Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Alden & Harlow, Boston, MA

Update Review, May 2017 Visit

In the summer of 2016, I visited Alden & Harlow for the first time, and had a wonderful experience.  The food and drinks were innovative, interesting, and delicious.  The space was welcoming and comfortable.  So almost a year later, when in the Boston area again, I planned a return, even though we were only in town for a few meals, and it almost seemed like a waste to visit a place again, when there were so many restaurants I wanted to try.
Part of our Feast.
We ordered an assortment of dishes, all family style as that is how the restaurant serves everything, and had a good meal, although it certainly didn't have quite as many highlights as my previous visit.

Service was good, our waiter was friendly, but the pacing was far too fast.

I'm not sure I'll return a third time, since I do want to try other places, but, the corn pancakes alone would make me consider.  Maybe I need to go for brunch next time?
Bar Area.
I was only able to get a 5:45pm reservation for my group of four, even a few weeks in advance, which was a bit early, but did allow us to settle in before the restaurant got extremely crowded.

We were seated in an entirely different section than my previous visit, and I hadn't realized quite how large the restaurant was last time, as we were in the small, intimate atrium near the front then.  This time we walked by the large bar (complete with seating), and past several other areas with tables.  Our seats had views of the open kitchen, and I enjoyed watching the grill and dessert stations in action.


The cocktail menu at Alden & Harlow was as interesting this time around as last, with all new cocktails.  I was drawn in by unique aspects of nearly every single one.  One of my fellow diners selected the "You yuzu call me on my cell phone", only to be told that the bartenders had deemed one of the key ingredients, english peas, no longer suitable.  Fresh spring pea season had peaked, and they weren't willing to make the cocktail with the peas they now had (which were used in dishes from the kitchen).  High quality bar at the bar!
Norigami. $14.
"Japanese Whisky, Nori, Lemon, Suze & Elderflower."

I'll admit, I picked this because of the nori.  Well, and because it was a whisky based cocktail, and I do tend to go for whiskey, or gin, based drinks.  But really, it was the nori that intrigued me.

There was no nori visible in the drink, and at first, I also didn't taste it.  But then randomly I got a sip here or there where I could detect it.  But certainly not "nori forward".

The lemon element was strong, this was clearly a citrus based drink, but I also didn't really taste the whiskey, it tasted more like a gin drink.

Overall, it was just kinda meh for me, and I'm still not entirely sure how the nori was integrated into the beverage.

Savory Cuisine

The menu had the same format as my previous visit, 7 "snacks" and 22 other plates to pick from, to compose a shared family style meal.  Dishes are served as soon as they are ready, which, like last time, turned out to be too fast for a comfortable dining experience.

As with my previous trip to Alden & Harlow, picking which dishes to order was difficult.  The menu just has too many amazing sounding items, and most were new to this visit, with only a few dishes from last time remaining.  I literally wanted nearly everything on the menu, able to rule out only the rabbit (because I had too many pet rabbits), the burger (because we had it last time and I was unimpressed), and the clams (cuz, eh).  I very sadly passed up dishes featuring burrata (I adore it, but, it isn't that rare), halloumi (again, love, but I do get this regularly), and morels (someone in the group doesn't like them).

Our group of four opted for 2 snacks and 5 others, which was a more appropriate quantity than the 1 snack and 7 others that we did last time.
Pickled Green Beans (complimentary).
I liked the complimentary snack of pickled green beans last time, so I looked forward to these, but this time, they had a strong flavor that I didn't care for.
Snack: Fried Cauliflower Pickles. $8.
"Golden Raisin Crema, Ras al Hanout."

Our food started arriving quickly, about 5 minutes after we placed our order, and just two minutes after receiving our cocktails and green beans.  It came fast and furious.

First up was one of our "Snack" selections, fried cauliflower pickles.  This is one that I advocated for just due to how unique it sounded.

It arrived very, very hot, temperature wise.  Clearly fresh from the fryer.  I reached out my fork to stab one, and was shocked by the resistance from the cauliflower.  It was crazy crispy, coated in a really fascinating batter.  I couldn't get over the texture of these.

The golden raisin crema was creamy and tasty, a fascinating flavor.  The cauliflower batter however contained the ras al hanout, and I just didn't care for it.  And it was very well seasoned, and very flavorful, but, since I didn't like the flavor, it somewhat ruined the dish.  Still, I was very fascinated by the frying technique.

My 4th pick of the night, because I loved that batter and creamy sauce.  Like all "Snacks", it was $8, and a reasonable portion size for, well, snacking on as you got started.
Pickled Verrill Farm Corn Pancakes. $15.
"Buttermilk, Maple, Shishito."

Literally one minute later the corn pancakes arrived.  I was devastated, for several reasons.

First, I had barely taken a sip of my cocktail, or a bite of the cauliflower, when this arrived.  I really need to tell them next time that I prefer slower pacing, as I do want to be able to enjoy, focus, and savor the dishes as they arrive.  But the bigger concern I had was just the ordering.  I had assumed we'd get our two snack dishes first, then move into our salads, and then some of the carbs and meats, a normal meal progression.  I had actually fairly seriously suggested to my dining companions that we order this dish as dessert, or ask to have it last, but I thought that would naturally happen.  I really wasn't expecting it to come before the other snacks and salads.

Anyway.  I took one bite, and my logistical frustrations vanished.  It was so, so good.  This dish is a staple on the menu, and was the highlight of my first visit to Alden & Harlow, and this time was no different.

