Had dinner last night at Upstairs on the Square. The pluses were the food's bright flavors courtesy of first-rate ingredients, the well-mixed drinks and the A for effort earned by our beleaguered server. The downside was the very, very loud space and the telltale signs of an overwhelmed kitchen and staff (most egregious: mains arriving while we were still enjoying our apps).
There were several large groups scattered through both the main room of the Monday Club Bar and the balcony. We were seated next to one such group in the balcony area, but it was so loud we couldn't hear each other, even when we raised our voices. The hostess was very accommodating about moving us...to a slightly less raucous part of the balcony, where the noise level was still too high for comfortable conversation. The restaurant is large enough that that they could solve their noise problem by setting aside one of the two rooms for large groups and the saving the other for parties of 2 or 3. For me at this price point, eating in a space that is reasonably quiet and comfortable is second in importance only to the quality of the food. The extremely intrusive noise problem was actually starting to make me feel claustrophobic and then it was that much harder to enjoy the flavors of the food.
Fortunately their food is so very good. We tried two of their cocktails - the Aviatrix and the Jackie O - both subtle combos of liquers, in small but potent servings. We ordered the bacon-wrapped dates, the skirt steak salad and the frisee salad from the appetizer list. All were terrific. Excellent, smokey chunks of bacon in the frisee salad and great texture provided by the rustic croutons. The other salad was a lovely combo of flavorful steak, sweet beets, silky avocado, red onion and greens. I wonder how the addictive bacon-wrapped dates compare with the ones someone mentioned at Orinoco's. Honestly we could have stopped right there, the salad portions were so generous.
Instead, we moved on to the sea scallops, the veal and their by-the-glass Riesling, which was a bit too sweet. The scallops were enormous and buttery though their accompaniments were undistinguished. Why not leave the "heirloom chickpeas" whole instead of pureeing them? The softness of the scallops needed textural contrast. The veal delighted my DC, who is ordinarily not a veal fan. Two huge flattened pieces coated in a crispy batter that somehow managed to be light in flavor but substantial in crunch. Served again with unmemorable sides. (To the poster who was trying to figure out where to get a burger in Harvard Square: the cheeseburgers being served at an adjacent table looked amazing.)
For dessert we shared the divine butterscotch pudding - a homey treat that was a break from the ubiquitous crème brulee. The complimentary caramels topped with sea salt left us with a sweet taste in our mouths - despite the noise, an accurate summation of our experience.
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