The King is dead! Long live the King! After a year’s hiatus during which owner Patrick Lee opened Redline, Grafton Street has returned in a dramatic new location one block further down Mass. Ave. Grafton, after resting and recharging its batteries for a few months, has reappeared refreshed and eager to pump vitality into Cantabrigian nightlife. Its return can only bode well for Harvard’s budding gourmands as well as its incipient lushes.
Grafton’s décor is understated, with large—and outrageously comfortable—black leather booths and muted tan walls. A large semicircular bar, which fills up considerably as the evening goes on, sweeps away to the right as one enters. The restaurant is separated from the bar by a guard rail and features the same selection of drinks as well as extensive lunch and dinner menus.
When a student is overheard planning an evening trip to Grafton, it is a pretty safe bet that he or she is in search of a screwdriver rather than grilled swordfish. This is a shame, as the restaurant offers some excellent modern American food without the trip into Boston such a meal often necessitates. Grafton Street may be named after the pedestrian shopping district in Dublin, but its food is a far cry from traditional Irish dishes like boiled bacon and cabbage.
Indeed, a tremendous plate of “New England style” calamari, coated in a cornmeal batter and served over a bed of spinach leaves with diced tomatoes and piquant pepperoncini ($7.95), was a substantial and successful appetizer. The richness of the fried squid contrasted with the sweet taste of the tomatoes and the zip provided by the hot peppers to enliven a dish that can often, when handled less sensitively, become cloyingly repetitive.
Main courses were slightly less successful. Pan-roasted monkfish ($17.95) was cooked perfectly, the optimal blend of a crisp exterior with a moist inside. However, its pairing with large cubes of chorizo was heavy-handed and the spicy sausage overwhelmed the delicate flavor of the fish. Seared duck breast ($16.95) was distinctly disappointing. The slices of meat were cooked inconsistently, ranging from medium rare to a dry, grayish well-done. The kitchen had overly reduced the pomegranate glaze coating the duck, resulting in a sickly-sweet concoction tasting faintly of Robitussin.
The crème brulée ($6.95), however, should win over even the harshest of critics. A delicate custard, with telltale black traces of vanilla bean, emerges after one cracks the hard, caramelized surface and is served with sweet, swollen blueberries. The dish is top-notch—matching up with the best in Paris, let alone Boston—and would further excel when paired with one of the selection of ports that Grafton offers.
Although the food at Grafton is not cheap, there is still a wide range of options for the frugal diner. Both lunch and dinner menus feature a range of wood-fired pizzas and sandwiches ($7.95-$9.95), as well as a superior chicken Caesar salad ($7.95), that might be wise alternatives, both gastronomically and financially, to the somewhat fussy entrees. Grafton offers solid food—and sometimes exceptional food—in substantial portions, and all literally a minute’s walk from Widener. Welcome back, Grafton. We missed ye.