The dish was nearly identical to the first time we had it: creamy buttermilk yogurt at the base, 3 crispy corn pancakes perched on top, a scattering a popcorn, shisitos on top of that, and maple drizzled over the whole thing.  This time we seemed to have more popcorn (less good, actually), and the corn pancakes were more crispy on the outside (better, they had a lot more color on them this time, if you compare the photos).  The pancakes also seemed more like grits this time, more gritty, and less whole kernels.

But wasn't different?  How ridiculously tasty it was.  Even though I knew what to expect this time around, my brain still couldn't quite make sense of it.  A chunk of crispy, gritty corncake, with a bit of soft smoky roasted shisito pepper, dragged through the creamy buttermilk and insanely delicious sweet maple drizzle ... just so good together.  Such great flavor and texture combinations, the perfect mix of sweet and savory.  I still felt kinda "meh" on the popcorn though, which again surprised me as I do adore popcorn in general.

Just like last time, this was my favorite dish, and my notes simply read: "Yum, yum, yum!".  That does sum it up nicely.  I'll continue to always order this, although, next time, I'll ask for it to come later in the lineup.
Radish & Grilled Nettle Salad. $16.
"Pickled Green Almond Ranch, Crispy Peas."

2 minutes after the pancakes arrived, the first of our salads did as well.  Luckily, this was a cold salad, so we were able to just push the plate off to the side, and continue to focus on our corn pancakes and fried cauliflower pickles.

I picked this one because I wanted something lighter and fresher, and, uh, I kinda love radishes.  I snack on whole radishes all the time.  Plus, the "pickled green almond ranch" and "crispy peas" certainly sounded unique.

The radishes came in several varieties and assorted size chunks.  They were fresh, crispy, and juicy.  Good radishes.  The nettles were grilled, and just kinda mushy, but intensely flavored, greens.  While the "salad" was named after these two components, it was the other ingredients that really made this great.

The "crispy peas" weren't quite what I was expecting, I assumed they'd be fried or something to make them crispy, but rather they were more "crunchy", just super fresh, flavorful peas.  They were really excellent.  And yes, just peas.  I know the bar said the peas weren't good enough for cocktails, but, these were shockingly good peas!

And finally, the "ranch", which I guess was made with pickled green almonds?  It was a fairly thick spread, all over the bottom of the plate, perfect for dredging the other components through.  I loved it.  Yes, it tasted like ranch, but, honestly, some of the best "ranch" I've ever had.

The $16 price seemed a bit high for what was a fairly small salad, but I really liked it.  My third pick of the night, based off the fantastic crunchy peas and that delightful ranch.
Snack: Baby Kalette Caesar. $8.
"Creamy Bagna Cauda, Herbed Crumbs."

And again, 1 min later, another dish.  We were 4 minutes into our meal, and didn't have any space left on the table.

This was also considered a snack, which didn't entirely make sense.  It was bigger than the other salad from the main menu.  It also ... was not nearly as pretty as our other orders.

Last time, my second favorite dish was shockingly the Crispy Baby Bok Choy, and I was kinda hoping this dish would be something like it.

It wasn't.  When I tried a bite of the greens, I immediately thought that kalettes were what I know was lollipop kale.  It turns out, both are kale + brussels sprouts crosses, but, created by different companies with different trademarked names.  So, this was a different brand of the same thing that I know as lollipop kale.

The greens were bitter, and very crispy, they seemed to have been fried.  Not exactly what we were expecting, but, the bok choy had also been crispy, and it worked there.  Here ... I just didn't enjoy it much.  We also weren't quite sure how we were supposed to eat this.  It sorta seemed like finger food, which makes sense, given the "snack" designation.

The bagna cauda was kinda just plopped on top.  It was creamy, had ok flavor, but was hard to distribute over the kalettes.  The crispy herbed bread crumbs were lost amongst all the other crunch.

This was a pretty lackluster dish for me, my least favorite of the night.
Smoked Lamb Ribs. $18.
"Lamb Fat Fried Peanuts, White Miso Sauce, Mint & Pickled Mustard Seed."

Here we had a 10 minute break before the next onslaught began, with our first more substantial dish, lamb ribs.

I don't actually like lamb, so didn't intend to have any of this dish, which was good, given that the order came with 3 ribs and there were 4 of us.  That would have been awkward to split, and it seems our server should have mentioned that when we ordered, as, again, everything is meant to be shared.

I did try the fried peanuts, because, well, who can resist things fried in animal protein?  But they really just tasted like any old roasted peanuts to me.

I'm not giving this dish a rating since I didn't really have it, but the others seemed happy with it.
Seared Foie Gras. $21.
"Green Strawberry & Ramp Mostarda, Green Chickpea Biscotti, Parsnip."

Three minutes later, one of the dishes I was certainly excited to see finally showed up: foie gras!  Back in the months leading up to the foie gras ban in California, I went rather nuts eating foie gras on the daily, and it actually isn't something I order all that often these days (I know, a shocker for anyone who knew me back then).  But, I do love a good seared foie gras, and this pairing sounded amazing - I adore green strawberries and ramps, and the idea of a chickpea biscotti was too fascinating to pass up.

The foie gras was well executed, a nice sear, quality produce, although, the chunk was rather small to split for four people.  The rest of the plate had a slew of things going on - slices of ripe red strawberry (sweetness!), a puree all over the base (was this the parsnip?), lots of mostarda (acidity!), bits of pickled green strawberry (more acid!), chunks of the biscotti (yup, crispy and tasted like chickpeas), and other herb garnishes.

