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Restaurant Review: Atasca -- A Portugese Restaurant, a hidden Cambridge Gem

By Duangjai Samranvedhya

Atasca

279 Broadway St. (between Columbia and Prospect St.), Cambridge

354-4355

Tuesday - Friday: 11:30 a.m.3 p.m.; 410 p.m.

Saturday: 11:30 a.m.3 p.m.; 411 p.m.

Sunday: noon 10 p.m.

Closed monday

A hidden treasure of Cambridge," is how sidewalk.com describes Atasca, which is unbelievably close to MIT - well within walking distance. This 30-40 seat restaurant features a small grill in the front and a kitchen in the back. The walls are decorated with Portuguese wines, plates, jugs, pictures, and roosters everywhere.

I first heard of Atasca in the Boston Globe. The article was about a Portuguese woman who made and delivered fresh goat cheese every week to the Portuguese community, especially to the small groceries along Cambridge Street. Atasca, using this particular fresh cheese, shared some of its recipes with the Globe, such as fresh goat cheese with tomato. I have wanted to try the cheese ever since.

So when I went to Atasca I ordered the fresh goat cheese with tomato, queijo fresco com tomates, for $4. The soft, tofu-consistency white cheese is served with sliced tomato, chopped red onion, roasted garlic, parsley, and olive oil. If you plan to order this dish, save the bread and soak it in the remaining marinated olive oil from the cheese plate. It's more satisfying than the olive oil in the bottle.

Portuguese food has those small plates called pestico which are like the Spanish tapas. When you go to these ethnic restaurants which offer small plates, try several of them and share the entree with your friends. You will get to try more dishes that way, especially at Atasca.

I ordered another of these pestico, linguica com ananan - Portuguese pork sausages served with pineapple, a traditional combination from the Azores Islands, for $5. Someone told my friend that he had to try this dish, so we did. Another pestico to try is grilled salt cod.

For the entree my friend tried roasted lamb shank, the special of the day, for $13.95. I personally love a rack of lamb, but not the lamb shank, so I thought the dish was just okay. My galina a verde, chicken breast with vinho verde, mushroom, artichoke and roasted pepper for $12.95, was actually pretty good. It was served with plain rice on a separate small plate. Even when I could not finish my chicken and reheated it the day after, it still tasted pretty good.

Another popular dish came in a small flat pan with mussels, lobster, shrimps, and clams, served over rice, and looked a lot like paella. In general, if you do not expect spectacular food, you will get a pretty good dish.

Do take a look at the wine list if you are over 21. The most famous Portuguese wine is surely Porto, yet there are a lot of other wine-producing regions in Portugal. This wine list explains itself pretty well. Even I, who doesn't know much about Portuguese wine, wanted to try something on the list.

For the dessert, I tried the pudim flan: lemon and port wine custard with caramel sauce, for $2.50. It is like a normal custard with a lemon taste. The sidewalk.com big review recommends pasteis de nata: phyllo-wrapped lemon tarts, which I will have to try when I go back.

Atasca's good food, affordable price, and close location to MIT make it a well-qualified hidden gem for MIT students. I would give Atasca four stars out of five in the affordable-restaurant category. It is a place where I'd certainly eat again.

Atasca has been open for three years. There is lunch/dinner takeout, and no delivery. Vegetarian options are available, although not many. Dinner for two was around $20 per person without wine.