Last month, I took my first trip to Boston for a conference and I’m here to report that I finally understand the hype. The city is charming and quaint while still being bustling and exciting all at the same time. Amidst lobster rolls, crab cakes, and far too many oysters, I had the immense pleasure of dining at Alden and Harlow in Harvard Square. As a student at Harvard, Alden and Harlow has always been my favorite place to take visitors when they come into town (or so I told people. What’s the harm in pretending to be Elle Woods’ classmate for a weekend?)
Alden and Harlow specializes in small plates, and trust me, they do it well. With many plant-forward dishes focused on thoughtfully sourced American foods, this is definitely a restaurant for the books. Noted as one of the Best Restaurants in the World by Condé Nast Traveler, the eatery lives up to the title effortlessly. They recommend splitting amongst a larger party and ordering the equivalent of about two plates per person. Thus, my group of 4 ordered 8 plates (plus one extra, for good measure).
Plate 1: Raw Pumpkin Salad. Right away, Alden and Harlow set the bar high. The raw pumpkin salad was OFF. THE. CHAIN. Shredded squash, jalapeño, cotija cheese, lime and basil, this mexican-inspired, fall dish elevated pumpkin to a new level in my book and I was totally digging it. My entire party was blown away by this dish and ridiculously complimentary, to the point that one would think we hadn’t eaten in days. Later in the meal, we discussed if the dish was really that good, or if it was received so well because it was the first dish to arrive and our palates didn’t know what was in store yet. We decided it was REALLY THAT GOOD.
Plate 2: Torched Fig with Black Pepper Yogurt. We followed the pumpkin with a fig dish from the ‘snack’ menu, even smaller than the small plates. This dish was my pick. In case you’re unaware, I love a good fig. The torched fig and yogurt was light and airy, helping to break up some of the heavier dishes to follow, and the smoked honey and kataifi (shredded pastry) added the perfect sweet notes to complete the dish.
Plate 3: Grilled & Smoked Carrots. Third in the lineup was the grilled & smoked carrots. The purple carrots were amazing, and my coworker deemed this her favorite dish of the night. Not the case for me, my heart stays with the pumpkin or the fish (coming soon). Although I do tip my hat to a solid pairing of a carotenoid vegetable (like carrots or sweet potatoes) with almond butter and pears – it was certainly a fantastic combo of fall flavors that should be applauded.
Plate 4: Charred Broccoli. Next came the charred broccoli. The butternut squash hummus and cashews definitely made the vegetable stand out. I love seeing creative spins on a well-known staple like broccoli. Cooked to the perfect level of crunch and served on a bed of hummus, this dish would make any kid re-think their opinions on green vegetables – and that’s saying something.
Plate 5: Grilled Bluefish. We washed down the veggies with the grilled bluefish. I didn’t take a picture of this because I figured “everyone can do fish, this clearly isn’t the hero tonight”. Boy, was I wrong! Grill-charred on the outside and creamy on the inside, this fish was unreal. Served with celery root, remoulade, and picked green tomatoes, the fish totally stole the show. I have been kicking myself ever since for not snapping a pic of this little guy to share with you all today. So folks, don’t let this be misleading. Albeit, there is no picture, but the bluefish is a MUST.
Plate 6: Roasted Beet Crostini. Now we were really getting rolling. After the bluefish came the beet crostini, another snack plate. Paired with burrata, whey, lemon, and filberts, I thought this was a great “bruschetta-style” approach to beets, providing some innovation to beets, which is well-deserved. That said, it could have used more burrata. Because let’s be honest, you can always use more burrata.
Plate 7: Merguez Tortellini. The tortellini was ordered for the sole purpose of experiencing the fairytale eggplant touted in the menu description. What is fairytale eggplant you ask? I still have no idea. But it was in my tortellini, along with roasted tomato sugo, pine nuts, merguez, and pecorino. I loved seeing the variety in this dish, as opposed to the typical cheese tortellini with pasta sauce. Paired with vegetables and no sauce, it fell somewhere in between a light pasta salad and heavier pasta dinner dish for me, and I thoroughly enjoyed that mid-point balance.
Plate 8: Chicken Fried Local Rabbit. Even as I write it, I find it hard to believe – we ate rabbit. Full of caution but trying to eat adventurously and step out of my comfort zone, I approached the rabbit with trepidation but it totally blew my mind. It was incredible. The rabbit meat was ground and tender and the crispy fried coating was light and not covered in batter or oil. It truly was a magnificent, flavorful bite.
Plate 9: Pistachio Cake. Dessert was a total after-thought. As per usual, when the waiter asked ‘would you like to order dessert’, we all responded with an astounding ‘no’ but then he left the dessert menu anyway and we couldn’t resist. We debated pretty extensively but ultimately decided that the Pistachio Cake was standing out to us. The light pistachio cake paired with fresh strawberries and creamy chocolate, this totally hit the spot and left us in the perfect state of dining bliss. It was a great dish to end a great meal!
All in all, I give this place some major props for their plant-forward menu, unique flavor profiles, and innovative dishes. I would love to see more restaurants explore things like zesty pumpkin salads, eggplant tortellinis, and beet crostinis. You’ll have at least one loyal customer, and if you’re lucky, she’ll tell all of her friends at Harvard about it too.