Russell House Tavern, Harvard Square, Cambridge- Revisited

Russell House Tavern is a mid-priced dark-wood and leather decorated gastropub, located directly off the T-stop in Harvard Square. It is a popular location with locals and visitors alike. We previously had brunch at Russell House Tavern last fall and we have been looking forward to dinner since.

The food here is good and fills a definite food void for me in Harvard Square. There are cheap eats and higher-end fare to be found but nothing as well-rounded with delicious, quality fare in the mid-price range. It’s modern, clean and the menu has something for everyone. The focus is on creative casual American food that is locally sourced and seasonally grown.

Chef Michael Schlefo gives a nod to offal in quite a few dishes on the menu as well. Although portion sizes can be a bit tinier than expected for the price, I find that Russell House Tavern provides unique and comforting food and drinks that I will be returning for, again and again. I’ve certainly got my eye on the crispy soft poached egg and the grass-fed burger next time around. Please note that Russell House Tavern is owned by the Grafton Group which also runs Temple Bar, Grafton Street and opening in Fall 2012, Park at the former Redline location.

We came on a Friday night around 9pm after a show at the A.R.T. to find an overly crowded downstairs bar. Following the usual waiting routine, we put our names in with the hostesses. Obviously while we waited, we were going to scout out the bar and sit there if we could find seating for three. Poised and ready to snatch seats, we waited. And waited. Then stared and conversed amongst our little trio. We waited some more, then positioned ourselves on opposite ends of the bar and continued to wait for leaving patrons. Finally after a fairly short thirty minute wait (it probably felt much longer because we were hungry) we snagged two seats at the bar, pushed them together and shared the impromptu banquette all together.

There were three bartenders for the large bar downstairs that night. Each one was dressed in a nice uniform of jeans, a grey suit vest, button down shirt with rolled sleeves and a tie. Given the busy hour, it was a bit tough to get their attention, but managed to do alright.

City of Eternal Spring- Rosangel Tequila, St. Germain, Meletti Amaro, Lemon, Grapefruit Bitters for $10

I really enjoyed this drink because it had one of my favorite liqueurs in it- St. Germain- an elderflower liqueur. The citrus and tequila helped to tone down the sweetness of the St. Germain and liven things up.

Pimm’s Cup- Pimm’s No. 1, ginger beer, lemon, cucumber for $10

This national, refreshing, seasonal English drink is not on the Russell House Tavern menu but any good bartender should be able to make you one. Pimm’s is a lovely fruit and herb infused gin that is a staple at most bars and restaurants. Pour some Pimm’s over ice, add seltzer or your favorite ginger beer/lemonade/ginger ale, and garnish with cucumber if you want to make it at home.

Archer Farms Beef &Tongue Meatballs- roasted tomato, melted Robiola, sage $9

You get two meatballs folks. Yup, that’s right. Why am I warning you? Because these little babies are so tender and tasty that you’ll want a whole plateful. They melt in your mouth and can easily be eaten with spoon.The roasted tomato is well seasoned with salt on the outside so make sure you chew it well to release the concentrated sweetness you get from roasting vegetables.

Archer Farms Beef Heart Ravioli, Pecorino crunchies, red wine sauce, pickled apple $9

I liked this a lot but wanted to love it. It was somehow missing something to push me in the right direction sadly. I’m definitely willing to try it again. I loved the tender, meaty beef heart inside as well as  the sweet and sour pickled apples with the au jus sauce but something about the pasta exterior was off for me. It could have been a random fluke.

Painted Hills Steak Tartare, griddled caper-brioche, chip-in farm egg yolk for $8

This was a very good tartare. The meat is clean, lightly seasoned and tasty. The egg is not on top like most traditional tartare but already mixed in. The brioche was crisp on the outside and slightly soft on the inside. The only disappointment was it was a small portion. For an additional $2, you can get a slightly larger portion size.

Warm Burrata Salad, honey roasted brussel sprouts, apple, Calabrian chili oil for $10

I really enjoy good brussel sprouts so when I saw this on the menu, I had to try it. I was glad we did. The roasted sprouts kissed with honey combined with the sweet apples and spicy oil went well with the creaminess of the cheesy burrata.

Citrus & Juniper Cured Gravlax- rye crumbs, pickled grapes, creme fraiche $8

This is a new item on the menu and it was pretty good. The housemade salmon was silky, smooth and lightly seasoned with citrus salt. When I ate it, there was only a hint of the citrus and I didn’t detect any juniper. The rye crumbs were more like mini rye croutons.The pickled grapes were something new to me. I’d never had a picked grape before. Sure, I’ve tried picked onions and beets, but grapes were a new territory in pickled foods. They added a pleasant sweet tang to the gravlax. Try it for yourself and see.

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