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Arts Vanity: A Foodie’s Guide to Cambridge

By Courtesy of Alisa Regassa and Joey Huang
By Thomas A. Ferro, Crimson Staff Writer

I was seven years old when I first realized that I liked to cook, bringing blended honey, milk, and cinnamon — a mocktail of my own creation — to my grandmother’s room as she recovered from a knee operation. I watched eagerly as my grandmother took each saccharine sip, disguising her wince with a smile and slow nod of approval. It was then that I realized that food is more than nourishment, but something that can make people feel happy and appreciated; making food is a way of expressing love. After months of begging my parents to help me use the blender in the kitchen so I could make this concoction, I was gifted a small plastic toy blender — a moment that I now mark as the beginning of my culinary journey.

Ever since, I have become more and more fascinated with food, with cooking — not only for the complex techniques and cool kitchen equipment that chefs get to use (which extends way beyond toy blenders) — but for what food means to a culture and to a society. And, over the past year and a half, I’ve gotten to know Cambridge’s quite intricate and important food culture.

Here are a few of my favorite restaurants around the city:

1. Tallulah

Tucked away on a quiet residential street, Tallulah is a minimalist restaurant with delightfully complicated, wholesome food that exemplifies true attention to detail and a deep consideration of flavors. Changing menus bring forth different seasons, palates, and twists on the classics — a simple salad with pickled onions and fresh croutons pairs with the roast chicken. Featuring only a handful of tables in their homey dining room, this restaurant is the perfect venue for a relaxing evening away from the craziness that is college.

2. Giulia

Right on Massachusetts Avenue, with a brick-exposed wall, casual setting, and outdoor patio — under heat lamps — Giulia never disappoints. Wholesome yet sophisticated dishes conjure distant ancient Tuscan hills and southern Neapolitan towns. Enjoy the focaccia with white beans and pappardelle with mushrooms and braised wild boar on an idyllic late summer evening.

3. Oleana

This small, crowded restaurant, situated between MIT and Harvard, evokes the deep blue waters of the distant Mediterranean. Boasting a menu full of dishes meant for sharing, Oleana encourages slow meals, lots of talking, and relaxing in its refined atmosphere. The best dish on the menu is absolutely the topik, followed by the za’atar bread with a walnut and ricotta purée. Bustles of oregano, pieces of pottery, and evil eyes adorn the walls — Oleana provides the perfect meal during a cold Cambridge winter.

These restaurants, in their own way, have a distinct approach to food, ranging from their dishware to the atmosphere. Quiet, upscale, and dedicated to their craft, they have succeeded in making food — which is surprisingly often overlooked in restaurants in comparison to other factors, like ambience — take the center stage. Whether looking to local and seasonal offerings or taking inspiration from abroad, restaurants like these establish what many have forgotten: Food is much more than nourishment, it's the fabric of society.

Now, as I look up the HUDS menu for tonight — just to be slightly and quietly disappointed — I will think of these restaurants and their special contribution to Cambridge’s food culture.

—Incoming Comp Director and Culture Executive Thomas A. Ferro can be reached at thomas.ferro@thecrimson.com.

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