Thursday, February 11, 2010

A Beautiful Dinner at Chez Henri, Cambridge, MA

For some reason, I think of Cambridge as being in a different country, even though geographically it's practically on my front step.  It probably has to do with the fact that it requires a transfer on the T, or a bus ride for the most direct route.  I try not to take the bus if I can avoid it.  In fact, we took the bus back from Cambridge after our glorious dinner at Chez Henri and witnessed a fight that nearly sparked a race riot while the bus was in motion, but that's another story for another time...  In any case, I digress.

I had never been to Chez Henri before.  It's hard to believe, I know.  Friends have been telling me about this place since I moved to Boston, and with my penchant for French food, you'd think I'd be a regular there by now.  I figured it was high time that Dan and I make it over there for dinner, and with my jaunt to see the Harvard Museum of Natural History on Monday, we settled on meeting up there after he finished teaching.  We were glad we did.  It was a wonderful way to spend a cold night together across the river.

I arrived early, and having had time to kill I sidled up at the bar for a cocktail and to peruse the menu.  I had a periodista cocktail.  It's a rum drink with apricot brandy and triple sec.  It was tasty and helped chase the cold away after my walk from Harvard.  I enjoyed looking over their wine list and menu while waiting for Dan as well as eavesdropping on the folks at the bar.  There were two men who had lots to catch up on after not seeing one another for twenty years talking about astrophysics, and a trio of octogenarians who were sipping Manhattans and sharing two Cuban sandwiches three ways.  They had stopped in before heading out to snowbird in Florida the next day.  Needless to say, there were plenty of interesting subjects for people-watching.

Once Dan arrived, we were seated in the dining room for our meal.  I moved on to a glass of Segura Viudas Cava which you probably know is my favorite, and I talked Dan into a periodista which he also enjoyed.  For wine we chose a Margaux, Chateau de Clairefont 2005.  It's a lovely wine that we have had many times.  We were big fans of the 1998, but somewhat disappointed by the 2003.  I was glad to see that the 2005 was back up to snuff.  It went well with the rich and creamy food that we ordered.

We started with braised rabbit with bacon, black trumpet mushrooms, cavatelli, and cream.  The flavors were deep and smokey.  I sopped up the creamy broth with the last of our bread.  I liked the rustic presentation in the iron skillet.  Next was a fricasee of lobster and cod cheeks with Chatenay carrots, papardelle, and more cream!  The lobster was cooked perfectly and the textures in the dish were right on.  I enjoyed the pasta in both cases and was told that it was house-made - impressive!  For the main course we chose the roast chicken breast with Ben's mushrooms - also well done.  Much of their wintry menu featured the local and famous Ben Maleson's mushrooms.  The chicken had just the right amount of salt for my taste and it was juicy, tender, and flavorful with nice crispy skin.

For the second half of the meal, we opted for a cheese course.  We chose what I think was brie de mieux, mimolette, and a washed rind that our server called "la pavine."  I have scoured the internet, but I cannot find any more information on the last cheese.  Our server graciously offered to bring the packaging out to show us, but I declined.  I wish I hadn't because now I'm dying of curiosity.  Chez Henri, if you're reading this, I'd love to know more about it.  It was full-flavored and funky with a vegetal finish that reminded me of artichokes.  The cheeses were nicely and simply presented with nuts and fruit, and there was a good selection to chose from with plenty of variety.

Dessert was also very good.  We opted for chocolate bread pudding, which we ate there, and took home a tres leches cake.  I ate the tres leches for lunch the next day much to Dan's chagrin, but I made up for it by making him a currant and cinnamon bread pudding.  Our server was kind enough to let me compose an impromptu tasting of some of the rums that I was unfamiliar with, and I enjoyed sampling some new-to-me spirits.  I wish I had been coherent enough to jot down some notes because they were delicious, and I'd like to be able to find them to have at home.  It's rare to see such an interesting assortment of rum, so I will be sure to take advantage of that on my next visit.

We really enjoyed our meal at Chez Henri, and I can see why it attracts so many locals and seems to have a devoted regular following.  I understand they've been open for over thirty years which makes it a landmark in my book.  I overheard the bartender telling some guests that the chef, who was away, represents the Patriots at a charity NFL dinner that goes for thousands a head every year.  Big doins' no doubt!  Be sure to check it out if you haven't before.  It's a must for Bostonians and Cambridge-ites alike.  I'll be back for more bar action sometime soon.  Everyone talks about the Cuban sandwich like it's mana from heaven, so I'm eager to try it.  Bravo Chez Henri!

Below is a recipe for a Periodista, though not from Chez Henri:

Shake all ingredients over ice, then strain into a glass. Garnish with skewered dried apricots and a slice of lime.


  1. I liked the part about the old people sharing their sandwiches. Funny how when you age you can't eat as much!

  2. Cambridge-ites! Please call us Cantabrigians.

  3. ha ha! cantabrigians it is! thanks for reading!