Afterglow Festival

Restaurants

A short list of our favorite restaurants—only the places we actually eat…often.

dining

MYERS + CHANG

Chef owner Joanne Chang is not one of those invisible sorts. She is in fact often behind the line in this (our favorite) South End eatery’s open kitchen alongside executive chef Karen Akinowicz where “the bar” is actually an old diner counter. But instead of watching soda jerks (people did that), you take in a choreographed dance of cooks chopping and wokking away. It truly is a marvel to behold the bobbing and weaving. But nothing so marvelous as compared to what comes delivered on your plates: thoughtful takes on Taiwanese soul food and Southeast Asian street fare. Start by sharing Esti’s Hot + Sour Soup and “dim sum-y things” like Jonah Crab Scallion Pancake, Koren Steak Tartare, Tea-Smoked Pork Spare Ribs or a choice of potsticker dumplings. Segue through Crispy Spring Rolls to Spicy Lamb Biang Biang, Pig Ear Pad Thai or Cod + Chorizo Fried Rice. Or come by yourself just get the Fried Chicken + Ginger Waffles and leave. Green Curry Lobster? Hot Szechuan Dan Dan noodles? Let’s face it you have to make multiple trips. We do. There are shellfish- and gluten-free menus. And a choice of like three whites and three reds. All good. Reserve or do what we do: Forget and just show up because we want to sit at “the bar” anyway. The waitstaff is the friendliest in town. You can tell Chang and her hospitality guru husband, Christopher Myers, treat their people right. Just writing this makes us have to get there ASAP. Drooling. Open continually from lunch through to late. Oh, and Myers + Chang are lovey-dovey business partners who also own Flour Bakery + Cafe. (see café-ing, below)
1145 Washington Street, (South End), Boston  617 542-5200. www.myersandchang.com

ALDEN & HARLOW

It’s curious to hear that your favorite Harvard Square restaurant is owned and chef’d by someone with a controversial rep in the Boston dining scene. The mention of the ubiquitously tattoo’d Michael Scelfo’s name can elicit an interesting array of responsive facial expressions. Some evoked the evil eye. Well, good thing he’s never done anything vile to us, because, evil doer or no, we are still going there (typically right when it opens in case we want to order a “Secret Burger” from the limited daily supply which does not last) until such time as we are personally affronted. Anyway, we’re attracted to bad boys. And though the hosting staff/managers seem a little vacant—perhaps they’ve been worn down—the waitstaff is a charming, knowledgable, scruffy-chic team who seem to have just rolled outta Somerville, all secretly hatching artsy passions of their own. The concept here is domestic kitchen which means it looks quite London-y. It’s all Griddled Haloumi with pickled cherries; Charred Broccoli with butternut squash hummus; Smoked Lamb Ribs with fried peanuts, miso sauce and mint, Fried Blowfish Tails; and Crispy Berkshire Pork Belly. They love to tell you which farm your flesh came from which is fine. It’s ever so slightly Portlandia parody, especially around the bar where the tenders make their own alchemical infusions and perhaps take the whole seen a tad too seriously. But who are we to say—though it can be quite funny. The craft beers and porters are inescapable. Don’t spend too much on wine—you don’t have to—ask if you can get one of the funky ones they serve by the glass by the bottle. Don’t take no for an answer, even if you feel an aggressive eye like that of Mordor radiating from the kitchen.
40 Brattle Street (Harvard Square), Cambridge 617 864 2100. www.aldenharlow.com

