I really want to love Russell House Tavern. I went to brunch there once before and it was OK. The food was 70% awesome and my server was nowhere to be found on more than one occasion. I didn’t write it off though. There is something so charming about Russell House that keeps beckoning my return. That something made me think that first brunch experience was a fluke and my perfect Russell House moment was yet to be had. I mean what’s not to love? An upscale pub with innovative American cuisine and a lively, comfortable atmosphere. I even recommend it all the time even though my first experience wasn’t perfect!
So last Saturday I gave it another shot, a bunch of friends had a reservation for 8 people at 8:30. The entire party arrived on time, which was shocking. The table wasn’t ready so we went to grab a cocktail at the downstairs bar while we waited. My first thought of the night was that the bar is not conducive to ordering a drink, it took me about 20 minutes to get someone’s attention, and the whole time I felt like I was in the way. My second thought was that my table should have been ready because at that point it had been 20, going on 25 minutes since our rez. My third thought was that my Moscow Mule (Rain Organic Vodka, Lime-muddled, Homemade Ginger Beer) tasted like straight ginger beer and my friend’s cocktail, the Crimson Crow (Rain Vodka, Aperol, Lemon Juice, Raspberry Simple) tasted like a sugary raspberry explosion. Both were way to heavy on the flavor, and didn’t focus at all on the vodka. Mabye this rain vodka literally has no taste, or maybe they just didn’t put enough. Either way, both cocktails were mediocre and I decided to go with a dirty martini for my next drink. Oh, and we got our table at 9:05.
Something that I love about the menu at RHT is that it’s very egg-centric. Pun intended. It takes risks and uses lots of egg! Gotta love seeing eggs in non-traditional egg dishes. Like for example….
The New England Cheese Board is pretty good, the most memorable of the cheeses was the Bleu (which I’m guessing was Great Hill Blue, a cheese I have really come to love recently). The one on the right tasted just like butter, which is great.
The Crispy Soft Poached Chip-In Farm Egg (Pecorino Aioli, Toasted Brioche, House Pancetta) is truly amazing. I love breaded and poached egg and this version is great. The pancetta is light and very fine, so it doesn’t steal the show from the egg.
I also really enjoyed the Figs in a Blanket (bacon wrapped figs). These reminded me of bacon wrapped dates from a Tapas restaurant and that is definitely a good thing. Bacon mixed with sweet fruit is always a win. Here we have… Braised American Lamb Shoulder (Parsley & Potato Gnocchi, Warm Poached Farm egg & Young Pecorino). About three of us at the table ordered this, and we all raved about it. Poached egg on top of gnocchi might be the best thing since sliced bread. The braised lamb shoulder was divine, it had a rich, melt-in-your-mouth texture that was perfect with the gnocchi. Extra points for splitting the dish when we asked to share, and putting a whole egg on each (when non-split dishes only had one).
I obviously didn’t order the Roasted Giannone Farm Chicken (Mashed Potatoes, Thyme Roasted Carrots, Pan Drippings) because I think chicken is boring, but my chicken-loving friends even though it was boring! Now that’s saying something. It even looks boring, especially compared to the amazing (and might I add, colorful) lamb everyone else was eating. So all in all, the food was better than 70%, I would say it was 85% great. So an improvement in that sense, but then I think about the drinks and I want to reduce the number again.
The service however was exactly like my first trip to Russell House, our waitress was simply not there when we needed her. There were times when everyone at the table had empty drinks (and martinis at that!), and it took about 30 minutes to get our check and leave from the time we were done eating. I hate when the night is winding down and servers start doing sidework and forget about their current tables. Just because we are in a big group does not mean we want to sit there forever. When the meal is over, people start getting impatient and want to leave, great servers understand that.
My final thoughts on RHT is that it’s better than OK, but has a long way to go before mastering its craft. They should take some notes from (the love of my life) Eastern Standard, a restaurant very similar in atmosphere, menu and prices that has given me flawless experience after flawless experience. They always make sure you have a drink in your hand, even if you are three people back from the bar.
14 JFK St
Cambridge, MA 02138