It all combined together well - a piece of crunchy biscotti, rich creamy foie, sweet berry, and acidic elements, hit the necessary elements of pairing with foie in an unexpected way, and the flavors were good.  I was happy with this choice, my second favorite.
Green Latkes. $16.
"Pickled Chanterelles, Fiddleheads, Spicy Honey & Labneh."

Hot on the heels of the foie came another dish that was ... not a looker.  It was hard to even know what this dish was.  Under all the garnish were indeed latkes of similar color as the garnish, along with labneh spread on the plate and some sweet honey seemed to have been drizzled over it.

The latkas were kinda mushy.  I didn't care for them.  The chanterelles were chunks kinda alongside, and were fine but very acidic.  I felt like I didn't really get to appreciate the mushrooms.  The fiddleheads were part of the garnish, and they were fine, although they also seemed pickled.

The concept of this dish doesn't seem all that different from the corn pancakes, with savory and sweet elements, and a patty, but, I just didn't like this one.  There was just too much acid going on that wasn't balanced out.  My second to last favorite.

[ Not Pictured ]
Grilled & Smoked Carrots. $15.

"Carrot Top & Olive Hummus, Benne Seed, Feta Crema."

Not pictured is a bonus dish that arrived from our server, but was delivered by someone else, who brought it to us, saying, "and your carrots".  We were confused, as we didn't order them, and sent the dish away.  It came back maybe five minutes later, with the explanation that our server added it for us.  He later told us that we ordered so many of the less common items, and he wanted us to get one of the dishes that everyone seems to order.  Hence, carrots.

The carrots were really smoky, which reminded me of many of our dishes the first time we visited.  They were crunchy and good, but, still carrots, which aren't my veggie of choice.  Still, the flavors and textures in this dish were good, and I'm glad I got to try it.


The dessert menu really didn't appeal to me, which is sad, because, I'm all about dessert.  It is really interesting to me that a place that has such a phenomenal menu has such a lackluster dessert menu, 3 items, plus cheese.  Just like our last visit.  Our choices were the signature smoked chocolate bread pudding, German chocolate cake (which sounded decent actually, with chocolate mousse and white chocolate bark, but, both two of us avoid chocolate in the evenings), and cashew cake.

We talked about going elsewhere for dessert, and all acknowledged that we weren't really hungry anymore anyway.  But I had some unresolved business.  When we visited last time, they did not have the signature salt ice cream that goes with the bread pudding, as they had freezer problems.  I still wanted to try that salt ice cream.
Jacobsen Salt Ice Cream.
So, we asked if we could order just the ice cream, which was no problem.

It came as a large portion of two scoops, an off-white color, with something brown powdered on top.

It was creamy, it was rich, but it wasn't salty in any way.  It did have a flavor to it, it clearly wasn't vanilla, but it seemed more ... smoky than anything?

I guess I'm glad I tried it, but, this wasn't for me.
Cashew Cake. $9.
"Maple Creme Anglaise, Orange Whip, Harry's Berries."

One of my fellow diners decided to also add in the cashew cake, if we were staying anyway.  Given that I don't like cake, I often don't like cashew flavors, and I don't like citrus flavored desserts, I wasn't really excited about this one.

At the base of the dish was a thick sauce, we think this was cashew based.  There was also dots of a brighter orange colored sauce, clearly the orange fruit element, which was actually really good.  It tasted like really intense fresh squeezed orange juice.  The whipped cream was also orange flavored, far less intense, and was pretty enjoyable too.  The cake though was just a kinda dry cake with little bits of cashew in it.  Very meh for me.  Cashew crumble and a couple slices of not very ripe nor flavorful berries completed the dish.

The citrus here was nice, but, otherwise, not a winner for me either.

Original Review, July 2016 Visit

In July, I took a trip to the east coast to visit my family in New Hampshire and enjoy the summer weather.  Ojan also traveled at the same time, to Boston, to visit his family, and then to our Cambridge office to meet with co-workers.  I was not on a business trip myself, but, decided to tag along and work from that office in order to extend my summer just a little bit longer.  And to crash his outing with his co-workers, of course.

Since I visit the Boston area about twice a year, I have a list of places I'd like to dine, ranging from family-friendly options (like Area Four, where we went with his family and kids the night before) to returning to my favorite higher end Clio.  When Ojan started planning with co-workers, I suggested a few places from my list.  Many were met with "ooh, yeah, that place is great, but we were there last week", while others had their shortcomings pointed out.  I really loved this response; it validated some of my choices, keeping them on my list, and demoted others.  But, moreover, it meant that they cared.  They know the Cambridge area food scene.  This was exciting to me.  And, one person suggested a place that wasn't on my list.  It should have been.

So I trusted my local guides, and we set off to Alden & Harlow, near Harvard Square.  Trusting them was an excellent decision.  The food was very good.  The menu was full of fascinating choices, that somehow all worked even if they sounded odd, and were well prepared using innovating cooking techniques.  The cocktail program was solid, even including mocktails for Ojan.  The service was prompt and thoughtful, I frequently saw the wait staff pause for a moment before approaching us, waiting for a natural pause in our conversation.  They even took the time when bringing out dishes to state that "This dish is safe for the allergy", referencing my watermelon allergy.  It felt a bit silly by the 5th time or so, but, really, it was appreciated.

