous view of the kitchen. (If you love watching cooks in action, reserve the high-top tables right alongside the shelves that line the kitchen for a great view. And if you ever get to eat at the chef’s table with the real front row seats, we’re very jealous).
The menu would best be described as food you know and love but always with a twist. Food here is never boring and that’s why we keep coming back. Portions are small and made for sharing and each plate comes out when it’s ready – so a meal becomes more of an event, with one dish arriving at your table just as you’re licking the plate of the last. The service is also stellar: our water glasses were always filled with a smile, and the staff was so knowledgeable that they were able to field all of our questions with ease.
The cocktail menu is a knockout – no surprises there. We only tried the Molokai Mule this time, but we’ve been impressed every time we’ve gotten our buzz on here. A favorite cocktail in the past has been the Sandhill Crane, which is out of season right now but we hope it comes back soon (it was the inspiration behind our own Lady Verona cocktail). They also have a great wine selection. But the Molokai Mule is a toast to spring: a mix of brandy, rum, lime, orange, and a compressed pineapple. While we were sipping, pickled string beans were served and they were the perfect finger food.
Let’s talk about the salad we get every time we visit, dubbed the ‘Ubiquitous Kale Salad’. (This place also has humor). Seriously, this dish is amazing – it comes with kale, fennel, pistachios, and some extra crispy kale on top. What really makes this salad extraordinary though is the irresistible pistachio dressing. It’s never heavy and actually quite addictive.
Fun fact: while at Russell House, Chef Scelfo used social media to promote a “secret burger”, and he brought that idea with him to Alden & Harlow. The secret burger is a permanent fixture of the menu, listing “your faith” as one of the main ingredients (it’s a secret, get it?). They only make a few dozen a night, and they always sell out early. Luckily for you, we’ve tried the secret burger before and can tell you what we know: it’s got lettuce, onions, a cheese crisp, and special sauce on a house-made, lightly toasted brioche bun and served with pickles and chips. The grind of meat is the secret part, and after one bite, you’ll understand why they don’t want to let that secret out – it’s juicy, smoky, and easily the best burger around.
The menu evolves monthly, with weekly specials. Both Chef Scelfo’s and the restaurant’s Twitter and Instagram often post the specials for the week, so keep an eye out for the real gem: the week’s SECRET secret burger. They don’t put this special burger on the menu and your server won’t tell you about it unless you ask, so ask! One week it was the “mings burger”(pictured below), with bok choy, mint, and their signature 60-degree egg. Another, it was beef tongue pastrami, gruyere, and sauerkraut all piled on top of the burger patty. Clearly this ain’t their first rodeo.
The Charred Broccoli: another must-get. We overheard one guest try it at a table nearby and exclaim, “Why do I not know how to make this broccoli at home!?”. That is a natural first reaction. Large pieces of broccoli are, well, charred – so the florets get crispy and smoky, and the stems still have a great bite to them. The real magic of this dish lies in the butternut squash hummus the broccoli is resting on. Its texture is of hummus, but it’s all squash, baby. It’s thick, creamy and rich, not at all the watery squash puree you might imagine. When it’s all topped with nuts and bianco sardo (a sharp sheep’s cheese), the textural element of this broccoli is out of this world.
Other great dishes worthy of note: the earthy Hickory Smoked Bigoli, pictured above (that yolk though!), Lamb’s Neck Agnolotti, and Charred Chicken Hearts.
The Crispy Bok Choy dish completely surprised us. The flavors were amazing and the 60-degree egg definitely appealed to us immediately, but it also combined chopped walnuts, spicy colatura (anchovy) sauce, and a tasty garlic dip. The element that really blew our minds was actually the texture of the bok choy. Crispy and amazing. This is not a new technique obviously, but it is the work of a genius to create something so new, yet nostalgic as well. This made bok choy even sexier and we think it’s going to make a big comeback.
The Foie Gras Custard was served with a quail egg, warm snails and three exceptionally thick pieces of very well-made croissant toast. This was by far the heaviest dish of the bunch, but we’re always up for a challenge. The buttery croissant toast, upon closer examination, seemed to have been toasted in even more butter right before serving. With just a light spread of the salty, rich, yolk-y, almost cheesy foie gras, a bite of this toast was the ideal complement to the meaty snails, which had a light acidity to them to cut through the richness. Though a small dish, this is definitely one made to share.
You didn’t think we were going to stop there, did you? We’re serious ladies, and serious ladies eat dessert. Everything on their small dessert menu was so tempting that we had trouble deciding, but with a little help from our server we settled on the Chocolate Terrine, which was light and mousse-y yet simultaneously deeply dark and satisfying. Chocolate shavings, graham crackers, torched meringue and an orange marmalade added sweetness and texture to the smooth dark chocolate “cake”, and we had no complaints.
Although we skipped it this time, the Chocolate Bread Pudding is also a great dessert choice. They serve it with a scoop of melting ice cream made with Jacobsen salt (which we know and love!). This means that the bread pudding is not only deeply chocolatey, it also has a strong smoky flavor from the salt, and we’re huge fans of this combo. And if you’re into after-dinner coffee, they also brew a decent cup o’ Joe.
Overall, this is a great place to get after-work drinks, take a date, get brunch, or grab dinner with a big group. Old-school rap and indie rock seem to be the staff’s music of choice which makes for a very comfortable vibe, but it’s never too loud – so you’ll always be able to hear your friend gushing about how great the food is.
(And if you’re into following the work of local chefs, Chef Scelfo is currently working on a taqueria to open soon near MIT called Naco Taco (follow them here). We can’t wait! You can also follow Chef Scelfo on Twitter and Instagram, and if you’re really interested, read this great story about how he and his awesome staff handled entitled yelpers like a boss.)