Alden & Harlow is one of Eater's 40 most anticipated fall restaurant openings in the entire nation. Chef/owner Michael Scelfo was the opening chef at Harvard Square's Russell House Tavern, where he gained a strong following and a reputation as one of the city's best meat cooks. As he prepares to open Alden & Harlow in the former Casablanca space — also in Harvard Square — he held a preview dinner at South End wine merchant Urban Grape. Eater was there and has details of what you can expect when the restaurant opens later this fall. Think full menu until close every night, more vegetables than one would expect, and food meant for sharing.
Shortly after arriving at Urban Grape — the relatively young South End outpost of the Chestnut Hill based wine, beer, and liquor store — guests were treated to a variety of large plates to share (food pictures, if you're into that kind of thing, are available here via the Eater Boston Flickr pool). Scelfo says he is aiming to show off his lighter side, and that was reflected in these three vegetarian offerings. Grilled romano beans with plums, basil and cotija cheese are an example of what he discovered in his time since leaving Russell House via his Twitter-documented (#dinnerathome "we say the word 'hashtag' a lot in my family") home meals. He discovered the "simple deliciousness" of grilled beans and matched whatever beans were available with whatever accoutrements were at their peak throughout the summer. By the time the "hyper local, seasonal, sustainable" restaurant opens, beans will not match that criteria, but Scelfo says to expect dishes with similar inspiration.
The other two snacks — a cauliflower and sesame caponata with grilled baguettes, and warm smoked cashews with currants and rosemary — and all the other dishes served come "straight from the menu" and will be served communal-style on small plates. Scelfo is aiming for a $6-$9 price point on each of the snack-type dishes. Urban Grape co-owner and the evening's wine-pairer, TJ Douglas, when asked by co-owner and wife Hadley Douglas for his favorite pairing, responded, "those cashews and my mouth."
Next, moving to the $7-$19 category of the menu, a course of grilled local carrots, house-made yogurt (a four-day process), honey from near Scelfo's Holliston home, and a granola made from faro, pistachio, and cocoa nibs made one taster swear there was bacon (there wasn't). This was followed by smoked and chilled Moosabec Farm mussels with grilled squash, parsley croutons, and tarragon.
"Lest anyone think I abandoned meat cookery," Scelfo finally presents an oven-roasted beef bacon with creamed corn and vinegar-glazed radishes. Even though he has no plans to emphasize charcuterie the way he once did, the seven-hour, hickory-smoked slab of fatty protein is likely to calm worried meat-lovers.
As to the drinks, cocktails and beer will be available and will be "taken seriously," but it is clear manager Jen Fields, formerly of Toro, is "excited to get away" from just Spanish wines. "We're excited to turn guests onto the magic of wine and food. We want to get people excited about wine."
The menu, Scelfo says, will change daily, but that will be driven by a desire to serve what is freshest and best at the market, not to reinvent each dish every day. Expect components to change, but not wholesale new plates on a daily basis. Most interestingly, the full dinner menu will be available every day from 5pm until closing. That means 2am beef bacon on weekends.
"Any chef will tell you that you can't do brunch without two sous chefs you can go to war with." Becca Arnold and Dave Tollerud — who Scelfo calls his "yin and yang" — have been deemed worthy co-combatants. There will be brunch.
At the end of the evening, Scelfo excitedly guided people around the room to point out features on the artist's renderings of the space, some pictured below. There will be a living wall, which will provide herbs to the kitchen if they are able to get them growing. A backlit reclaimed wood wall in the bar is designed to provide a warm feeling. Given the 40+ year reign of Casablanca, Scelfo repeatedly insists throughout the night that he intends to be fully reverent of the space that he points out has spawned chefs like Andy Husbands and Ana Sortun. "I used to come here and daydream about owning a restaurant before I ever considered opening it here. My aim is not to erase what's been done here," he says, explaining his choice to name the restaurant after the building's original architects.
Neither Scelfo nor his PR rep would commit to a specific time frame for opening, but they expect to be open "later this fall."
UPDATE: This piece has been updated to more precisely reflect the expected price ranges of the dishes.
· Food photos from Alden & Harlow preview [Flickr]
· All coverage of Alden & Harlow on Eater [~EBOS~]