I normally introduce a restaurant by describing the style of cuisine, but, I'm not quite sure how to do that here.  Alden & Harlow serves ... modern American cuisine?  But, tapas style?  But not really tapas, just, all designed as share plates.  It was a format I loved, since I really like trying many things, and hate committing to just one appetizer and one main dish.  They make everything they can in-house, and source locally.  The place would fit right in in San Francisco.

Alden & Harlow is open for dinner nightly, and brunch on the weekends.  Our visit was for dinner, mid-week, but I would love to return for brunch too.

The Setting

The setting was beautiful.  We were seated in an area near the front entrance of the restaurant, off in a little side room with only 5 or 6 tables, all underneath a glass roof.  It was bright and open, and felt like we were outdoors, while still in air conditioned bug-free comfort.

The area that wasn't under the glass had big wooden planks on the ceiling, a rustic, yet refined touch.  The walls had exposed brick, again, slightly rustic, but not in a grubby sort of way.  I failed to get a photo of the lights, but they were housed in decorative cages, almost sculptures or art works themselves.

The seating was quite comfortable, with cushy padded benches along the exterior, and substantial chairs on the inside.

The atmosphere was casual and inviting, a perfect match for the style of cuisine.  The restaurant was actually much bigger than this, broken into several other sections, but, I didn't explore the other areas and was really quite pleased with our location.
Place Settings.
The tables were an elegant dark wood, sans tablecloths or place mats, but we did have cloth napkins.

Since the entire menu is designed to be shared, we were provided medium-sized share plates to start.  Every dish arrived with its own serving utensils.
Second Set of Plates.
We were advised to order ~2 dishes per person, and since we had a group of 4, that meant 8 dishes.  I tried to encourage the group to go a bit lighter, since I also wanted dessert, and I knew how large the portions were, but, everyone was so excited about the menu that we wanted all the things.  So, 8 dishes we got.  We were not able to finish everything, and certainly would have been fine with 6 dishes (or even less, really), but, then we would have needed to make harder choices.

Our meal was coursed out by the kitchen, arriving in waves, starting with the lighter 5 dishes, before moving on to the more substantial meat-heavy final 3.  In-between the two waves, we were provided clean plates and silverware, and real knives to deal with our upcoming cutting needs.  It wasn't necessary to swap our plates, but, I had accumulated some random sauces and discarded stems, so, it was appreciated.


Once seated, we were offered still or sparkling water, both house filtered.  I really appreciate this, as I love sparkling water, but kinda can't handle coughing up $8 a bottle for water imported from the other side of the world.  There is just no need for that.

Our party was split, 3 of us opting for sparkling, and one for still, and somehow the staff never got it confused, even though they didn't use the telltale technique of different types of glasses, and numerous different people stopped by to keep our water glasses full.  I still don't know how they pulled this off.  Anyway, our water glasses were kept full without being invasive, and, I drink a lot of water, so they certainly had their work cut out for them.
Drinks Menu.
This entire menu was drinks.  Let's just say it was extensive.  The right column was all wines by the glass, including orange (?!) wine. The middle column was beer, both bottles and on draft.  But my eye was on the far left column, the cocktails.

The cocktail menu is broken into several categories: "liquid diamonds", stirred, and shaken.  The variety of alcohol and liquors used was huge.  Many had vegetable elements, like corn, beets, and cucumber, or fruit, like strawberries, rhubarb, and cherries, or herbs, like chamomile, dill, and spruce.
Paper Mache. $12.
"Bourbon, Leopold Aperitivo, AH Bitter, Brown Sugar, Lemon."

Picking a cocktail to start was hard, but, in the end my appreciation for bourbon won out, and I went with the Paper Mache.  It was a bitter concoction, with a generous amount of their housemade bitters. The lemon came through on the finish, kinda cleaning up behind the stronger bitters. While the description said it had brown sugar, there really wasn't much sweetness to it at all.  As a reference point, I am sure Emil would have liked this drink.

But I liked it too.  I wasn't in the mood for a fruity, sweet thing, hence, my pick.  It also meant I didn't drink it too quickly, and it was the perfect sipping cocktail while we settled in.  Oh, and it was frothy on top, from the shaken preparation.  I liked the froth.
Non-Alcoholic Menu.
Ojan asked me if he should even bother trying to get a mocktail, as usually when he does, he just gets a glass of sweet juice, which is rarely what he wants.  Since the cocktail menu seemed so strong, I encouraged him to ask.  When he did, the server said that they even had a mocktail menu, and came back with it moments later.  A separate menu is always a good sign.

One of the mocktails was the "Raincheck", a modified version of the "Purple Rain", usually made with gin, roasted beets, dill, lemon, Swedish Punsch, & egg whites.  The name really was quite cute.  But the Rain Check, while dropping the alcohol components, also dropped the egg white.  Ojan loves frothy egg white drinks, so he asked if they could do a version with the whites, or, if the bartender didn't think that would be good, suggested any mocktail, not too sweet, that would work with egg whites.
Raincheck + Egg Whites. $8.
"Roasted beets & dill, lemon, agave."

The bartender was happy to whip up a raincheck and add the frothy whites.

This was a pretty interesting mocktail, certainly not sweet.  The lemon and beets together were quite tart.  Honestly, it felt healthy, and more like a juice cleanse sort of drink, just with fun froth on top.  

It isn't what I would have wanted to drink with my meal, but it was certianly interesting, and certainly not just fruit juice.


