New restaurant joins the Harvard Square dining scene just in time!
As of late, the food scene in Harvard Square has been bleak. With the onset of construction and the subsequent mass exodus of restaurants, there have been significantly fewer options to choose from for midday or late night chow. Add the HUDS strike into the mix, and the options dwindle further. Thankfully, as of Thursday, October 6th, there is a new restaurant in the square: En Boca.
Housed in the building that formerly held Sandrine’s, En Boca was purchased in March 2015 by restaurant developers Bill Goodwin and Peter Sarmanian, who are also behind two well-known Irish pubs in Boston. Unlike their other restaurants, however, En Boca is far from an Irish pub. Goodwin said that his goal in creating En Boca was to serve “creative, farm-to-table food with a Mediterranean influence,” in an ambiance that is “classic with a modern feel.”
Two friends and I decided to check it out right after it opened. Walking into the restaurant, we immediately felt transported outside the grind of the Harvard Bubble, despite being a stone’s throw from the River Houses. It was certainly a departure from the dreary and neglected dining halls.
En Boca’s menu consists mainly of small plates: our server recommended we order three or four per person. “It’s all about the sharing experience,” Goodwin explained to me over the phone, before I even set foot in the restaurant. With this in mind, my companions and I ordered seven small plates and one of their larger (but still shareable) dishes.
At En Boca, everything is served to the table as soon as it is ready. Before we knew it, our table was adorned with several small plates. The first thing we sampled were the patatas bravas, which were paired with aioli, tomato, and sweet pepper. The potatoes were cooked perfectly—the skin was crispy, but the potato itself was tender. The sweet pepper sauce and creamy aioli complemented one another and the saltiness of the potatoes. Overall, this dish was delicious and simple—I imagine it will be a popular menu item as time goes on!
Next up were the crispy Brussels sprouts. It seems as though the chefs at En Boca have realized the truth about vegetables, particularly Brussels sprouts: they are much, much tastier when paired with bacon. The Brussels sprouts themselves were beautifully browned, but I stand by my assertion the bacon was the star of the show. Of all the small plates, my dining companions and I agreed that this was one of the best.
Another standout dish was the local halloumi cheese. For anyone who has never tried halloumi, ordering it at En Boca is the perfect opportunity. The small plate gives you just a taste of this delicious, salty cheese paired with notes of hazelnut. After your first bite, you’ll wish this dish came with more than just three pieces.
The charred cauliflower, while not quite a standout, was still delicious. The cauliflower itself, lightly fried, was not particularly flavorful, but the accompanying sultanas and labneh (a creamy Mediterranean aioli) really made the dish. In fact, the labneh also paired extremely well with the falafel, which we found to be too dense and dry on its own. The unexpected, yet harmonious combination of the falafel and the labneh, however, proved to be a delicious surprise.
Of all the dishes, the baked farm egg with chorizo dressing and polenta was our least favorite. Though it sounded good on paper, this dish lacked the texture and flavor that the other dishes so beautifully executed. The egg was cooked well (complete with plenty of yolk porn), but it blended in too much with the polenta, resulting in a mushy texture and bland flavor. The chorizo was saltier than it was flavorful, and unfortunately did nothing to salvage the dish. However, I liked the idea of a poached egg on the menu, and hope that the chefs will find a better way to serve it.
Our final savory course was the half roasted chicken with a sunchoke reduction. It seems as though the chefs had saved the best for last. After all, there are few things better than flavorful, juicy chicken covered in crunchy, briny skin. The sunchoke reduction amplified the chicken’s flavor perfectly. Though we were already pretty full by the time we got our final course, the chicken was one of the best dishes they served. However, since this dish was advertised as one to share, we think that the presentation could have better reflected the sharing aspect. The chicken was served on the bone. In order to share it, we had to cut into it with our own utensils, which could get a bit awkward when dining with acquaintances rather than friends or family. Given how delicious it is, leaving people to their own devices to cut the chicken might even create a Hunger Games-esque situation! If this chicken were sliced before it were served, then it would probably be more socially acceptable to eat in a group!
En Boca’s chef, Bryan Jacobs, who used to be the private chef for both George Bush and the Anheuser-Busch family, is still experimenting with the dessert menu. He served us a palate-cleansing dessert as well as an Egyptian cake. The palate-cleanser consisted of a quince sorbet with tahini shortbread, hazelnut and mint oils, and chantilly. While on paper, this combination may sound strange, it was one of the most unique desserts we had ever sampled: light, refreshing, sweet, and tangy.
The Egyptian cake, made with semolina and rum, had a wonderfully crumbly texture without being dry. To achieve this texture while still maintaining the flavors of the cake, chef Jacobs used a brown butter reduction as his base, instead of the tried-and-true method of creaming butter and sugar together. Paired with airy chantilly, which he made using an oxygen gun, this dessert was also light and perfectly sweet. Anyone who wants to see Science and Cooking in action must try eating at En Boca. Creating desserts that are both decadent and light is quite a feat, and Chef Jacobs certainly accomplished it.
It’s also important to note that En Boca is technically a wine bar, and it boasts an extensive wine list including plenty of fine wines served by the glass. In fact, they have a brand-new, cutting-edge enomatic wine dispenser, which allows the restaurant to preserve wines once they are opened. While no one in our group partook in the wine selection, it seemed to be popular with the other patrons.
En Boca offers many other beverage options, including cocktails, beers, and ciders. One of my dining companions decided on the strawberry peach fizz cocktail. After her first sip, she decided it was both too sweet and too strong; the overwhelmingly saccharine aftertaste did not sufficiently mask the taste of alcohol. While this was disappointing, our server quickly noticed that she was not drinking it, and offered to replace it with another she might prefer.
This is just one example of the outstanding service at En Boca. While aspects of the menu are still a work in progress, one thing that En Boca has mastered is its service. Our server, Isabella, was polite, knowledgeable, and attentive. She truly made our dining experience as enjoyable as possible.
Two hours and $103 later (a reasonable price for such a high-quality dinner for three), we left En Boca, full of delicious food and a desire to come back soon. While some of the small plates were not quite perfect, the chicken and the desserts were more than enough to make me want to return. Before En Boca officially opened its doors, Goodwin acknowledged his excitement about opening and “correcting our mistakes as we go.” With its outstanding service and talent in the kitchen, En Boca has a great deal of potential, and I can’t wait to see how it evolves in the coming months.
Caroline Gentile ‘17 (firstname.lastname@example.org) can’t wait to turn 21 already so she can go back to En Boca and sample all of their wines – to adequately review them for the Indy, of course.