Somewhere between the dining hall and the box wine, something of the beauty of food and wine gets lost.
This is partly an inevitable function of age and class: we are college students, usually low on funds and time and in possession of dubious proof of our drinking legality. Still, Harvard life is laden with opportunities to play at adulthood—if ones that you might never again encounter after graduation—so it follows that we undergraduates should at least consider playing gourmand.Which is why, on a recent Tuesday night, I found myself skipping Quincy dining hall in favor of Harvest restaurant and partaking of one of their regular wine dinner events. This particular dinner was hosted by Steve Edmunds of Edmund St. John Vineyard and featured a series of four wines alongside customized dishes created by Harvest chef Eric Brennan.
Once all of the guests are ushered into a back room of that pillar of high-class eating, the speaking portion of the evening is brief. “We let the wines do the talking,” says Harvest wine manager Stephan Sink. In truth, as the night wears on, the wine means that everyone else is doing the talking, downing glass after glass, blissfully oblivious to the fact that Edmunds and Sink are trying to address them.
When they do manage to get a word in, the two highlight just what’s missing from the daily grind of undergraduate dining: joy. These people are unabashedly, deliriously, downright nerdily in love with food and wine. Just listen to Steve Edmunds talk about grapes. For this man, a visit to the vineyard is apparently tantamount to spiritual pilgrimage.
“When I tell this story, you’re going to think, this guy is from Berkeley,” Edmunds tells the assembled diners. “And I am. I felt connected to the vineyard site. I went and looked at the grapes and had an eerie experience that the Mouvedre grapes were looking at me, that they were glowing. Even later, when they were picked, they were still glowing.”
Luminescent grapes aside, this delight in ingredients is the spirit of the tasting event series, which brings in the vendors and growers that supply Harvest’s tables to give diners the inside story.
“This is where a lot of chefs learned to cook, so we figured it was only fitting to have an educational twist with the events,” says Harvest Public Relations director Nicole D. Barrick.
According to Barrick, nearly all of the Harvest special events have sold out since they began in September, with the visit from blue fin tuna fishermen being a particular favorite. Like your Harvard education, though, Harvest edification comes with a price tag. The produce-oriented Harvest Reviews are $39; a wine tasting will run you $60. Outside of special events, however, Harvest has introduced a 15% discount for Harvard ID holders on food bills every night except Saturday, making dabbling in fine dining slightly more accessible.
At events, guests are seated in individual tables, yet the affair retains a communal quality as course after course is unveiled.
It becomes abundantly clear that we’ve moved beyond the “white wine for fish, red for meat” school once Brennan begins explaining the reasoning behind each selection.
“We try to match the wine with the food, not just by taste but also by smell,” says Brennan, adding that there’s an eye for balance as well as contrast.
The first course is a yellow fin tuna tartar, made with center-cut tuna that is chopped with roasted shiitake mushrooms, truffle oil, red onion, chives and extra virgin olive oil. The result is far less complicated than the lengthy recipe would suggest: a dish of delicate simplicity, offset by French string beans breaded with a light sheen of tempura and resting on a pungent mustard sauce. The dish was designed to complement the young and brash “Bone Jolly” Gamay from El Dorado County.
Next, massive, seared diver scallops fresh from New Bedford, Mass. are served on a bed of angel hair pasta, smoked salmon and Chervil crème fraiche. The white wine that accompanies it is an upbeat blend of Marsanne, Rousanne and Viognier grapes. Brennan notes that Viognier, a temperamental grape with growing popularity, is a “fat grape, with a rich, unctuous quality. The crème fraiche will stand up to it.”
There’s less confrontation between the impossibly tender roasted veal breast with herbs de provence and the extraordinary Mouvedre, Grenache and Syrah blend. Instead, the flavors work together for a complex interplay of lavender hints. The meal concludes with a loin lamb chop and an earthy Syrah wine, by which point only the most zealous eaters can even look at lamb.
Desserts are mercifully minimal, if rich.
The final lesson of the night? There’s a kind of sumptuous, droopy-grinned contentment that is summoned only by truly fine gastronomy. Harvest is a landmark when it comes to achieving that contentment through a well-thought-out dish—but a half-dozen glasses of wine don’t hurt either.
Location : Harvest is located at 44 Brattle Street, Cambridge, on the walkway next to Crate and Barrel.
Hours : The restaurant is open for lunch Monday to Saturday from 12:00 p.m. to 2:30 p.m and Sunday brunch from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. From Sunday to Thursday, dinner is served from 5:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m., with an additional hour on Friday and Saturday.
Digits : For reservations, call (617) 868-2255.