Follow the Boston dining scene long enough, and you accumulate stories about current star chefs: “I remember her when she was just a sous-chef; now she’s got a restaurant empire.” It’s fun to be able to say, “Remember how I’ve been going on about that chef for years?” One such is Michael Scelfo, whom we’ve been talking up since before the Tom Brady era right up to the 2014 debut of his Harvard Square smash Alden & Harlow. Scelfo just opened Waypoint, his second restaurant, and it takes many of Alden’s virtues—inventiveness, a love of rich, umami-soaked flavors, meticulous local sourcing—and applies them to a more seafood-centric menu, with mostly ravishing results.
That starts with raw bar centered on the expected assortment of New England oysters ($3 each on our visit), here served with pickled fennel mignonette. A special of Washington state’s Hama Hama oysters ($4 each) is prettily composed, dotted with delicate orange fish roe, micro-greens and a fine dice of apples, recalling chef de cuisine Pierce Boalt Juckett’s prior work at Select Oyster Bar. Smoked and salted peel-and-eat shrimp ($18) offer a goodly pile of fat, ruddy prawns, a bit messy to eat, their insistent smoke given cool counterpoint by thickened buttermilk. A daily crudo ($18 on our visit) echoes the oyster special, a few slices of pristine fish—on one night, the superb local species tautog, which gains a pink tinge and shrimp-like flavor from its crustacean-heavy diet—barely marinated in citrus and oil and dotted with luscious black caviar: delicate and perfect.
Pizza appears in the form of chewy, medium-crust pies featuring Scelfo’s fondness for odd toppings like duck tongue and smoked whitefish. Fans of New Haven apizza will want to sample the chopped clam ($16), a white-sauce pie densely topped with clams, parsley, plenty of salty pecorino and hot pickled peppers. House-milled flour also appears in generous bowls of pasta, like a surpassingly deep-flavored emmer casarecci ($16) that generates an umami wallop with fermented parsnips, maitake mushrooms and nutritional yeast in brown butter and hazelnuts. A fierce, borderline over-the-top saltiness characterizes uni bucatini ($18), again with that ferocious pecorino, the funky delight of shaved bottarga and the creamy smack of sea urchin, topped with an almost-firm smoked egg yolk.
Composed plates offer the most beautiful platings and subtle flavors here, as in grilled monkfish cheek ($15), three delicate filets atop a swirl of squid-ink-blackened eggplant puree, a kohlrabi salsa verde bringing fine acid balance and crunch, Sicilian capers lending a subtle flowery note. Wood-roasted char belly ($15) is a superb skin-on chunk of the firm, well-marbled, wild alternative to salmon atop pureed chickpeas, gently sweet grilled green grapes, crisp-fried chickpeas and a verdant spray of pea greens. Two fried offerings fall a little short, as when the clam flavor of corn and clam cakes ($8) gets lost in a hush-puppy-like envelope and a dip of bacon-fat mayo. I’d never met a plate of fried smelts ($13) I didn’t love, but Waypoint’s version, which butterflies the tiny fish, yields a chewy, dry, flavorless result. Raw and roasted apple salad ($13) full of papery radish slices repeats an old Alden motif of taking a light vegetarian foundation and weighing it down with a fierce, meaty accent, in this case boquerones (lightly vinegar-pickled fresh anchovies).
Big roasts (listed as serving two to three, more likely to stagger a table of six) serve as a lovely nap-inducing coda to the preceding smaller shareable plates, as in a fabulous, tall, cylindrical chunk of Maine lamb shoulder ($64), which a fork can break into a mound of fatty, tender shreds, sitting on a base of plump white marrow beans and anchovies. They’re dramatic and festive enough to add a celebratory holiday-dinner note to a big meal.
Bar manager Seth Freidus brings the same crafty wit and culinary accents he introduced at Alden & Harlow to original cocktails like the Estate Grown ($14), which gives a nutty, Tiki-ish hit of pistachio falernum to a blend of rhum agricole, lime and herbs. The Looking Glass ($12) could serve as a boozy dessert: a noggy whole-egg flip with white rum, spice syrup, absinthe and the bitter thwack of Sibilla amaro. I’m not sure why absinthe is still a thing—it had a moment 10 years ago after a long U.S. ban had been lifted—but Waypoint is all over it with 20 bottlings served with traditional accoutrements of water, sugar and 19th-century pomp. Fifteen nice-priced wines by the glass ($10-$15) and another 60-plus in bottles ($35-$175, most under $75) seem like a food-friendlier bet, along with a short, tight list of mostly local beers ($5-$12).
The cavernous dining room (145 seats, including 25 at the bar) boasts driftwood planks overhead, Edison-bulb pendant lights, cool old neon beach-shack signs on the walls and a gleaming open kitchen. It’s loud enough to feel lively without crossing into punishing noise levels, and service is well-schooled and nimble on the menu’s intricate sourcing. In the end, Waypoint feels less like a giant evolutionary leap for Scelfo than a modest, logical skip-and-a-jump from Alden toward the riches of New England’s seacoast. That’s a welcome addition for this once-desolate stretch of Mass. Ave., for Cambridge and for Greater Boston.
-Composed raw oysters
-Smoked and salted peel-and-eat shrimp
-Grilled monkfish cheek
-Wood-roasted char belly
-Maine lamb shoulder roast
Waypoint 1030 Mass. Ave., Cambridge (617-864-2300) waypointharvard.com
Hours: 5 pm-1 am daily (dinner till 11 pm; late-night menu, 11 pm-midnight Sun.-Thu., 11 pm-12:30 am Fri.-Sat.)
Parking: Valet (Thu.-Sat.), metered street spaces
Liquor: Full bar