BY MARTHA JEONG
During the precious, short time between when the rain finally stops and the snowy winter officially begins, I would highly recommend snagging an outdoor table at Red House, even if it means putting on that extra layer and scarf to eat Boston-style alfresco. I first noticed the restaurant on a slightly inebriated stumble from a firm reception at Upstairs on the Square and for a moment confused it with the no longer existing Brother Jimmy’s. Since when did Brother Jimmy’s have a candlelit patio upon which to eat fried pickles, and why was there such a sophisticated looking clientele? As I pondered these deep and confusing thoughts on my way back home, it dawned on me that it was a different restaurant altogether.
A hidden little find on Winthrop Street, this once domestic residence is steeped in history. First built in 1802, the house has changed hands many times until it was bought by owner Paul Overgaag five years ago. A well-known restaurateur in Cambridge, Overgaag transformed the quaint wooden cottage into a beautiful restaurant quite unlike any other in Harvard Square. The original four rooms in the house are used as private dining rooms, while new additions include a small bar lounge and a 55 seating capacity, red-wood lined main dining room, complete with sun roof and rustic charm in which our party dined away the early evening. The tables were well spaced out so that even as the dining room filled out through the course of the night, the lively chatter of the dining room was pleasant and especially within the confines of the high walled booths in which we sat, it took more effort to people watch than to drown out other fellow diners.
So first things first, the bread basket! I don’t know if judging a restaurant by the quality of its bread equates to judging a book by its cover, but regardless, a winning first impression is never a bad thing. My worst recollection is at this upscale steakhouse, where the bread roll came out harder than a brick and cold! It was so compact too. I rolled it in my hand looking for its weak spot in which to tear a little piece but found none. We looked around to see how these other beautiful people were eating their bread and to no surprise these little bricks sat uneaten on their plates. I finally cracked one open only to have it flake off violently into little bread chards all over the impeccably white tablecloth. Sigh.
Fortunately, I am happy to report the bread at Red House is a completely different story. And with complements such as a fantastically delicious little bowl of olive varieties and pickled garlic, a cup of grated parmesan reggiano cheese, and a friendly waitress willing to bring more of any of the above, our prologue to dinner was perfect.
The Red House has a seasonal menu with a lot of Mediterranean influence and this autumn boasts culinary delights such as Portuguese salt cod chowder, pulled duck confit and mushroom phyllo to start, while the entrees include a roast stuffed loin of veal, a calabaza squash risotto, and lamb tortellini. Almost all of the entrees come in either half-size or entrée portions for those who want to try a little of everything. I was also surprised to see another full dinner menu with more than a dozen specials, so it’s guaranteed that anyone in your party will find a meal to their liking.
To start, we shared some beer-battered catfish strips which were thin, light and perfectly crispy as well as the buffalo milk mozzarella wrapped in prosciutto which was fine but not particularly memorable. However, the shrimp linguini is highly recommended! The linguini is tossed with four or five jumbo shrimp, caper berries, cherry tomatoes, kalamata olives and garlic in a white wine sauce. The non-cream based pasta really makes each of the ingredients stand out on its own and paired with a ’03 Pinot Grigio, Bortoluzzi, Friuli made for an ideal meal. Risotto seems one of the chef’s specialties. In addition to the risotto offered nightly this season, the special smoked chicken and spinach risotto of the night was a hit. Creamy, but not overwhelming and with a strong smoked flavor that made you wonder where the bacon was hiding, it was a perfect entrée for a cold, rainy night. The medium tuna steak, on the other hand, which came a little over cooked and dripped with a creamy wasabi influenced sauce, left something to be desired. And for the fish lovers, there was an Atlantic tile fish offering in addition to the seasonal salmon Provencal. As for dessert, we decided to pass and go for the real thing instead, since the house desserts are brought in from Finale. All in all, a romantic and rustic restaurant for those in need of a change from the everyday fare in Harvard Square. The Red House is perfect for a great potential second date, a visit from the parents, or a night to celebrate a special occasion with friends. And if by miracle, a warmer and dry fall night comes upon you, fight for a patio table!
To throw in a little humor and to reward those who have little interest in fine dining and have still managed to read through the final lines of my restaurant review after reading the title, I have to admit I had much fun in spell checking this article. Microsoft Word needs to update its dictionary with more culinary verbiage. They redlined “grigio” and politely suggested I meant “gringo”? Pinot Gringo? And as for my salt-cured, air-dried raw Italian ham, Word believes the correct spelling of “prosciutto” should be “prostitute”. Ok, that’s it folks.
The Red House98 Winthrop Street617-576-0605