I was really excited to meet up with Beth this past Thursday night; we hadn’t seen each other in quite a while and had plenty to catch up on. (Forever engaging in email “conversations” with friends who live locally often loses its charm, don’t you think?) Beth and I didn’t have a solid plan as far as where to eat after a bit of a shopping jag, though. All we had prearranged was to meet in Harvard Square, head to Berk’s and take it from there. Once a very lucky Beth paid for two perfect pairs of shoes, and after a quick and fruitless detour into Urban Outfitters — which we have now decided that we are, in simple terms, too old for — we went across the street to Z-Square.
What’s interesting about Z-Square is that there is an upstairs café; downstairs, at basement-level, is a restaurant and bar. Beth and I tried downstairs first, but then the hostess informed us that it would be a fifty minute wait (Who says fifty minutes? Doesn’t everyone just lie and say forty-five and round down? Of course, I had to clarify and asked, “Did you say one-five, or five-oh?” And naturally, this made me feel a little like a loser, but really — who says fifty minutes?!). Neither Beth nor I were interested in hanging around for fifty minutes, particularly when we were both quite hungry and even more particularly so considering that the café significantly less-crowded than its subterranean counterpart, so it’s easy to spread out, relax and have a chat.
The café is mostly white and very sleek, but not in a cold, too-modern sort of way. Actually, the white tiling and white walls and bright chrome detailing made me think of a bakery: a slick, white-on-white bakery… with no baked goods. Beth and I looked over the menu — a mix of salads, sandwiches and crepes — and though we toyed with the idea of spoiling ourselves with something on the decadent side (the grilled three-cheese panini with roasted vegetables sounded especially enticing) but ultimately we both decided to at least maintain the façade of healthfulness with salads.
As I explained to Beth, sometimes I feel a twinge of guilt when I order salads, primarily because I’m most often attracted to the sort of simple salads that truly would be easy to replicate at home. That said, I sincerely doubt that I would candy walnuts just to sprinkle over my spinach and pears. (Now that I think about it, it’s not as though it’s complicated, candying walnuts. Then again, I wouldn’t candy only a handful of walnuts, and who would eat the rest, especially since they only keep for about two weeks? Possibly Keith would have a few, but he certainly wouldn’t eat them all. Wouldn’t it be weird to bring an almost-stale batch of candied nuts to work? Or to a friend’s house? Or to book club? Anyway.) Beth opted for the curried chutney chicken salad and I went for the grilled steak Cobb because, in all honesty, is it even possible to resist the combination of avocados and bacon? I know I can’t.
My salad was nicely composed, with each ingredient was in its own separate quadrant of the plate. Though I thought it looked pretty, I knew that to eat it I would have to plow through and decimate the entire thing. In spite of that, it was, all in all, a really good salad: tangy bleu cheese, flawlessly creamy avocado, crunchy lettuce, crisp bacon, and bright red tomatoes to round it all off. The only element that I found lacking was the steak, unfortunate since I specifically ordered the salad for the beef, something I had been craving. It was rubbery and difficult to cut; when I took my first bite, I looked up at Beth and said, “There’s something familiar about this but I don’t know what.” As I chewed, I realized what it was — it tasted faintly of hot dogs. It so happens I have a special fondness for hot dogs, but that doesn’t change the fact that I didn’t particularly want my steak to remind me of them. If that wasn’t disappointing enough, the steak was visibly on the rare end of the spectrum. Again, I happen to like my steak rarer than most, so it didn’t bother me as much as it would others, but it wasn’t pleasant to eat. Or easy to chew. Beth’s curried chicken salad, however, was full of flavor, and the unexpected sweetness of the chutney was wonderful.
When we ordered our salads, Beth had a flash of genius and ordered a dessert crepe for us to share. After all, who doesn’t love a crepe? In my mind, it’s one for those rare items whose novelty never fades. We need more creperies, I think, or at least crepe-selling street vendors, like in Paris. (Though I do think that, in the grand scheme of things, everything should be more like Paris.) Beth chose the lemon-butter, just about an ideal flavor combination, in my opinion. Sweet and vaguely tart with the satisfying, mild resistance of the crepe itself, it was a great finish to our meal. After a while, the melted butter began to set a bit, which might sound genuinely disgusting, but we happily ran the fruit through it. Nothing like some congealed lemony-butter to liven up an ordinary red grape, don’t you think?
14 JFK Street
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138