WAYPOINT

There is something fishy about the new sister restaurant to Alden & Harlow which is just steps from the festival venue Oberon. Whereas things are meaty to the max at Chef Michael Scelfo’s flagship, this new one is all about frying Nemo and flaying Dory. There’s a raw bar of Peel-and-Eat Shrimp, Wellfleet Clams, a pricey Caviar Service we’re sure people feel compelled to aford, a few Crudos and a revolving cast of Oysters. Then come the plates of Grlled Prawns, Wood Roasted Char Belly, Blue Crab & Gooseberry Salad, Smoked Makerel, King Crab and a Fish Sando (in limited supply like Alden & Harlow’s burger—a bit tricky? Yeah maybe.) But everything is delicious. To tell the truth, though we are hardcore pescatarians, we head straight for the pizza and pasta section of the menu which still has gills: Spelt Gemelli with Striped Bass? Yeah. Bigoli & Clams? Make it a double. The wine is pretty pricey. The beers aren’t that much better but there are delicious choices that come with stories of local or far-flung brewership. And it’s Boston so they do brunch bigtime. There is a sterility in the decor and that we hope will ease once the staff settles in and  too-firm booths and banquettes give way to what will likely be years and years of satisfied tushies.
1030 Massachusetts Avenue. 617 864 2300. www.waypointharvard.com

CAFÉ SUSHI

Just diagonally across Mass Ave from Club Oberon is this seemingly nondescript spot in what looks like a suburban 1980s strip mall, but there is more here than meets the eye—like some of the best sushi to be found anywhere. It has in fact been around since 1984; while it might remind our visiting Angelinos of Sushi Park on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood: Decor is not a concern, the focus is on mouthwatering fresh fare. It’s never the what but the how with sushi. So there’s no point rattling off what’s on the menu—you know what’s on the menu. What you don’t know is that this is where Bostonian and Cantabrigian chefs go to eat, as they have a rotating menu that keeps regulars coming back time and  again. You might think it’s not cheap but it is, in fact very affordable considering the quality of their superb product. Sure, you can bring those friends who order tempora and teriyaki as this place covers all the usual Japonica bases. But the sushi. The sushi!  We think it rivals any of the celebrated fancier places with celebrity chefs in town or elsewhere. For realz, Chef Seizi Imura is a blazing star in our eyes; and we know everything so…It’s no fluke we practically live here when working on shows across the street at Oberon. Fluke? Get it?  They do lunch and then shut and then reopen at 5:30 and you really should  reserve even though it looks like the kind of place you needn’t.
1105 Massachusetts Avenue. 617 492 o434. www.cafesushicambridge.com

UNI

We tread lightly here because we have complicated relationship with Uni. It is very good. In fact it’s great, but it draws a crowd who thinks it means something about their status to be here. Celebrity chefs (two words we don’t lurve) Ken Oringer and Tony Messina really do know what they’re doing and they use the premise of a sushi restaurant as a jumping off point for taking free license with their abundant creativity, offering up untraditional fare from a suite of traditional ingredients. Still, Holden Caulfield would hate it; but we get a sick thrill out of finding the most inexpensive (and best) way to take in as much of the goodness this place has to offer without giving into an adolescent urge to chew and screw. We have never ordered the $16 smoked uni spoon (literally one spoonful) of smoked sea urchin,  raw quail egg and osetra caviar, but everyone around us is making sure we know they have and are doing so again. We would sooner have the smoked hamachi tartare for that price. We go for hot plates here— Beef Shortrib Bulgolgi Tostadas, Chiang Mai Duck Carnitas, Green Curry Shrimp Fried Rice—saving our raw selves for Café Sushi. We also like to just order the cheapest house sake (super hot so you can’t tell how meh it is) and play dangerous drinking games, knocking back thimbles of the stuff, when our neighbors say pretentious things. And hey get this: they do late-night ramen starting at 11 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays when Uni becomes its best self: a boisterous hang-out for the rowdy but tasetful who need to replace some vitamins and minerals after a long night out before hitting the hay, girl. And it’s in the Eliot Hotel so you can always do hoteltonight and just head upstairs. We have.
370 Commonwealth Avenue (Back Bay) Boston. 617 536 7200. www.uni-boston.com

café-ing

FLOUR

Before there was Myers + Chang (see above) there was Flour
133 Commercial Street. 508 413-9336. www.joonbar.com

CLOVER

Food truck not.
133 Commercial Street. 508 413-9336. www.joonbar.com