Savory Menu.
As I mentioned, the menu is not split up into classic appetizers and mains.  Everything is share plates, although they do range in size.  Like the drink menu, it was extensive, with about 30 options.  And, I kinda wanted them all.  Seriously.  Most of the time when I visit a restaurant it is easy to rule out many items, and generally 1-2 things jump right out as clear choices, but here, besides the rabbit and quail, there is literally nothing I didn't want to try.  Of course, there were items I was more excited about than others, but, all sounded fairly fascinating.

The first section of the menu, in a box on the left side, is "snacks", which are supposed to be smaller plates, for $8.  I expected these to be much smaller than they really were.  We opted for one of them, and it was still quite large.  Next the menu moves into some lighter options, including crudo, pate, and lots of salads and vegetable choices.  Things get a bit more substantial as you move across the menu, moving into items like softshell crab, pastas, and fish, before the final column of heavier meats.

The box on the left, the snacks, clearly separated the smaller plates.  But then, randomly on the rest of the menu, were two more boxes, each calling out a single item.  One was grilled romanesco and the other crispy bok choy.  I have no idea what the significance of these items was.  And since the menu changes daily, it isn't like they were daily specials.  Amusingly, the boxes served to make us ignore items, rather than draw attention to them.  When one member of our party suggested the bok choy, the rest of us all said, "what, where?"

Anyway.  It was hard to pick only 8 dishes from the list of 30.  I had done my research, and I knew one dish I really wanted, so, that was a definite.  Others had a few token dishes they were most excited about.  So our first 4 choices were very easy, basically, everyone had a favorite in mind.  From there, we had to negotiate.  I think the hardest decision was which of the salads to get.  Which I realize sounds strange, but, really, the salads sounded amazing, including the "Ubiquitous Kale Salad" that had I had read many raves about, or their spin on Caesar with escarole, fried smelt, and grilled lemon, or even the Trumpet and Duck Tongue salad, with roasted trumpets, aioli, ricotta salata, and pickled fruit.  We settled on a different salad, as the others had stronger preferences than I, and it turned out to be one of my favorite dishes.
Complimentary House Pickled Sesame Green Beans.
Once we finally ordered, we were provided with a complimentary bowl of pickled green beans.  I thought this was a fun snack to start with, and far better than standard offerings of bread baskets, or, a little amuse bouche.  We could eat them at our leisure, and, they really did help get me into the meal.

I really liked the pickled beans, which surprised me, as I'm quite partial to the dilly beans that my great aunt and mother both make.  These weren't the same style, they were more tart and vinegary, but the texture was perfect with a slight snap still (I hate soggy pickled veggies!), and I liked the touch of the crunchy sesame seeds (and I think a drizzle of sesame oil?) on top.

Overall, very good, and I found myself going back for more and more, even though we had an onslaught of food coming.  The acidic pickled nature also helped compliment the first few dishes.  My third favorite dish of the meal.
Crispy Chickpea Panisse. $8.
"Salsa Verde, Anchovy & Caper Aioli."

Three minutes later, our selection from the snack menu showed up.  I was actually more drawn by a couple of the other snacks, like the chips and "three-onion dip", since I love chips and dip and enjoy trying nicer versions than classic Lipton mixed with generic sour cream, or the green garlic and cheese fritters with pickled ramp aioli, because, fried and aioli are hard to turn down.

But instead we got the crispy chickpea panisse, at another diner's suggestion.  I think Ojan was as surprised as you may be that I said yes to this one, as I hate chickpeas.  However, I do try to force myself to keep trying things I don't generally like, and environments like this where we are sharing so if I don't like it it is fine, I'll just have more of something else, are a great opportunity.  Also ... I'll admit, "crispy" sounded promising, and I was pretty sure this was going to be more like polenta than chickpeas really.  Also, um, aioli.

The order came with three disks of the crispy chickpea panisse, which was, as I had hoped, more of a polenta like fried cake than anything resembling chickpeas.  Yes, it was made with chickpea flour, but I certainly didn't taste chickpea.  Interestingly, two of the disks were much thinner than the top one.  I'm not sure if this was intentional, as normally don't you want everything the same size for ease of cooking?  But, it did create two different experiences of the cake, one with more creamy interior than the others.  I thought the textures were great in both versions, the inside super creamy and moist, and the outside crispy and seared.

Also on the plate was salsa verde, underneath the patties, and anchovy and caper aioli in dots along the side.  The salsa verde was kinda oily, but, it did offer fresh herbyness to compliment the creamy aioli and fried cake.  The aioli was fantastic.  It was strongly flavored, and I loved it.  The capers and anchovies, salty, briny, and quite flavorsome, really did shine through.

On top was a garnish of fresh pea tendrils, hinting at the kitchen's use of fresh vegetables.

I genuinely enjoyed this dish, and I'm quite glad we ordered it.  Crispy fried things with fantastic aioli?  Yes, please.  It was my third favorite dish that we ordered, and yes, I went back for seconds, of a dish I didn't even think I wanted.  One other diner rated it their top dish.  I'd gladly share it again.

Since this was considered a snack, it was only $8, and an incredible value.  It also made me fearful that we had definitely ordered too much food, since this was dish 1 of 8, and, it was supposed to just be a little snack to start us off!
Grilled Cavolo Nero & Fennel Salad. $12.
"Pickled Peppers, Pecorino, Green Garlic Pangrattato."

Two minutes after our snack was delivered, so was our first dish, our salad pick.  I rarely order a salad in a restaurant, but I was craving some veggies.  I had been traveling for nearly 6 weeks at this point, and, well, my body was feeling it.  I wanted greens, so, I, of all people, am the one who suggested we order a salad.

