Monday, May 20, 2024

The Gas Station Fried Quail at a relocated Season to Taste. (Photo: Tom Meek)

I’m happy to see Season to Taste open in the hot restaurant hive along Massachusetts Avenue between Harvard and Porter squares. It’s a crowded, diverse lot, with Indian (Nirvana), cozy tapas and vino dens (Barcelona, Dear Annie), Italian (Giulia), plenty of pizza (Harvard House of Pizza, Stoked, Half Shell and Upper Crust), seafood (Moëca), pub fare (Cambridge Common, The Abbey) and a battery of Asian flavors (Changsho, Chalawan and One Ramen, let alone all the unique offerings in Lesley’s University Hall). Price points, clientele and ambiance vary as much as the cuisine, and Season to Taste settles in as new kid on the strip offering a blend of New England fresh and Southern fried. 

To call Season to Taste new is a bit disingenuous, as it thrived for years in North Cambridge as a catering and takeout biz with a Beard-recognized tasting table, the Table at Season to Taste. Then the pandemic hit and owner Robert Harris pivoted, closed the Table, turned to takeout and reopened with a more homestyle, local-fresh menu with touches from his Southern upbringing. That storefront is now earmarked to be a weed dispensary, with Harris and company relocated to the site of the former Asian fusion eatery Mix-it. For his staffing, Harris has surrounding himself with old, friendly faces. You’ll see folks from Temple Bar and Christopher’s, add Cambridge mainstay and former City Council candidate Joe McGuirk is behind the bar. McGuirk, well known from his tenure at the beloved French-Cuban bistro Chez Henri (where Moëca now is) has brought to Season to Taste its classic concoction the Periodista, a dark rum, apricot and lime ’tini named after the Spanish term for “journalist.” (I didn’t have one, but I did have the Casa Loma of rye, fernet and  rosemary maple, a concoction in the realm of a Old Fashioned, but much smoother and not cloying.) 

The menu at Season to Taste is not a big one, but nicely balanced and varied with pescatarian, veggie and meat mains and of course a burger that comes with savory parmesan herb fries. The appetizer and snacks menu is bigger, with standouts being the yellowfin crudo, beef tartare and fried Duxbury oysters, which come in a light batter with a whipped parsnip purée. It’s a delicate balancing act that Season to Taste pulls off well; I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had fried oyster that simply tasted like a glob of batter – and no thanks. Also on the pre-main slate is a Parisian gnocchi with black winter truffle, a hearty flavorful nom. For me, if you pair it with the oysters or brown-sugar glazed carrots, a full meal. Also on a recent visit I was finally able to sample Season’s signature dish, the Gas Station Fried Quail. The batter’s akin to the oysters’, and while quail is a small bird, it comes spatchcocked so it’s easy to get at tender meat with a pleasantly faint gaminess and nicer texture than chicken. It comes atop a bed of bacon-braised collard green and black-eyed peas with a drizzle of hot sauce. As you dig in, the ingredients mix and play well together, making new flavors in each forkful.

Fried Duxbury oysters at Season to Taste. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Also on the menu is my Season to Taste comfort go-to, the creole spice mahi, a perfectly pan-seared mahi-mahi steak atop a rice dais surrounded by soul-warming andouille gumbo. If you’ve never had mahi or dolphinfish, it’s a flaky, tender whitefish like halibut; the folks at Season to Taste respect its delicacy, making the top and bottom neatly crisp around a moist center. 

Season to Taste also offers family meals that can be warmed and served for takeout or delivery each Wednesday, with orders closing on Monday. 

Season to Taste (1678 Massachusetts Ave., Neighborhood 9 between Porter and Harvard squares in Cambridge)

Tom Meek is a writer living in Cambridge. His reviews, essays, short stories and articles have appeared in the WBUR 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.