Everyone was devastated when chez Henri closed.
The quaint little French bistro had been operating on a small street right off Mass Ave between Porter and Harvard for 19 years. Its Cubano sandwich was legendary. Its French and Cuban menu was always a favorite, and the place remained very popular until the end.
The space sat silent for over a year.
And everyone, especially those who live nearby (like me), were insanely curious to know what would take over that space. I would check it out whenever I walked by, seeing if anything looked different. One day, I noticed that they had repainted it. And then more recently, a sign came up.
We found out that the restaurant was a collaboration between James Beard Award-winning chef Susan Regis of UpStairs on the Square (one of our old favorite stomping grounds) and Rene Becker of Hi-Rise Bread Company (umm, yet ANOTHER one of my favorites!).
Shepard is named after the street on which the restaurant is located, but Chef Regis is quick to point out the street was named after Thomas Shepard, a "crazy minister at Harvard back in the 1600s . . . [h]e was all about big ideas, and he used them to gather people together. We’re basically doing the same thing." [source]
Now that I knew who was behind this project, I was official thrilled. I could not wait until we could get back another awesome neighborhood restaurant.
And hopefully, another place we could call our second home.
About three weeks ago Bryan and I walked by the Shepard space again. It was most definitely open, and there were tons of guests inside.
"When did you open?"
"Almost three weeks ago."
"Bummer, we already ate. But, can we have a copy of the menu? We'll be back . . . we promise!"
It took a couple weeks, but finally we returned, just like we promised.
I like what they've done to the original chez Henri space. The wall that used to separate the bar and the dining area is gone. The overall space is bigger and more open. It feels very elegant yet relaxing and pleasant.
It's no surprise that the bread is freshly baked Hi Rise bread, served with a special cultured buttermilk butter that takes three days to make. The butter is fantastic - a little tangy like yogurt or cream cheese, but light and whipped like butter.
We quickly used up the tiny allotment on the slate, but they gladly gave us more when we asked.
The menu is divided up into multiple sections. The Petit Section includes small bites ($3 to $8), like different types of charcuterie, grilled shellfish, or various seasonal vegetable offerings. From that section we ordered the Smoked Bluefish Pate ($8), a lovely creamy and smoky pate served with Melba toast. It was a small bite, a teaser that just whetted our appetites even more (that's what appetizers are for, right?)
We also got the Chamomile Ricotta ($5), fresh cheese made in-house served with crunchy house-made rye crackers (almost like a flatbread) and honey. The texture was thick, almost like goat's milk cheese, yet the flavor was mild and pleasant.
The Grilled Shishito Peppers were fantastic. They came with a shaved egg yolk powder and a sprinkling of sea salt, which rounded out the flavors quite nicely. I also loved the smokiness from the charred peppers.
The Pinwheel Sausage ($6) was just an all-around delicious sausage. It was juicy, super flavorful, and just a bit smoky. I actually wished it was bigger since I finished my portion so quickly.
Grilled Leeks with Romesco Sauce was also really good. The leeks were charred and nicely smoky but also creamy and tender. The Romesco sauce was vibrant with flavor; it was spicy, garlicky, and we even dipped leftover sauce with our remaining Hi Rise bread. Everyone loved it.
The Moins Petit Section, which literally means "Less Petit", includes slightly larger appetizers ($11 - $16). Here is where you will find your salads, pastas, and other meat-focused small plates. We have always been a fan of small plates, so we ordered two dishes from this section.
The first was a Salad that came with farm fresh greens, charred green beans, watermelon radish, and a poached egg on top. The salad was simple yet filled with high quality ingredients executed with perfection. I liked how the dressing was light - the natural flavors of the vegetables were allowed to shine.
Another favorite dish was the handmade Beet Cappellacci, a beet flavored, hand-formed, cone-shaped pasta (they look like little witch hats) which came with generous chunks of tender lobster meat and a gorgeously smoky wood-fired tomato sauce. Bryan and I both fought for the cappellacci (there weren't that many). We were surprised how tasty a whole grain pasta could actually be. Not only did it have good texture, it had that deep, earthy flavor that comes from whole grain. The best part was the smoky tomato sauce, which totally made the dish.
