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Atasca

50 Hampshire Street

Cambridge, MA

(617) 621-6991

With low ceilings, rich wood, and calming earth tones, the atmosphere at Atasca in Kendall Square is warm and inviting, even during the cold winter months, when the radiance of sunshine cannot be enjoyed on the restaurant’s large patio. Atasca’s menu is authentic Portuguese with an emphasis on seafood, including cod, shrimp, and sardines, among others.

Our meal began with a complimentary basket of bread accompanied by garlic and herb-infused oil and black olives. The bread was served as small toasted slices (similar to bruschetta) that were firm enough to escape the perils of sogginess when dipped in the flavorful oil. Since the slices were an appropriately small size for a starter, we were still hungry when our meals actually came.

One of the most popular seafood dishes is Bacalhau a Lagareiro com Batatas a Murro ($16.95), which is a dish of grilled dry salt cod that is drizzled with hot olive oil and garlic. The dish also includes grilled peppers, onions, and punched (yes, punched) potatoes. The cod was not very flavorful despite the amount of olive oil in the dish, and had only a slightly burnt taste. Strangely, the size of the cod fillet varied significantly between orders, with one person in our group receiving a fillet nearly twice the size of the other two. Although the cod was disappointing, the sides saved the dish from complete failure. The peppers and onions were well-grilled, but the real star was the punched potatoes. These small red potatoes that looked as if they had been literally punched packed lots of flavor with a garlic rub.

Though Atasca specializes in seafood, we had far better luck with the chicken. The Galinha a Verde ($14.95) is a breast of chicken sautéed with vinho verde, mushrooms, artichokes, and roasted peppers with jasmine rice. The chicken was tender and juicy with a subtle flavor of the accompanying vegetables. Since the sauce was thin and plentiful, the dish actually tasted more like chicken soup than a traditional chicken entrée. The rice was also very good with a distinct jasmine taste lending itself to the side dish.

The Peito de Galinha com Queijo S. Jorge ($15.95) is another impressive chicken dish that consists of a chicken breast sautéed with S. Jorge cheese, linguica (Portuguese pork sausage), and wine, served with broccoli rabe risotto. With the cheese and linguica, the moist chicken was a bit salty, but it did not overpower the wine sauce. The broccoli rabe risotto was a nice complement to the chicken with the mild risotto and bitter broccoli rabe evening out the saltiness of the meat.

All of the portions were plentiful (though not always consistent), but not so large that they were unmanageable. However, we were all so full that no one in my group had room for dessert, though they looked tempting.

The staff at the restaurant were very pleasant, giving us extra time to decide what we wanted without pressuring us. In addition, the waitress was helpful, telling us some of the more traditional dishes and giving recommendations, one of which was, unfortunately, the bland cod. Still, much of the food was flavorful and a refreshing change from many of the restaurants around MIT, so I would recommend Atasca, but avoid the cod.