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The Iruna is the epicurean Eden of Cambridge.
At 56 Boylston St., on an alley off from the sidewalk, its stucco rooms are warm in winter and air conditioned in summer. Behind the building is an awninged porch for summer eating which looks out onto a green backyard. The back porch is also the back stoop of the kitchen, and as the kitchen gets hot in summer, the sound of Iberian invective leaping from the frying pan into the fire authenticates the atmosphere.
The Gazpacho, a cold, Spanish tomato soup, for $.80 a bowl with side bowls of diced cucumbers and peppers is unfailingly cool, garlicy and thick. Of the hors d'oeuvres, the angulas ($2.00), baby eels broiled in olive oil and garlic, are my favorite. You should hold your yellow linen napkin over the little casserole when it first is put before you, as the eels have just escaped the broiler and they sometimes explode with the heat. (Better that they explode under your napkin than in your face, or worse still, your stomach). Once cooled they are a startling and tender delicacy. The bmiled mushrooms ($.90) and broiled ham and artichoke hearts ($1.35) are always delicious. They squid cooked in its ink ($1.00) is exotic, but the black ink has a chalky texture and makes for spooky teeth. Soups, hors d'oeuvres and omlettes are the Iruna's forte: one could make a meal of them alone.
The best of the entrees is the Filete ala Barnesa ($4.75) and it is a generous filet, always cooked to order. It's served with a mock bearnaise of melted butter, garlic and parsley, with heart of artichoke, boiled potatoes and a green salad. It cuts as easily with a fork as with a knife.
The paella ($3.25) is disappointing: the rice is heavy, and the forzen peas, and hunks of chicken, fish and meats are poorly integrated.
There are two revolving dishes. The fish in green sauce is various morsels of halibut, sarimp and scallops swimming in a delicate sauce of wine and cream, and given an Irish hue with parsley. It was so liquid I asked for a spoon to eat with. The dish is slight, but unusual and pleasing. They have stopped serving the chicken cooked in chocolate, but if it returns it will make you reconsider the uses of chocolate.
The wine list is modest but sufficient: the carafes of house wine--red, white, rose--cost $1.35, while sangria sells for $1.50. All are high quality.
The desserts are flan and caramel custard. The flan Iruna ($.40), a plain custard with a chip of cinnamon bark and slice of lemon peel, is delicate and pure. The caramel of the creme caramel ($.40) is always just situated on that sweet-burnt edge which is so good in contract to the rich bland custard. Unusual teas--orange spice has an exotic aroma--and coffee are a hot and welcome coda to this simply cooked, but subtle meal. For care, informality, and consistent excellence, there is none better than the Iruna.
When Brigham's introduced their "natural" ice cream flavors they were making a big pitch for the counter-culture crowd. But they still attract the same tired working girls waiting for the bus, the sticky-fingered adolescents with jimmies on their chins, and the wide-eyed passers-through. No real ice cream connoisseur would brave these ice cream desperados when Brigham's is flanked by Bailey's and Baskin-Robbins.
The five "natural" flavors have a distinctly richer and less sugary taste. But this whole "natural" ice cream business has set us to wondering: are the other ten standard flavors "unnatural"? (Does this mean that eating a pistachio cone from Brigham's is an unnatural act, a felony in Massachusetts). The "unnatural" flavors have a distinct taste, but crystalline, watery textures.
Brigham's sugar cones are stale. Cones are $.25 and $.30 except for the natural flavors which cost an extra nickel.
At Baskin-Robbins, on Mass. Avenue across from Lamont, the best flavors seem to be on sabbatical all the time, like your favorite professors. Mandarin Chocolate Sherbet Fudge Brownie, two of the very best, have been gone for what seems like an eternity (actually, since May). Glossy-black, the Mandarin Chocolate tastes of semi-sweet chocolate with a dash of Grand Marnier, the Fudge Brownie is luxurious.
The flavor list leans heavily towards fruit flavors and fruit combinations. The fruit sherbets are tart, and refreshing, but the fruit ice creams tend to be sweet and, in combination, gimmicky. If you got confused by the flavors and the names, the help will offer you a taste.
Sam, the manager of the Harvard Square store, is a prince. He has a soft spot in his heart for ice-cream junkies who roll up at 11:01, just after the store has closed. Cones are $.25 for a single dip, $.45 for a double, and $.62 for a triple. No jimmies.
The whole almonds have gone of the Moche Almond, but otherwise the ice cream at Bailey's on Brattle Street remains royal. The seven flavors are pure, creamy, and as ice creams go, definitely upper class. At $.35, the cones are huge, if the price is just a bit exorbitant. Jimmies and bitchy help are included.
The Spa, at O Brattle Street, is a newcomer to Harvard Square. It serves frozen yogurt and vanilla and chocolate soft ice cream (ala Dairy Queen). This custard isn't ice cream and it comes out of a machine, but it is served in a come (albeit a safety cone) and it does the trick on a hot day. Yogurt comes, which come in three rotating fruit flavors, are $.25, Soft ice cream comes are $20 and $.30.
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