Boston Restaurant Blog -- June, 2011
Thursday, June 30, 2011
There's something about the smell of wood smoke, especially if it's coming from a restaurant you're heading to and you're still a half block away from it.
It's indeed rare that a restaurant makes you happy before you even arrive, but that is exactly what happened this week as we approached Area Four, a new restaurant in the Kendall Square section of Cambridge. And the unforgettable smell of wood burning from their ovens was the first of many positives that we encountered that evening.
Area Four is one of several new dining spots in Kendall Square (including a few that are getting ready to open). This section of the city used to be a bit of an urban wasteland at night since the main focus was on business, notably high-tech firms and biotechnology companies. But this has all been changing of late, with restaurants and other attractions sprouting up throughout the area, including the Technology Square section along Main Street where Area Four is located. Taking its name from the neighborhood in which it resides, Area Four fits in nicely here, with a sleek, modern, and slightly spartan look that upon first glance could almost be mistaken for an office building cafeteria--that is, until you see the bar in the front and the open kitchen toward the back, with its two wood-fired ovens and wood stacked under the counter. The space consists of a coffee shop in once section and a long, narrow restaurant/bar area in another (with the main dining area being beyond the bar and a few steps up). During the warmer months, outdoor seating can be found out front and along the side of the building. The high ceilings and exposed pipes contrast with the wood ovens, making for an odd but intriguing mix of industrial and rustic as far as the atmosphere is concerned.
Fairly crowded but not jam-packed when we arrived early in the dinner hour, a few outdoor tables were available at Area Four, and we were able to get seated at one right away. Being that this is Kendall Square (a mostly wide-open area with huge buildings and few trees), it was very windy at our table so we jokingly decided not to get any food items that might blow away (dishes with fennel pollen or powdered sugar were not an option, not that they had fennel pollen on the menu as far as I could tell). Our server, who was friendly and professional throughout, took our drink order, including an always-excellent Pretty Things Jack D'Or that somehow seems a just a little bit hoppier to me these days than in the past. We also decided to order a side dish as an appetizer--a plate of greens that was topped with tzatziki--and it was wonderful, with the creaminess of the slightly tangy sauce nicely complementing the earthy bitterness of the greens.
The minute we finished our appetizer, our meals came out (service was very quick from start to finish), and looking back, it is hard to decide which dish was better. The white pizza, which had fontina cheese and exotic mushrooms, had a buttery taste within the cheese, a deep richness from the mushrooms, and a smoky taste coming from the crust, which had a slight char from the wood-fired oven. It wasn't quite perfect (I would have preferred it being in the oven for perhaps another 30 seconds), but it was very impressive. Equally good was the macaroni and cheese, which had a mix of breadcrumbs, herbs, and spices on top giving it a crusty texture, and a slightly thin and creamy cheese/butter combination mixing nicely with the tender pasta. The dish also had a slightly smoky taste, as it had been briefly placed in the wood-fired oven at the end of the cooking process. Perhaps the best item of the entire night was the dessert, however; the chocolate cake had an extraordinary mix of olive oil, creme fraiche, cookie crumble, and, perhaps best of all, salted caramel placed on the plate below it all. This was easily the best dessert I've had in all of 2011, which is saying a lot because I've had some great ones (the English toffee bread pudding from the Citizen Public House in Boston's Fenway area comes to mind). Aside from the slightly small macaroni and cheese dish, portions were decently sized and prices really weren't all that bad, with our entire meal being a shade over $50.
It is nice to see a new restaurant start out by firing on all cylinders, and Area Four certainly seems to fit the bill here. There's no way to know whether this Kendall Square eatery will become a popular spot as time goes on, or whether it will become a bit of a hidden gem (its slightly out-of-the-way location will probably be offset by the sheer number of businesses in the area, as well as MIT, which is nearby), but either way, this place sure seems to be a winner.
If you would like the address for Area Four, here it is: Area Four, 500 Technology Square (Main Street), Cambridge, MA, 02139. The phone number is (617) 758-4444.
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