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Butterfish Bistro

Restaurants of the Rich and Famous

By Scott Lee

Butterfish, An American Bistro

Harvard Square

5 Craigie Circle (bet. Brattle & Concord Sts.) Cambridge, MA 02138-3466

(617) 497-5511

Dinner: appetizers from $4-14, main courses from $20-30, deserts from $4-10

The buzz about 02138 is that it is to Boston what 90210 is to LA. As you walk past the stately houses with manicured lawns, you come upon Butterfish, a restaurant set on real estate very pricey, very chichi: almost into the figures of the tax cuts advocated by the former governor who lives just a few doors down on Craigie.

You enter the mystical world of the “submarine” (the best description of the dÉcor, which is a subdued cerulean blue), and you find yourself wading to one of maybe ten tables present in the whole restaurant. Whether this is cramped or cozy depends on your outlook on life. The ambience is enhanced by the simplicity of the furnishings and minimalist interior design.

The food can be characterized as Nouvelle American. Some of the dishes have greater complexity than others. We tried the pan-seared jumbo scallops with pickled radishes, the fresh local oysters on the half-shell with a ginger and orange mignonette, the pan seared jumbo shrimp with potato gnocchi and carrot/saffron jus, and baby spring lamb prepared three ways.

The scallops were excellent, seared in a reduction to the perfect tenderness, and combined appropriately with marinated vegetables with the right acidity and temperature to bring out their true flavor. The oysters were local and fresh with a nice tartness, but I wondered --where was the ginger? Where was the orange? The vinaigrette could have been tinged with these flavors in greater proportions.

Clearly, the baby spring lamb was the highlight of the evening. The choice meat was broiled to an epiphany of natural flavor three different ways. This jus had enough “juice” to permeate the inner dwellings of the loins in creating a succulent and moist creation. The presentation was a layered sculpture that would have done Duchamp proud. We thought the presentations of all the dishes were colorful, reminiscent of a Renoir.

Dessert was superb, and I suspect that the rhubarb I ordered was a perennial favorite here. It too was a multi-layered creation with the ideal level of alternating crunchiness and decadent melt-in-your-mouth custard.

Overall, an excellent restaurant with great ambience and presentation of dishes.

In conclusion, if you’ve met that one person you can’t live without and have enough jus to spare, it’s a great place, but if it’s 12 a.m. and you need some cheap grub, you probably shouldn’t come here -- it’s likely to be closed at that time anyway.

Ambience/DÉcor: 3 / 5

Food: Main meal: 3 / 5

Dessert: 4/ 5

Service: 4 / 5

Value: 2.768 / 5