Last week, Dave and I grabbed a mid-morning snack at Area Four‘s bakery. I hadn’t been back since the bar/oven side of the operation opened so after our sweets we walked next door to the restaurant to take a look and check out the menu. As we were perusing, chef Michael Leviton walked by us on his way into the restaurant. He paused at the door and said something along the lines of “Go ahead, you know you want to,” which immediately won him points in my book. We explained to chef Michael that we’d just enjoyed a late breakfast at the bakery, but that we would happily return for dinner that night. And we did.
The restaurant has high ceilings and floor to ceiling windows which gives the space an open feeling and allows for a flood of natural light. The decor is minimalist and industrial, yet comfortable. The wood-fired oven is located right in the dining room and affords diners a great view of the chefs slinging pizzas and plating dishes.
Dave initially ordered a Harpoon 100 Barrel IPA. Our server Chrissy came back and informed us that they were out of the Harpoon but brought over a sample glass of the Naragansett Bock which the bartender recommended as similar to the Harpoon. Dave approved and ordered a glass.
The olive oil that was served with bread after we placed our orders was worth of mentioning. It was filled with salt, rosemary, red pepper, and other herbs. The first word that came to mind when I took a bite of bread drenched in the oil was fun. It was an unexpected mix of flavors: salty, fragrant, a little spicy, and of course rich.
The dishes at Area Four are divided into categories by size. There are small, medium, and large plates, in addition to pizzas. All of the dishes we ordered except for one were small dishes. The first was the house-made mozzarella with smoked tomato and spicy fennel-garlic vinaigrette. The cheese was creamy and tender, not at all chewy. The tomatoes were meaty and succulent, a perfect complement to the milky cheese. The fennel flavor in the vinaigrette was subtle and the dressing added a nice bit of heat.
Everything at Area Four was plated simply and elegantly, but the sweet pea hummus and pita won for most attractive presentation. The bright pea green set against the black miniature skillet was visually stunning. The seasonings in the hummus were somewhat unexpected. There was no indication on the menu of the flavoring in the hummus. With fresh peas, I often expect something light and spring-like — mint, lemon, basil. I did not expect a deep, smoky cumin flavor, which came as a surprise. The hummus had a chunky, not-fully-blended texture which went nicely with the paper thin pita chips.
My favorite dish of the evening was the farro and barley with zucchini, lemon, and mint. The grains were hearty and chewy. Their texture was the perfect contrast to the tender zucchini. The dressing was heavenly–thick and rich. The lemon flavor was sweet and tangy, not sour or acidic. The mint added a muddled herbal note. The zucchini was left raw and acted like a sponge, soaking up the lemony dressing. When I finished the salad, there was a little pool of dressing leftover in the bottom of the dish. I could not get enough of the flavors and used some bread to sop up some more. I would enjoy that dressing served alongside bread as a dipping oil any day.
The baked egg, maple sausage, bacon and cheddar was the one dish we ordered from the medium category. It was served piping hot in a mini dutch oven. This dish boasted several layers of flavor and texture. The maple flavor from the sausage permeated the entire dish. Once you broke into it, the runny egg seeped down and soaked into the sausage and potatoes. The flavors of the egg and sausage were most dominant, but the soft cubes of starchy potato served to bind all of the components together. Dave said this dish was the essence of breakfast.
Chef Michael won points in my book yet again when this dish came around. When it arrived, I began dutifully fussing with it in an attempt to get a good photograph. Michael and one of the managers saw this and kindly urged us to break into the egg before it cooked any more from the heat of the dish. I was impressed with their efforts to ensure that we enjoy the dish how it is meant to be.
For the last small plate, Dave chose the house-smoked Provincetown bluefish and Verrill Farm scallion salad. The fish had good smokey quality that was offset by the flavor of the scallions and onions and the finely sliced red onions added a little sweetness to the dish. Though the fish was not served with anything alongside, it went nicely on top of bread.
Having tried several of pastry chef Katie Kimble’s creations at the bakery, I had high expectations for the desserts. I considered several of them, and our server helped me out by suggesting the olive oil-chocolate cake with créme fraîche, salted caramel sauce, and cookie crumble.
This cake was stunning, both in taste and presentation. The cake was not at all cake-y, but smooth, like a chunk of incredibly creamy fudge. Topping the cake with creme fraiche as opposed to whipped cream was an inspired choice. The tartness of the creme fraiche helped to bring out the mild sweetness and chocolate flavor of the cake. The saltiness of the caramel sauce provided another foil to the sweetness of the cake and the cookie crumbles soaked up the caramel sauce and added a satisfying crunch. With the mix of tastes–sweet, salty, tart– and textures, this dessert was executed flawlessly.
And because I’ve been reading about Area Four’s soft serve all over Twitter, I had to try it out. The vanilla soft serve was incredibly light and refreshing. Unlike conventional sof tserve (i.e. Mister Softee), this didn’t have a chemical taste and texture that coats your mouth. I look forward to trying the soft serve in one of their sundaes, which change daily. Examples include chocolate soft serve with marshmallow, salted caramel sauce and crispy bacon.
For as chic and well put together as the restaurant is, I loved that they still manage to keep it fun and not take themselves too seriously.
I could not have been happier with my first meal at the Area Four restaurant and I am thrilled with this addition to the Cambridge dining scene. The restaurant is a pleasant setting in which to enjoy a meal with friends. The dishes are creative and made excellent use of the seasonal ingredients available that day-spring peas, scallions, zucchini, herbs. This was my first time trying Michael Leviton’s food and I was very happy with my experience. I went early on a Monday night when the restaurant was less busy and I am curious to see how the vibe changes when it is packed with diners. I am looking forward to returning very soon and trying more of the menu offerings, namely the wood-fired pizzas.
500 Technology Square