There are some restaurants you go to because the food is great (hopefully, that’s most restaurants). There are some restaurants you go to for the setting. And there are some restaurants you go to because you’re driving down I-95 and the Roy Rogers has a “bathrooms are for paying customers only” policy.
The reason you go to Alden & Harlow in Harvard Square, though, is to be at Alden & Harlow. It’s designed to be a destination, in that it’s a collection of things you’ve seen and liked in every other cool restaurant around town: small plates, open kitchen, high-end cocktails, exposed brick, wooden beams, and quirky neon signage you’re either supposed to take a picture of, or point to and say “hey, there’s some quirky neon signage.”
The food itself, though, is mostly a collection of good but not great stuff you’ve had elsewhere - in every “New American” restaurant that’s opened on the Eastern Seaboard in the last five years. There’s the smoked duck breast, the tuna crudo, the kale salad, and the secret burger with the short rib beef blend.
Having said that, nothing is bad, several things are pretty good, and you’ll easily find your favorites. We like the Wellfleet clams and the shiro plum salad, which is exactly the type of dish you dream about making when you spend $50 at the farmer’s market, only to let half of your exotic fruits and vegetables ferment in the bottom drawer of your refrigerator. For the most part, though, the dishes here just remind us of other restaurants that do them a little bit better.
There are situations when Alden & Harlow is a good option - like when you’re with your friends and need a place you know will be fun. Or, perhaps you’ll find yourself in Harvard Square when you need to go to the bathroom. In that case, a drink at the bar and a bite of the stuffed peppers will be significantly better than whatever happens inside a Roy Rogers.
It’s not just pretty, it’s good. Call it the Helen Mirren of appetizers.
Agnolotti is essentially a fancy word for ravioli, and zucchini is a fancy word for squash. That’s an A+ on the name, but only a B- on the dish.
Calling it the local rabbit makes us sad. Like, did it have a nice little home out in Waltham? Take the kids in to Fenway a couple of times a summer and up to Nashua for some leaf-peeping in the fall? Don’t get us wrong, we ate it and it was tasty, but still: kinda sad.
In the rush to keep creating new and inventive ways to cook pork belly, mistakes are made. In this case, the mistake is serving up a pork belly that’s so crispy it threatens to send you to the dentist.
As New Englanders, it hurts us a little bit to admit this, but it’s true: clams are ultimately best used as vehicles for other foods. Here, they’re used very well to get an unbelievably rich and smoky mixture of pork and parsley into your mouth.
Definitely a good burger - buttery, juicy, and served with some kind of cheese cracker on top. But it might not even be the best thing on the plate, thanks to the addictive homemade chips. In other words, don’t feel like you need to wait in line for this.