Your independent source for Harvard news since 1898

Your independent source for Harvard news since 1898

Tastes and Tables | Tastes & Tables

In with the New

Harvard Square's Parsnip should ripen over time.

July-August 2016

The dining room, although refined and calm, could use a splash of warmth from the upstairs lounge.

Photograph by Wayne E. Chinnock/Courtesy of Parsnip


The dining room, although refined and calm, could use a splash of warmth from the upstairs lounge.

Photograph by Wayne E. Chinnock/Courtesy of Parsnip

Potables are picturesquely displayed in the upstairs lounge.

Photograph by Wayne E. Chinnock/Courtesy of Parsnip


Potables are picturesquely displayed in the upstairs lounge.

Photograph by Wayne E. Chinnock/Courtesy of Parsnip

Parsnip, which replaced the venerated Upstairs on the Square last fall, lacks the sassy whimsicality of its predecessor. Gone are the fuchsia-colored walls adorned with leaping zebras, the gilded chairs, mirrors, and the sense of participating in an Alice in Wonderland moment that charmed diners for years. Parsnip is more buttoned-down: an affluent Brit in a flannel suit to Upstairs’s can-can girl.

The dining room still has its soaring ceiling and the large windows overlooking Winthrop Park. But the interior is now ruled by warm gray tones, a shining parquet floor, and 1950s-style, space-age chandeliers. The look-alike Jackson Pollock painting that looms over the tasteful, if generic, décor prompts the question: can Parsnip develop a character of its own?

The food tries to answer that. Continental fare with a French base, it’s the essence of “fine dining,” and therefore justifiably rich. The meal began with excellent homemade rolls—potato, wheat, and oatmeal—and a dish of sweet butter. We recommend the appetizer of hand-plucked heads of carefully roasted baby cauliflower, purple and yellow, that arrived with a subtle apple purée and a slab of novel, cumin-spiced crème brûlée ($14): rough crunch meets silky loaf, with a touch of burnt sugar. The fresh seared scallops in a truffle butter sauce came with poached baby gem lettuce, strips of prosciutto, and a generous clump of sweet pea tendrils that stitched the dish together ($17).

An entrée of handmade cavatelli, small blobs of dough tenderly rolled in on themselves, was awash in whipped, melting, goat cheese ($24). The creamy mass nearly obscured oyster mushrooms and the earthy, bitterish bite of fiddlehead fern fronds, and overwhelmed a sprinkling of pine nuts. Yet the lusty dish was tasty and filling. Lighter was the filet of sole in a quintessentially French sauce americaine ($30), accompanied by lobster-filled tortellini that were, unfortunately, a bit too tough and chewy.

The desserts are especially memorable. The lemon-balm sorbet paired with chunks of golden cake and a pool of buttermilk mousse ($11) “eats like a strawberry shortcake,” noted the affable waiter, “but much better.” Slices of faintly ripe strawberries added a pleasing herbaceous note. The poached pears, tasting faintly of anise and bergamot, lay on a plump bed of ricotta cream tweaked with honey and plenty of zested lemon ($11).

Parsnip’s third-floor lounge is a warm counterpart to the dining room’s cool affect. Low lights, velvety seating, and small tables offer intimacy. Behind the bar, alluring liquor bottles cluster along shelves backed by a dramatically lit red wall. Food is served: a fine mix of lamb or fish in the form of sandwiches and salads, along with small plates of snacks that seem to change frequently.

The lounge’s porthole-style windows remain from the Upstairs days. They offer a bird’s-eye view of the continually morphing Square, epitomized by Parsnip itself.

Harvard Squared

A guide to the arts and culture, history, cuisine, and natural beauty of Cambridge, Boston, and beyond

You Might Also Like:

Pork bao at Shōjō

Photograph courtesy of Shōjō

 

Shojo Asian-fusion restaurant

Photograph courtesy of Moldova

Moldova Restaurant, in Newton

Branch Line, which pairs fresh fare with craft beers on tap, has transformed part of an historic building at the former Watertown Arsenal.

Photograph by Melissa Ostrow

Branch Line, in an historic Watertown setting, is worth the trip

You Might Also Like:

Pork bao at Shōjō

Photograph courtesy of Shōjō

 

Shojo Asian-fusion restaurant

Photograph courtesy of Moldova

Moldova Restaurant, in Newton

Branch Line, which pairs fresh fare with craft beers on tap, has transformed part of an historic building at the former Watertown Arsenal.

Photograph by Melissa Ostrow

Branch Line, in an historic Watertown setting, is worth the trip