Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Foie-stuffed quail at Harvest in Cambridge’s Harvard Square. (Photo: Tom Meek)

There’s go-to never-changing menus, some that feature augmented daily specials and those that have seasonal makeovers that keep some of popular and signature dishes. All are winners depending on your yens, but I do appreciate the opportunity to try something new while having that trusted old friend on standby. Not a lot of restaurants do this balancing act well. Harvest, a Harvard Square establishment since the Ford administration, has it down to a near science. 

Tucked off bustling Brattle Street, the destination eatery began as an organic, grassroots place in the ’70s and is now part of the Himmel Hospitality Group with the Grille 23 steakhouse and French-inflected Bistro du Midi (great omelets), both in Boston’s Back Bay. Harvest is fine dining to be sure, and bears the associated price tag, but you do savor the pride and quality in most every bite. The ambiance is decidedly stately, and boasts a transporting courtyard – it’s hard to believe such an urban oasis sits at the bottom of a drab ’60s cement structure. Harvest offers lunch, brunch (I highly recommend the vegetarian chili and eggs with a spirited Bee’s Knees cocktail to wash it back) and dinner. Raw bar offerings and a lobster roll find their way onto all three menus.

It’s primarily the dinner menu that rotates. Right now we’re at the end of a winter version that has some classic seasonal offerings (squash soup, root salad, lamb shank) and delish spins such as s fernet-washed venison carpaccio, mushroom bolognese, duck bacon campanelli (a smoky winter comfort) and skate wing (on my “to have before it goes” list). My recent tries at Harvest were the Spanish octopus terrine and foie-stuffed quail off the appetizer side of the menu. Both satisfied, but the quail was something special. The terrine is a chilled aspic cube of tender octopus and saffron potato slices with a slather of smoked mussel aioli to dip into and pequillo pepper to accent. A nice warmup for the quail.

The duck bacon campanelli at Harvest. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Quail is an underrated offering that seems to be getting some traction – you can get a Gas Station Fried version of at Season to Taste. The Harvest preparation is a multilayer oven process. The bird is deboned save for leg and wing and, as promised, stuffed with foie gras, cooked with a apple and orange marmalade and served atop a bed of cranberry and wild rice farce with a celery root purée, a winning combination of flavors and textures. Though just an appetizer, with the terrine or a salad it makes a meal. The foie is subtle and likely goes a long way to making the bird moist and flavorful beyond its gamey, gifted goodness. Due to its tenderness and the deboning, it’s also not hard to navigate, and the cleanup of the rice and purée at the end is an added air-kiss delight. Get it while you can.

Harvest (44 Brattle St., Harvard Square, 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.