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Critical Seasoning

Restaurant Review: Alden & HarlowGiven the abundance of New American restaurants in this town (and a subsequent dearth of originality), you might be forgiven for thinking that Alden & Harlow is just another in the glut of gastropubs. It certainly has all of the trappings: subterranean entrance, barrel-aged cocktails, and even a “secret” burger. But to call the small plates coming out of Chef Michael Scelfo’s kitchen “ordinary” would be to insult adventurous flavors and presentations rarely seen this side of the Charles. Dishes of seasonally-appropriate and locally-sourced ingredients succeed with remarkable consistency, especially considering the unusual combinations. Anything vegetable-forward steals the show, from a rainbow panoply of carrots wreathed in smoke to roasted beets lightened by whipped cotija. Tender broccoli is charred darker than the restaurant’s ebony walls, texturally offset by smooth squash hummus and a cashew crunch. For those with more #basic tendencies, the “ubiquitous” kale salad is anything but. Instead its greens are massaged into submission and coated with honey-sweetened pistachio dressing. Keeping with the weighty atmosphere, proteins err on the heavy side, but not all hit their mark. A dense-looking hunk of braised beef delights diners as it falls apart at the touch of a fork, but one night the ratio of fat to meat in the crispy pork belly had me wondering who needed liposuction more—the pig or me. And then there’s the burger: an umami-oozing bomb, smothered in haute-Big Mac sauce and topped with a crispy tuile of Cabot and bright pickle slices. Be warned, though, limited daily production makes it harder to get than a spot on the Colombia trek.

Alden & Harlow—40 Brattle Street, Cambridge—

*** (Out of four stars)

$$$ (Out of four dollar signs)

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