As I mentioned, there were a number of great sounding salad options, and I wanted all of them more than this one.  But ... the others seemed most interested in this one, so, I went for it, again, thinking that we were ordering enough stuff, so if I didn't really care for it, no real loss (although ... that kale salad with pistacho dressing and honey sure sounded different, and I do really adore trumpet mushrooms from another ...).

This was a massive salad.  When the mountain of salad was presented to us, I really starting fearing how much food we ordered.

So, what did we have here?  Yes, a huge pile of kale.  Unlike many kale salads though, this kale was grilled, and left in large pieces.  Normally with this kind of kale, you chop it up small and massage it to handle the tougher texture.  The kale was fascinating.  It was really smokey, the grill managed to impart a ton of flavor onto the kale.  Yet, it stayed fresh and crisp.  I hadn't ever seen anything like it before.

The fennel was also grilled and studded throughout, along with some spicy pickled peppers.  The peppers added little pops of red color underneath the mound of green, and a nice kick.

On top was the cheese and panagrattato, aka, bread crumbs, and lots of them.  I took one of the first servings, so I wound up with far more bread crumb than I really wanted.  My fault I guess, but, they did make it hard to evenly distribute.  It was fun to have bread crumbs rather than just croutons, as it achieved a similar taste, but, with a totally different eating experience.

Overall, a really different salad, and it was certainly interesting.  My notes say, "Huh, surprisingly good".  I was having a lot of those moments, and we were only two dishes in.  I really appreciated the grilled, smoky flavors, not something I am used to finding in a salad.

My forth favorite dish of the night.  I don't think I'd get it again, just so I could try something else, but, it certainly wasn't bad and it was a crowd pleaser.
Chicken Liver Pate. $14.
"Grilled Radish, Basil Oil, Salt & Vinegar Chicken Skins."

Alongside the salad, literally 15 seconds later, was our third dish, the chicken liver pate.  Our table was full now, with the green beans, giant salad, panisse, and now pate with a separate side plate of crostini.  I spoke up, voicing my concern over the onslaught, and our server said not to worry, that this was it for now.  It really was good pacing, giving us a table full to eat from, and the reassurance that things would slow down for a bit was good.  Plus, 3 of the dishes were cold items anyway, so we didn't need to rush to eat them.

The pate was a dish I suggested, as I like a good pate.  The presentation was ... interesting, and while clearly deliberate, not actually very visually appealing.  The pate was smeared on the plate, in a crescent shape, with chunks of cooked radish, basil and chives, and cooked peaches laid on top, with a few chunks of crispy chicken skin sticking out.

The pate was very rich, and I didn't like the flavor at all.  It was creamy, but, the flavor just didn't work for me at all.  I didn't really understand the radish either, a strange somewhat bitter compliment to the already bitter pate.  The peaches helped bring a little sweetness.

The salt and vinegar chicken skins I was excited for, and they were crispy, but, fairly lost in the dish.

Overall, this one fell down for me, my 7th pick overall, and I clearly wouldn't get it again.  No one else rated it very high either, but, they did mostly finish it.  I was more than happy to just go back to the other items, again, a surprise given that I picked this, and had little interest originally in the others.
Pickled Verril Farm Corn Pancakes. $15.
"Buttermilk, Maple, Shishito."

We had a very short break from new dishes arriving before moving into the slightly bigger plates.  The corn pancakes hit our table 8 minutes after the pate, and we still had plenty of all of the first dishes remaining.

Now, let's back up a bit.  This dish was the dish that convinced me to come to Alden & Harlow in the first place.  While the menu changes daily and with the seasons, I had seen something like this on the menu for quite a while.  And it sounded totally crazy.  And like all things I love.  Just, um, in a crazy way.  I had no idea what on earth to expect, but, I knew I needed to try it.  The moment we sat down, I made it clear that we were ordering it.  No one opposed.

It is no secret that I have a popcorn fetish, my favorite of all snack foods.  And I love pancakes (although, um, obviously usually for breakfast or brunch).  But, I can certainly say that I never imagined them on the same plate.  And, when the plate was presented, a "WTF?" did certainly go through my head.

There was house cultured buttermilk yogurt on the bottom of the dish.  Three crispy corn cakes.  Seared shishito pepper alongside.  Maple syrup drizzled over all of it.  And, um, popcorn.  Lots of popcorn.  What *was* this dish?

I'll tell you what it was: delicious.  I don't understand it.  I don't know how it worked.  But, wow, it did.

The pancakes were crispy fried cakes with whole kernel corn inside.  I guess the corn was pickled, but I didn't really taste pickling directly.  Maybe it helped keep the kernels crisper?  The cakes weren't really "pancakes" in the traditional sense though, no real batter and bready component.  They were very good, nicely crispy.

And then shishito peppers, grilled, and like the kale we saw before, smoky.  They were tasty.  And, corn and peppers do go together well.  Those elements I could make sense of.

The buttermilk yogurt and maple syrup were interesting sauce choices, but, they worked.  The yogurt wasn't tart, it just added a creamy component, and the maple accented everything in a way I didn't expect.  Plus, well, it was pancakes, you are supposed to have syrup with your pancakes, right?

A chunk of the slightly sweet and crispy corn pancake, with a bite of smoky shishito pepper, dragged through the creamy buttermilk and maple was truly a culinary delight.  You had so many flavors and textures all at once, and, for me, the sweet, savory, and salty trifecta was perfect.

