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Table For Two: Upstairs at the Pudding

Fine Dining, Harvard Style

By J. Erik Keiper

Many an MIT student views Harvard Square as a place to visit, but never to dawdle too long. You might get some weird Harvy disease, which may cause you to stop writing equations and start writing prose. While many of us from this end of Mass. Ave. frequent Harvard Square eateries like Fire and Ice, John Harvard’s, and Brew Moon, far fewer have taken the time to check out Upstairs at the Pudding.

Situated atop Harvard’s Hasty Pudding Theater on Holyoke Street, Upstairs at the Pudding has been making an art of filling tummies for almost 20 years. Walking up the plush carpeted staircase to the main dining room, visitors are greeted by dark wood tones in the banisters along with eclectic show posters from the Hasty Pudding. The main dining room opens up to seat about 50. The arched ceiling goes almost unnoticed due to the decorative Christmas lights that hang from various parts of the room. While a bit distracting at first, the ambiance soaks in and becomes very comfortable as the night moves on.

Upstairs at the Pudding’s David Weitzenhoffer has been working hard to make the wine selection worthwhile for Boston residents to make the trek across the river for. After perusing a selection of over 400 wines, I’d say it’s a fair bet that this distinction will stick. Unfortunately, there are very few bottles that are under $30, and it would be a shame not to compliment such fine cuisine with an equally appropriate wine. My guest and I settled on a 1997 Sonoma Chardonnay, from Chalk Hill ($65), a very oaky and buttery Chardonnay that went well with our entrÉes.

The Pudding’s list of 12 different first courses provided for a very difficult decision. Settling on the Potato Gnocchi ($12), though, was an excellent move. The delicately seared pastas were a joy to eat, with a very velvety texture. The gnocchi were accompanied by pesto in oil and fried eggplant garnished with radicchio salad. The salad contained an interesting assortment of green and reddish-orange colors.

Chef Scott F. Olsen continued to impress us with our entrÉes, both of which notably contrasted red/orange with green. The Seared Chilean Sea Bass with Parsley Puree ($28) was a gastronomic delight. The fish was perfectly done and very buttery, the perfect companion to our Chardonnay. The green puree sat atop the orange Citrus Nage sprinkled with wild mushrooms. The combination of tastes was exquisite. The Vegetable Pot au Feu ($19) was the only meatless entrÉe offered. What was lacking in choice, however, was made up in taste. The English Peas, Braised Fennel, and Squash were rolling in a decedent Truffle butter garnished with Fiddlehead Ferns. The combination was outstanding, but we found the butter to be a little heavy.

Although completely sated, the sight of the desserts appearing at the nearby tables found us enough room for more. The Assiette Au Chocolat (A Study in Chocolate) ($11) was a most fascinating dessert made by Pastry Chef Kathleen Howard. Consisting of an array of five different types of chocolates arranged ever so elegantly from light to dark was quite a sight to behold. The chocolates were superior to many of the fine creations of better-known confectioners. Reputedly Upstair’s has had a fantastic CrÈme BrÛlÉe. This evening’s specialty was a Maple CrÈme BrÛlÉe with Walnut Shortbread cookies ($8). The maple in the CrÈme BrÛlÉe made the dessert standout. Complimented by the shortbread cookies, the dessert went from average to remarkable.

Upstairs at the Pudding also has a fine selection of after-dinner drinks. We sampled a few different vintages of the Barros Colheita Ports ($8-$35/glass). Our port flight included 1977, 1974, and 1963. The star of the group in my opinion was the ’74. It combined many of the great attributes of a middle-aged port: lighter complexion, heady nose, and a soft finish.

No review of Upstairs at the Pudding could be complete without mentioning the fantastic service we received. Perfectly attentive, our waiter strode the line between overbearing and too removed. Another attribute of the wait staff was their exquisite knowledge of all parts of the menu. While many of us enjoy fine dining, many times we haven’t a clue what is on the plate in front of us!

Upstairs at the Pudding would make a fantastic spot to take the folks or to have the folks take you after graduation this June. Though the price tag will put your tuition bill into perspective, it will also remind them that you get what you pay for.