Thanks to Boston 'hounds for your suggestions for my quick trip. I was staying in Cambridge, close to bus & T, so able to take transit everywhere.
Special thanks to BostonZest for the suggestion of the Museum of Printing! (which ended at an unremarkable ChineseAmerican cafe in Lawrence).
Meals of note:
Mid-week late lunch at Russell House Tavern: Started with a smart cocktail and daily soup which was a rich Lamb Stew. Grilled mahi-mahi on greens combined the dense fish with brightly sharp arugula. The fish remained on the menu the rest of the week. Server Emallea (?) was attentive, answered my questions effectively, and was genuinely interested in our discussion of the challenges of urban farming and local sourcing. At 3pm, the room (upstairs) was very quiet, but became more lively as the clock neared 5.
Dinner at RHT, three nights later: With a group of 5, seated downstairs; 7:45. We ordered a variety of dishes and beverages. All food items were pronounced "good", "solid", "nicely done". Steak was excellent. Some guests' side items were missing, but not discovered until after much of the meal was consumed, so we decided not to pursue. The noise level was INCREDIBLY LOUD. Yes, sorry, shouting because that's what we ended up doing. Noise level probably affected our other senses, ergo late discovery of missing side items. Service was somewhat inattentive, but possibly in response to our originally very slow pace of ordering. After about 3 hours of trying to chat, and eating, we decided the noise was too great, took a cheese plate "to go", and headed home. Will return, but either smaller group or at least a different table. The round table would have easily sat 7, and was a bit too close to the walkway to the toilets.
Courtyard Restaurant, BPL: So surprised to find a white tablecloth dining room in the public library! Lovely, bright respite from the world. Deeply upholstered chairs might not suit everyone, but struck my mood. Charming amuse, blue cheese shortbread w/ apple cream, was served on a book. Roast pork loin was crispy outside, tender inside; served w/ baby artichokes. Nicely paired with the house pinot grigio. This restaurant is a hidden gem. Chef de Cuisine, Wyatt Maquire came out to chat roasting techniques :)
Island Creek Oyster: I must return! Unable to book a suitable time online, we decided to try walk-up. Table for 2. 7:30 -- a 90 min wait, "maybe". We were not in a hurry, so left a mobile phone number, and headed next door to Hawthorne for a cocktail. Sat at the bar at Hawthorne, mesmerized by the craft with which the 'tenders do their thing. Nice lineup of craft spirits, tinctures and bitters. Busy, busy bartender keeps us well hydrated, suggests snack items. We decline the first available table at ICO (50 min), but take the next one at the 90 min mark. Thank you for this excellent suggestion. We will return to both houses.