It's been almost four years since I last wrote about Temple Bar in Cambridge (time surely does fly!). Back then, we were newcomers to the neighborhood between Harvard Square and Porter Square, excitedly exploring and visiting all the local restaurants that were in our neck of the woods.
Lots has changed in my neighborhood since I moved here five years ago. In fact, when I look at my "Welcome to my New Hood" series from 2011, I can't believe how many of those restaurants are now gone, like Chez Henri, Rafiki Bistro, West Side Lounge, and Ten Tables Cambridge.
In some ways, I really can't complain. The restaurants that have replaced these restaurants are phenomenal. I love Shepard, and Giulia is one of the best Italian restaurants in Cambridge. The new restaurant Forage, which took over the old Ten Tables/ Craigie Street Bistrot space, also looks really promising.
And then there are the ones that are still around. We still visit Cambridge Common on a pretty consistent basis for their amazing beer selection, addictive sweet potato fries, and excellent breakfast BLT. In the past five years, Temple Bar has undergone some dramatic changes, from a huge redesign of its interior to the introduction of a new chef, Richmond Edes (a Barbara Lynch and Ken Oringer alum) who is adding his own exciting touches to the menu.
In all honesty, it had been years since we had visited Temple Bar. Even though the food has always been nice and enjoyable, we always found ourselves choosing other nearby restaurants. A couple weeks ago, the folks at Temple Bar invited me to come back. They told me about Chef Edes and how he is adding a lot of interesting, globally inspired flavors to the menu.
They even casually mentioned to me that Temple Bar was one of the few restaurants in Boston serving the Hawaiian raw tuna dish, poke.
I was sold.
The menu at Temple Bar is very reasonably priced, with appetizers costing between $7 and $12, and main dishes costing between $19 and $24. There are also pizzas ($12-$13), sandwiches and salads ($9 - $12), and sides ($5 each). They have pretty good cocktails, even offering some barrel aged cocktails that they age themselves.
All of the bread is house made. On the day we went, we got a basket full of sourdough and focaccia with herbs.
We were really impressed with the appetizers, especially the quality of the dishes in view of the prices. We started with Wild Mushrooms ($9), a salad consisting of grilled mushrooms, a sous vide farm egg, sea beans, and pickled black radish. There were many strong flavors: savory, grilled mushrooms, sweet pickled black radish, and mild sweet sunchokes. All in all, the creamy egg really harmonized and brought together the various distinct elements of the dish.
The Wood Grilled California Asparagus ($7) came with buttermilk, candied kumquat, and almonds. The asparagus shoots were very fresh and definitely high-quality. Though I'm not a huge fan of kumquats, I still really enjoyed the asparagus alone, which was fresh, tender, yet had that lovely wood-charred exterior that added a nice smoky flavor.
The Tuna Poke ($12) came tossed with sweet onion, seaweed, and mung beans and came topped with Sriracha crisps. I found the dish to be tasty, but on the salty side, with strong flavors of ginger, onion, and (spicy) heat. The chips were good, and overall it was a decent dish, though still not has good as the best poke I've had in Hawaii.
We were quite impressed with the Grilled Spanish Octopus ($10), a lovely appetizer of perfectly charred octopus served over a bet of beluga lentils, fennel, and grapefruit.
The Agnolotti ($9) was a delicate dish that consisted of three homemade agnolotti filled with ricotta and English peas, topped with Meyer Lemon zest, and served in a light chicken broth. I loved the Meyer lemon zest, which balanced out the richness of the other components, adding a brightness that made the dish pop.
The server recommended that we try the Colorado Lamb ($24), a beautiful dish served with charred ramps, sauteed fiddleheads, fondant potato, and lamb jus. I loved the charred ramps, and the lamb itself was cooked a nice medium rare.
I ordered the slow poached Striped Bass ($23), which came with seared cauliflower, sultanas, and green garlic. The slow poaching method made the fish really, really soft and tender. The skin was separately fried and then laid on top. I loved the crispy texture of the skin, but I really did not like the taste. It had a strong, fishy flavor that dominated. I think if the skin had been salted more, the fish flavor would not have stood out so much.
The seared cauliflower was good, and I also enjoyed the green garlic sauce.
We got two sides. Bryan is a sucker for creamed spinach, so he had to try the Creamed Kale ($5), which was topped with fried garlic and charred shallot. It reminded me of creamed spinach but with a sturdier texture and flavor. It was fine, though at the end of the day, Bryan said he still prefers traditional creamed spinach.
We also ordered Brussels Sprouts ($5), which were tossed with maple and chili and topped with two pieces of lardo. The Brussels sprouts were nicely charred and the dish had a pronounced sweetness from the maple syrup. The dish was nice, though I generally prefer saltier preparations of the dish.
For dessert, we tried the Dark Chocolate Pudding ($8), which came with salted caramel, brioche vroutons, and citrus. It was comfort food, like the chocolate pudding of your youth. It did not have a very strong dark chocolate flavor, and it was very sweet. I didn't love it, but it was fine trying a few bites.
I did really enjoy their House Made Sorbet or Ice Cream ($8 for three), largely because my ears perked up when I heard they had a house-made yuzu sorbet. I really enjoyed tasting these more exotic ice cream flavors at my local neighborhood restaurant. Their vanilla bean ice cream was solid but didn't have as strong of a vanilla flavor as I would have liked.
Bryan had Montenegro, and we had tea and coffee, which were both nice.
I can genuinely say that the food at Temple Bar went above our expectations of the restaurant. We had been there before, and had sort of type-casted it as a place where you could get a good osso buco, decent salads, and nice cocktails, but nothing super exciting. This meal, we were really impressed with the level of the cuisine. We were especially impressed that they could offer this level of food still at a very reasonable price point (where can you still find really nice entrees for $19-$24 these days?).
Even though it had been years since Bryan and I had visited Temple Bar, I really think we may start adding it back into our regular rotation, especially on those nights when we don't really feel like cooking yet don't feel like traveling out far or breaking the bank.
Temple Bar Cambridge
Between Porter and Harvard Square
1688 Mass Ave
Cambridge, MA 02138
Disclaimer - I did not pay for this meal. We did pay gratuity on the full value of the meal.