Which brings us to the popcorn.  As I said, I do love popcorn.  And, the parallel of the popped corn and corn in the pancake was a fun one.  But ... popcorn with the cakes?  It was a bit odd, I'll admit.  And it didn't entirely work, the popcorn got a bit soggy from the maple syrup.  But ... maple drizzled popcorn really is delicious.  I couldn't really find a way to eat it all as one bite with the other components, but, I was pretty happy to just eat the other parts, and then munch on all the remaining popcorn.  We were supposed to eat the popcorn with forks?  That seemed hard.  But, picking it up with my fingers gave me sticky fingers.  Not that I mind sticky fingers, but, a bit awkward.

Anyway, this dish was crazy, but it worked, and I loved it.  Loved it, loved it, loved it.  My favorite of the night, hand's down, and I'd get it again in an instant.  It was also Ojan's favorite.  You can be sure that I took more than my share of this one.  A different version of the corn pancakes is also on the brunch menu, sans peppers and popcorn.
Charred Broccoli. $13.
"Butternut Squash Hummus, Bianco Sardo & Cashew."

And one minute after the pancakes were set down, so was the next dish: broccoli.  We had to frantically move things around and try to finish up some other dishes to make room.  This was our 5th dish, plus the crostini and beans, so we had a very full table of plates.  I was also pretty full at this point.  Not stuffed, but certainly fearing how I was going to find room for all the remaining larger dishes, and dessert ...

Anyway, the broccoli.  The menu gave us many choices for greens, including all the salads, and the two boxed items, crispy bok choy and romanesco.  One of the snacks was also a broccoli dish, grilled and served with burrata and pickled fresnos.  When another diner suggested the broccoli, that is the dish I thougth she meant, and I said sure.  Broccoli sounded boring, but, burrata!  It turned out she was suggesting this other broccoli dish, with hummus.  Remember what I said about chickpeas?  Yeah.  Meh.

But, of course I tried it.  It wasn't very exciting.  Yes, smoky, charred broccoli, but, we already had that smoky flavor in the kale salad, in a way that was more interesting to me than just large stems of broccoli.  The hummus was very creamy, and it too had a smoky nature to it.  And on top was a crumble of the cheese and cashews.

This was a fine dish, but far less interesting than everything else we had, and, given how much we had still to come, and the table full of other things I liked more, I only tried a bite and moved on.  My 6th pick of the night, above the pate since the flavor was at least something I did like.
Crispy Baby Bok Choy. $14.
"60 degree Egg, Walnuts, Hot Colatura & Garlic Dip."

Finally, we had a break.  It took us a while to finish off most of the previous dishes.  While we still had some of them remaining, we were brought out our fresh set of plates and silverware.  A few dishes we sent away, choosing to move on without finishing them.  10 minutes after the plate reset, and 25 minutes after the broccoli, the food began again, with our crispy bok choy.

This was a bit of a random pick on our part.  We had plenty of other greens, but, this was one of the dishes in a box, and we decided to get a boxed dish, just because.  They must have been calling attention to it for some reason, right?  I think we also were all a bit curious what it would be, and why the egg was a 60 degree egg.  Yes, a 60 degree egg.  I really, really appreciated the fact that I was seated at a table with people who would notice, and care, that the egg was a 60 degree egg.  Most wouldn't understand why this was novel to me.  Our dining mates however had a sous vide at home, so, they knew.  63 degrees (or usually more like 62.8) is how I normally see sous vide eggs, the temperature most folks consider perfectly poached.  This would be less cooked.  We speculated that it would form more of a sauce and coat the bok choy?  And what would crispy bok choy be anyway?

"Wow, that lookstotally crazy", was the words out of one diner's mouth as it was placed in front of us.

Like the salad, the mound of bok choy was totally insane.  And, as promised, it was crispy.  I think it was fried, although, this dish too had some smokey qualities that I really liked.  And yes, it was really just whole chunks of fried bok choy, the thicker areas stayed a bit succulent, but the rest, super crispy.  I loved the texture and flavors.

Underneath it all was the colatura and garlic dip, basically, a green puree (that might have had more bok choy in it?), with amazing flavor too.  The colatura (anchovy oil) really helped amp it up.  On top was some kind of walnut crumble.

Oh, and then the egg of course.  I don't have an egg porn picture, but, as expected, the yolk was just barely cooked, and easily spilled out over the boy choy, giving it a luxurious coating.  I could have done without the egg, as I'm just not really one for eggs most of the time, but, it was fine.

This was a pretty fascinating dish, but also, it was really delicious.  Again, more fried, more crispy, and more creamy, flavorful sauces.  We had a fair number of fried dishes (the panisse, the corn cakes, this), but, none of them felt very heavy.  We were getting our greens too!

Another great mix of flavors and textures, another dish that was really interesting, and my second pick of the night.  One other diner ranked it first.
Crispy Berkshire Pork Belly. $16.
"Torched Cherry Viniagrette, Smoked Anson Mills Grits."

Four minutes later, we got into the meat, starting with the pork belly.  This was the dish that Ojan asked us to order, and is another dish that stays on the menu in some form.

I was totally stuffed at this point, and wanted more and more of the bok choy, so, I actually skipped the pork belly.  It looked like pretty standard pork belly, kinda fatty, and, I just wasn't feeling it.  And yes, I loved the bok choy that much, that I passed over pork belly for it.  Let that absorb in.

