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RESTAURANT REVIEW

Cuchi Cuchi

Restaurant Shows We Aren’t In Sevilla Anymore

By Winnie Yang

STAFF WRITER

Cuchi Cuchi

795 Main St., Cambridge

(617) 864-2929

Spanish tapas and pinchos, Russian zakuski, Chinese dim sum, Middle Eastern (and Turkish and Greek and North African) mezze, antipasto, amuse-bouches: though the ingredients of each might be as disparate as taro and anchovies, these small plates all reflect the shifting focus in restaurant dining to first courses -- a way to try a little bit of everything without committing to a big entrÉe. Cuchi Cuchi, a newcomer to Cambridge, offers a menu composed entirely of small plates. Because of its name, I’d mistaken it for just another tapas bar, but Chef Jared Hargreaves’ creations span much of the globe.

Cuchi Cuchi’s modest storefront exterior belies an expansive interior that seems to extend all the way to Inman Square. The dining room is warm and attractive, well separated from an impressively large bar. The wood flooring and paneling, crackle-glaze tiling, and heavy glass and wrought iron accents lend a Continental feel to the room, while the soft Spanish and French music and the melodious inflections of some of the service staff transport you even further from Cambridge. The dim lighting, while romantic, is actually a bit too dim and might prove an obstacle to actually discerning what’s on one’s plate.

From the drinks list, we selected the clericÓ ($15), a refreshing concoction of white wine, sparkling cider and fruit. Our server brought a basket of thinly-sliced bread, a white Portuguese loaf with a dense crumb. Though the chicken liver pÂtÉ that accompanied the bread had the requisite smooth texture and creamy consistency, I’ve never been able to acquire a taste for liver (except of the foie gras persuasion). I did, however, love the bread with the excellent olive oil that was brought to our table on request.

When I finally turned my attention to the menu, I was surprised that I couldn’t find croquetas or jamÓn ibÉrico anywhere on the menu. I understood on further inspection of the menu: mussels thessaloniki and green curry chicken?

Clearly, Toto, we aren’t in Sevilla anymore. Choosing from the many offerings proved difficult -- especially given the minimal descriptions (“baked acorn squash”) of some. Our server directed us the grilled trout and provided descriptions for the “three potatoes” and “risotto” listed. (The preparations for these change often enough to warrant a more generalized name on the menu, it seems.) I wasn’t sure how the kitchen would handle the ordering of the dishes we selected, as ZuZu, another new place in the area that also offers small plates, sends all its mezze out at the same time, which proves difficult to handle on the table and in the mouth.

For my dining companion and me, Cuchi Cuchi solved this problem by sending the dishes out in rounds, a dish for each of us, as if they were courses. Dishes were large enough to share without leaving either of us dissatisfied at having too little to taste. The risotto ($8), presented this time with pumpkin and pistachios, and the stuffed eggplant ($9) -- both smelled divine, as did every dish that followed. The risotto was a respectable version, with just enough “bite” to each rice grain, but lacked depth in flavor (more salt perhaps?). The nuts were a wonderful touch, adding crunch, but would have been more effective if the rice had been creamier. It was nonetheless warm and filling, as risotto should be. The eggplant, however, was without fault: succulent, with a substantial, almost meaty texture, the smoky, earthy flavor perfectly married with the acidic tomato ragout and tangy goat cheese.

Timing is a feat at Cuchi Cuchi, as the grilled trout and grilled lobster followed quickly on the heels of the empty plates retreating from our table. Our server had recommended the trout with marked enthusiasm, but I found it very salty and sour -- from the accompanying charred lemons, presumably -- and overpoweringly so. The lentil purÉe would have tempered the pungent fish well, were the portion larger. The lobster ($15), on the other hand, was superb: two halves of a tail arranged geometrically atop a bed of boursin whipped potatoes. The lobster tail was grilled to perfection and redolent with the vanilla bean beurre blanc sauce.

Still hungry for more, we ordered the braised duck shank with an espresso and habaÑero glaze. It actually tasted quite Asian, especially since the shredded vegetable alongside were dressed with a vinaigrette that tasted of sesame oil. The duck was very tender, and I managed to clean the plate without any hesitation. We also had the three potatoes: sliced and sautÉed; cubed in a milky cream sauce, flecked with tiny circles of green onion; and creamed with crunchy bits of garlic. The last two were especially good.

It’s probably not surprising that we didn’t opt for dessert. Though these are small plates, they do add up, and we left the restaurant with full bellies. I’m eager to return to try some of the many dishes we overlooked (the lamb porterhouse or the ceviche plate, for instance), as well as the chocolate banana-bread pudding.

Is it any wonder that every culture seems to have a version of small plates? If, like me, you can never decide between the tilapia or the sea bass, or the pork tenderloin sounds as tasty as the lamb chops, small plates are definitely the way to go. As a restaurant reviewer and serious foodie, I already have the tendency to steal things off of other people’s plates, but here, fortunately, I’ve got the food without the guilt, since sharing is part of the experience.