The Tomato appetizer was another really tasty dish. Summer tomatoes are at their peak right now and they are fantastic. Served simply with some salty sea feta, onions, heritage popcorn, and hyssop, the overall salad was light, refreshing, and full of summer flavors. The popcorn and the feta were visually similar yet tasted completely different. It added a fun element of surprise to the dish, because if you didn't look carefully you might confuse the two. The popcorn added a mild textural crunch, which was sometimes muted if a particular piece got soggy from the dressing.
For main dishes, the menu has two sections: the Grande section, which includes larger individual sized entrees, and the Plus Grande section (literally, "Bigger") which includes entrees that are meant to be shared.
From the Grande section we tried the Bouillabaisse, an aromatic fish stew that packs in a TON of flavor from all sorts of seafood - like lobster shells, clam shells, and various fish parts that are painstakingly cooked, blended, and strained. The soup itself was extremely flavorful, and part of me was a bit sad that there wasn't more of it (common theme here!).
We took pleasure in dipping our bread into the soup and also eating it with everything else in the bowl. The dish also came with generous amounts of seafood, like clams, grilled fish, and octopus, as well as potatoes, fennel bulb, and various herbs. I was pleasantly surprised that the octopus (which is often overcooked at restaurants) was perfectly executed here (nice and tender, not at all rubbery!).
From the Plus Grande section we shared the 45-day Dry Aged Pork for Two ($60) and were totally blown away.
The dry aging process concentrated the flavors of the pork. The meat, cooked to a healthy pink medium, was tender, juicy, phenomenally flavorful, and all around fantastic. The salt level was just right, and the accompanying bitter greens and slightly sweet mustard sauce were great complements.
Bryan kept remarking, "I think this is the best pork I've ever had."
That's quite a statement considering where's he's dined in his life.
We also tried the Dry Aged Lamb for Two ($50) on another occasion. Similarly, the meat was perfectly cooked and had a more intense lamb flavor. It was very good, though I think we both preferred the pork. The lamb dish came with a side of sunflower "barigoule" (the center part), seeds, and petals. The server described it as being sort of like an artichoke heart. It was OK, but none of us really fell in love with the cooked sunflower.
We preferred the flame-charred-on-the-outside-almost-rare-on-the-inside meat, a gorgeous result of that roaring fire in the kitchen.
The menu includes a few side dishes ($7 - $9), like simple frites (fries) or whatever vegetables are in season. We had some tempura fried Zucchini Fries, which actually included some summer squash as well. Everything was fresh and delicious.
For dessert, we shared a Grilled Doughnut with Espresso Ice Cream. The doughnuts are made in house and then grilled to order. The dessert was satisfying and comforting. Not the most innovative flavors, but fun for sure. I also appreciated the chez Henri plates that they used to serve this particular dish - a nod to the old location!
I think this place is doing a phenomenal job of bringing people together. On weekends, the place is bustling with activity. Folks all over the neighborhood are thrilled to have a new restaurant in this space. The numbers most certainly don't lie.
I am thrilled to have yet another excellent dining option so close to my house. Chef Susan Regis is really talented and we have really enjoyed what we've tried so far on our first two visits. We've always liked her food at UpStairs on the Square, but we like it even more here. I like how she changes up the menu a lot based on what's seasonal and what dry-aged meat she has at the moment. It means I'll be coming back more frequently (I get bored of static menus fast).
I also appreciate the Herculean efforts her team is making to create everything (or so it seems) in-house from scratch. Everything from their own dry-aged meat and house-made ricotta to the pinwheel sausages, grilled yeast doughnuts from scratch, and fresh handmade pasta (yay, Bryan's favorite!).
The portion sizes are a bit smaller for the price, so expect to spend a bit more here for the quality food that they put out. Bryan and I don't eat a lot, but we've never left with leftovers (unlike at most restaurants). The wine list is mostly French (with a touch of Italian here and there). We really enjoyed the wine that we got, which seemed reasonably priced (around $60).
It's only been about three weeks and we have already returned twice. I can see us visiting many more times in the future.
Welcome to the neighborhood, Shepard!
1 Shepard St
Cambridge, MA 02138