Saturday, June 22, 2024

A weekly notebook about dining options during the Covid-19 shutdown, with a focus on quality and ease of pickup and delivery.


The carrot pastrami schnitzel at Forage. (Photo: Tom Meek)

I’ve always relished the eateries in Craigie Circle’s Harlow building, from Butterfish and the Craigie Street Bistrot to Ten Tables and now Forage – all special-occasion, unique-eats destinations. The locale is unique too, a subterranean bistro space in a residential building in a residential neighborhood just outside Harvard Square, near the Sheraton Commander and Longfellow House. The name Craigie refers to Andrew Craigie, who served in the Continental Army under Washington and used to own the Longfellow House. He was also responsible for erecting the Canal Bridge on the Charles by the Museum of Science. 

All dining incarnations at this locale have been fabulous. (Sad note: Craigie on Main, the Central Square bistro run by visionary chef Tony Maws, after being on a “pause” since August, went up for sale as 2021 ran down. It was the Craigie Street Bistrot in this spot before moving in 2008.) Since Ten Tables general manager Stan Hilbert took over the space in 2016, the culinary concept has been “hyper-local, ingredient-driven.” The regular menu has an eclectic array of small plates that work as tapas if you want to skip the big dishes (though the red-wine-braised monkfish and lamb blade chop are big draws). Some “small” highlights are the rock shrimp salad, chicken gizzards on toast and pupusas stuffed with beef mole or with spinach and potato, crowned with coleslaw and with a ghost pepper foam on the side for dipping. (It comes with a friendly warning from your server that one big snarf might have you slurping down your glass of water.) There’s also an Iggy’s bread platter neatly arranged on a big wooden cutting board. It may sound dull, but you get a huge, super fresh and perfectly sliced loaf with maple butter, whole currant jam and a seasoned olive oil to spread on or dip into – it’s comfort heaven and surprising how inviting and pleasing it is.

The fun thing at Forage, which has a dark, homey coziness and a quaint wooden bar that seats maybe six, are the Tuesday wine pairings, a four-course pre fixe meal with generous, regionally themed pours at the start of each course. They vary by week and have omnivore and vegetarian options; you can cross pollinate, should you choose. Some memorable gobbles from my Tuesday visits include a goat tomme and bergamot bread pudding, something of a très savory tartlet; the carrot pastrami schnitzel, a yummy toasted German pasta topped with blanched carrots, delicately roasted mushrooms and bits of apple to give it the perfect wisp of sweetness; and mushroom sausage – yes, that’s right, medallions of seasoned fungal goodness with lacquered sweet potatoes and tart cherry syrup, lightly wilted spinach and Beurre Maître D’Hôtel, a fancy name for the herb butter than comes on the side. Each course and wine pairing come with narrative from your server as to sourcing, preparation and vintner. It’s a fun battery of factoids that educate as well as give you a glimmer behind the curtain and into the food industry. The evening is capped with a digestive cheese, homemade cracker and a cordial to send you on your way.

Mushroom sausage with lacquered sweet potatoes and tart cherry syrup at Forage. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Forage is one of those restaurants that worked hard to pivot during the pandemic by selling produce and offering family meals. It’s now back to its bread and butter – almost literally – but you can get takeout and wine to go (the list is not long, but I’ve never had a below-average pour here, and the Forage folk really know their wine) as well as some hot sides to eat there or take with: pickled jalapeños, heritage hot sauce and prairie fire chilis fermented in an oak cask for five years (feel the burn!). The best way to stay up on the Tuesday fun is to join the Forage mailing list, which lets you know what each week’s menu will be.

Forage (5 Craigie Circle, West Cambridge)

Cambridge writer Tom Meek’s reviews, essays, short stories and articles have appeared in WBUR’s The ARTery, The Boston Phoenix, The Boston Globe, The Rumpus, The Charleston City Paper and SLAB literary journal. Tom is also a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics and rides his bike everywhere.