Michael Scelfo made his name with meat when he was the executive chef at Russell House Tavern, but the chef/owner of Alden & Harlow is moving beyond the Prince of Porc title he earned at Cochon 555 last year. Vegetables and grains will get a starring role alongside meat on the menu when the highly anticipated restaurant opens in late January in the spot formerly home to Casablanca, built by turn-of-the-century architects Frank Alden and Alfred Harlow.
“My wife is a big gardener, and we always have vegetables in the kitchen. I just really took to eating like that,” Scelfo says. “We always look at the meat or protein as being the center of the plate, and everything else has to complement that. But what if you flipped it a bit? Why couldn’t you use it to complement a potato or complement a carrot?”
The downplaying of meat on menus is a trend Scelfo is embracing. As a case in point, he spotlights the sunchoke crostino, featuring sunchoke presented three ways on bread. Don’t worry, charcuterie diehards: Scelfo isn’t going whole-hog vegetarian. That crostino comes with lardo, and there will be a number of locally sourced meat options on the menu, including an always-changing burger (slyly called the “secret burger”), of which he’ll offer 36 each day. All the dishes will be served in a moderate size to encourage sharing.
That community style is reflected in the space, which includes communal tables in the middle of its main dining area. But the restaurant also has plenty of other spots: high-tops in the lounge across from the bar, banquettes along the wall in the dining room, a counter near the open kitchen and “greenhouse” seating near the street that will fit about 25 people and have a view through the skylights.
The bar is the centerpiece of the layout, and it not only fills the former Casablanca, but also what used to be an optical shop. Bar manager Seth Freidus (Eastern Standard) has six drafts and a heavy brown-spirit program planned, along with Old World-style wines. Service might be quicker than at other bars thanks to the plan to offer two craft cocktails on tap—a seasonal vermouth and a rotating choice. Equipped with a little broiler and oven, one corner of the bar will be devoted to live cooking and focus on a handful of dishes.
“I think when people sit on this side, they can interact with the cook, and the cook can actually hand them their food. I think people love that experience,” Scelfo says.
Originally scheduled to open last summer, Alden & Harlow has seen a few delays, but the experience of opening his first restaurant has been rewarding for Scelfo, who jokes: “I would actually do it again.
Alden & Harlow | 40 Brattle St., Cambridge | 617-864-2100 | aldenandharlow.com