I did try the grits though, and they were fantastic.  Super rich, super creamy, and, yes, somehow had a smoky flavor to them too.  I started to wonder if liquid smoke was in the kitchen's arsenal.

The cherries were also tasty, sorta pickled.  The cherry and grits combo was a nice one, and I suspect they went nicely with the pork belly too.  On top was a pea tendril garnish like we saw with the panisse, bringing in a hit of freshness and lightness.

If I hadn't been stuffed, I certainly would have had more of this, and I did really like the grits.  My 5th pick of the night.
Secret Burger. $16.
"Our 8oz House Creekstone Grind, Your Faith, House Made Roll."

Our final savory selection was the "Secret Burger".  Apparently this is a thing at Alden & Harlow, as they are made in a very limited number each night, and the toppings change out every day.  The menu gave us no description, but, normally the server would tell you what was on it.  Except our locals, regulars, asked about it the moment our server came over, asking if any were still available.  This was long before we even started looking at the menu, but, the server asked if we wanted to reserve one right then.  I said I didn't really care about the burger, because, well, it was just a burger, and the least interesting thing on the menu to me, but, the others all wanted it, so, we reserved it.

The burger was our last dish, and it arrived about 5 minutes after the pork belly.  This dish was also a bit of an outlier on the menu, as everything is share plates, and this is, well, a burger.  A full size burger, with a giant plate of chips.  Ooph.  We certainly didn't need this dish.

I tried a chip. It was just a chip.  House made I guess, but uninteresting.

I tried a bite of the burger, which one member of our group valiantly cut into 4 chunks.  We asked for medium rare, and it was, but, somehow it wasn't juicy.  It had a giant cheese frico on top, and some greens.  There was also a secret sauce of course.  On the side were really tart pickles.  I found nothing extraordinary about this burger, and totally don't understand the hype, nor the reason they limit it.

I certainly wouldn't get the burger again, my least favorite dish, but, it was Ojan's second favorite, even though he too was really full at this point and had consumed tons of burgers on this trip.  To each their own.


As you know, I'm a dessert eater.  In my world,  every meal ends with dessert.  Yes, that includes breakfast, but at least after breakfast I'll keep it simple and just have a chocolate or something (well, most of the time).  But after this meal, I was tempted to not get dessert.  This is such a rare feeling for me, that I didn't know what to make of it.  First, I was just totally stuffed.  That alone isn't that rare, and I do always still go for a sweet treat to finish off.  But I was also just totally satisfied.  I wasn't wanting more.  I had so many good dishes already, that I really could walk out right then and not feel like I missed out.

The others felt the same way.  We were all so full.  Still, I wanted to see what I'd be turning down, so I asked to see the dessert menu.
Dessert Menu.
Unlike the other menus, the dessert menu was very small. Maybe it is normal for folks to be stuffed here and not want dessert?

Literally only three choices, plus cheese. The rest of the items on the dessert menu were coffee, tea, and uh, liquid dessert.

Like the regular menu, this menu had a random selection called out in a box, oil oil cake, with lemon curd, meringue, caramel, and sunflower seeds.  I don't like olive oil cake or lemon curd, so, that was easy to pass up.  The other items were the smoked chocolate bread pudding that is always on their menu, and a sweet corn spooncake, with black raspberry mousse, hazelnuts, and pink peppercorn honey.

Neither of these options jumped out at me.  Well, I do love bread pudding, but, I try not to eat chocolate in the evenings.  Some components of the spooncake sounded fascinating, but, when I asked what a spooncake was, the server told me it was just cake served as a big scoop.  Hmm.  I'm not a cake girl.

In the end, we decided to get the bread pudding, using the logic that with 4 of us, we could all have just a little bite, and, Ojan was pretty interested in the salt ice cream that comes with it.  Yes, *salt* ice cream, not salted caramel, just, salt.

So we ordered it, only to be told that they had a freezer problem, and didn't have any salt ice cream.  Instead, they were serving it with salt whipped cream.  Given how on the fence I was about ordering any dessert, let alone this one, that seemed like a good reason to just skip it, and I suggested doing so, perhaps switching to the spooncake.  But, everyone else was still game for it, so, we got it.
Smoked Chocolate Bread Pudding with Salt Whipped Cream. $9.
The smoked chocolate bread pudding has been a menu staple at Alden & Harlow for years.  You know how much I love warm desserts served with cold ice cream (or, ok, whipped cream), so this was right up my alley (sans the chocolate part of course).

Except, well, I'm really particular about bread pudding.  I love bread pudding, sweet and savory, but, only when it is a specific style.  I like a crispy top and moist inside.  I like distinct chunks of bread.  Bonus points for using brioche, croissants, or other interesting bases.

This one wins points for being served hot, fresh out of the oven, in its own little cast iron (much like the skillet cookie we had at Area Four the night before).  But that is about all the points it won from me.  It was the style of bread pudding I just don't care for, a solid, dense mass, no distinct chunks of bread, no crispy top.  More like a cake really.  It was really smoky, which was fun, but, also, at this point in the meal, I already had a number of smoky dishes, so that wasn't novel.

The whipped cream was, well, whipped cream, with some salt on top.

I don't feel like I can really evaluate this dish for what it was supposed to be, as they didn't have the salt ice cream, and that seems like a necessary component.  Whipped cream just isn't the same.  It also was just the style of bread pudding I dislike, but I know others find totally acceptable.

So, it fell down hard for me, but, some of that was just preference, and some of that was the freezer misfortune.  Still, I do get the impression that desserts are not their strong point.
Alden & Harlow Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


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