Where: Upstairs on the Square – 91 Winthrop Street Cambridge, MA 02138
When: March, 2012
I was flattered and honored to have been invited to join Libby and her family at Upstairs on the Square for her birthday dinner. This night would wrap up three days of celebrating, which is exactly how I think birthdays should be done. It was really nice to not only be able to celebrate Libby with her family but also to feel a part of a big family like hers. How fun sitting around a big bustling table like that!
Our table for 12 was ready for us when we arrived for our reservation and we were promptly greeted by our very friendly (and patient as we all said our hellos and took our spots) server.
Libby and I split the Grilled Escarole salad which came with lemon, carrot top pesto, and Parmesan cracklings. I really liked this salad – the escarole had a touch of bitter which paired well with the zestyness of the lemon and saltiness of the Parmesan. I love these little Parmesan cracklings, btw, they are really easy to make at home and look impressive on the plate (you can even shape them into little bowls while they are warm).
Margaret got the Butter Lettuce Salad which came with pippins (a kind of apple), sunchoke, sunflower sprouts, and toasted hazelnuts that she was happy to share with us around her. The butter lettuce salad was very different from the escarole one. It was creamy and much lighter, more of a summer salad (if escarole was winter-like, which I would say it is). I thought both were very good.
For my entree I couldn’t resist ordering the Tomato Soup & Grilled Cheese which came with English Farmhouse Cheddar. Nothing beats the comfort of a good bowl of tomato soup and a buttery cheesy grilled sandwich and this one was no exception. It was exactly as you would expect mom would make it, assuming your mom’s comfort food isn’t cuisses de grenouille and foie gras (aucune plainte, maman). My entree looks a little messy from the soup but it was warm and comforting and I’d definitely get it again. Look at that grilled cheese crisp from spilling out of the sandwich – yes! The only other entree I tried, although they all looked great, was Libby’s. She got the Strozzapreti which is a homemade pasta similar to cavatelli that came with roasted cauliflower flowerettes and toasted crumbs. I’m not sure how she felt about it but I didn’t really love it honestly. It tasted a lot like a quick weeknight meal I’ve made before which didn’t feel “special” (which I expect everything at Upstairs on the Square to taste like). It was very earthy and one tone.
For dessert we ordered numerous plates for the table but the two that we picked were the Zebra Cake and the One Perfect Formaggio Kitchen Cheese plate. The Zebra Cake was a chocolate layer cake with dulce de leche and buttercream served with malted chocolate ice cream. I love all the components so really expected to love this cake but it fell a little short. It was on the dry side and was very cold. I can’t really blame them for serving it cold as I appreciate them not serving me ill-stored food but it seemed to make it a little too firm and dry. The Cheese Plate was a little disappointing as well. The cheese was fine but the bread it was served with was very dry and not crunchy or crisp, like a cracker or toast. Almost stale tasting, like it had been sitting in a a warm oven for too long. I would suggest a different type of bread for this one for sure. Or perhaps toasted differently? We did try some of the Signature Milk Chocolate Pecan Turtles which someone else had ordered and those were delicious, as they have been in the past. I could have had another three of those instead of the cheese plate and Zebra Cake.
The service had been phenomenal during dinner. Our server was very attention, prompt, and friendly. Once the bill was paid some of us (the “kids”) decided that we wanted another round of drinks and had the toughest time getting anyone to notice us so we could place an order. We eventually flagged our server down and got our round of drinks, thank goodness.
Overall, well, you know I love Upstairs on the Square and I couldn’t ask for a better atmosphere (up there with the Beehive and Cuchi Cuchi) and, although I had a blast with this group, I wasn’t as wowed by the food as I have been in the past. I loved my entree, which was simple but delicious, and the salads were great but the desserts fell flat. The service was great until the end when we caught him off guard wanting another round but in a place like this I think the close of the meal is when we get our coats and leave, not when we pay the bill.