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Rialto, Harvard Square

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Restaurants & Bars

Rialto, Harvard Square

GreenStreetThrill | May 20, 2004 04:08 PM

On Tuesday night, I had the best kind of dinner at Rialto - the free kind. Almost free, anyway, thanks to last year's b-day gift certificate (good until 2010, joypirate!).

Appetizer of "Asparagus Soup and Salad" was interesting and pleasant, if unremarkable. A few spears with a crisp slice of serrano ham (with some kind of dressing) made the salad; the espresso-sized soup had a small crisp of serrano, a dollop of sour cream or creme fraiche and some dill. All executed well, but not particularly memorable. Mrs.Thrill-In-3Weeks had the scallops and crab meat app, which was "fine." Pickled ramps were an eye-opening seasonal touch.

I could not resist the duck entree (roasted half, with fingerling potatoes, braised escarole and some olives, I think). It was a quality bird and was just the right duckiness, but the skin could have been crispier. The exterior appeared to be seared post-roast (just like in Jody Adams' cookbook, which I love), so why not crispy? Maybe a few minutes under a warmer? I dunno. The pan juices (or jus or whatever) were light and delicious and the portion was generous. Miss-Mrs. had the "Salmon Paillard, flashed on a plate with Vanilla Vinaigrette." Couldn't taste any vanilla, but said it was interesting nonetheless - the texture was something like thin-sliced smoked salmon and it wasn't raw, but nothing like a salmon steak either.

Dessert was easily the highlight course. The pastry chef was listed as Lynn Moulton (sister of bi-monthly Not-About-Food controversy Sara?). Rhubarb shortcake with two sorbets was delightful. While I loved the cake and the rhubarb sorbet, the brown sugar craime fraiche ice cream was sublime. Among the three crepes, the winner was the citrus cream (though the choco and strawberry ones were quite good also).

I had mixed feelings overall. The food was all good, just not $45pp (food only) good. Nothing particularly bold, nothing unforgettable. I guess my dilemma is that I don't feel like it should be judged against some kind of 5-star standard. It's quality Med-inspired seasonal bistro food served in the poshest hotel in Cambridge. Maybe that's a disconnect that leads people to exaggerate its greatness, or maybe it's one of those places (not going to suggest any flame-prone example) where a good chef and restaurant have inexplicably (to chowhounds) attained elite status. Or maybe the "simple regional" cooking that I think Jody shoots for doesn't lend itself to the 3-side ingredient or $12-app complexity. I'm blabbering now...

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