Michael Scelfo’s new Alden & Harlow has all the right ingredients
I’d like to begin by apologizing to the staff of Alden & Harlow, the long-anticipated new offering from chef Michael Scelfo, for just how frequently they’re going to have to see my grim visage haunting the bar. It’s not your fault that your place of employment has hit upon the exact formula I look for in a regular spot, the atmosphere, menu and cocktail program meeting in perfect harmony. Plus, it’s a few hundred yards closer to where I live than my previous bar girlfriend, The Sinclair.
That said, let’s take a moment to remember the iconic, beloved Casablanca, whose space they’ve taken over. The space is broken up into a few distinct segments, with a greenhouse dining room up front, toward Brattle Street, giving way to a long, 30-seat bar that leads toward the main dining room and an open kitchen. The spacious, airy dining room is contrasted nicely by the low-ceilinged, underground feel of the bar room, a rarity of late. It all adds to the intimacy of the space. The bar is black granite, with the walls done in white subway tile.
While it all looks great, it’s what’s coming out of the kitchen (two must-haves: pickled corn pancakes with buttermilk, maple and shishitos; chicken fried rabbit with apple, bleu cheese and chili oil), and the bar that’s most exciting.
The latter is headed by Seth Freidus, formerly of Eastern Standard, who has carried his knack for tradition-minded innovation over to his new digs. On tap, they’ve got a house vermouth-based bitter, a sort of Alpine style, made with date-infused brandy and Madeira, and a white wine fortified with herbs, barks and citrus peels. It’s bright and herbaceous, but with earthy undertones. And it’s on tap, did I mention that?
“Not even planning with each other, we ended up having a lot of the same ingredients on the food menu and drink menu,” Freidus says. “I thought that was really cool that that happened organically.” Among these are parsnip puree and kumquats, the former showing up in the McGregor’s Garden, which takes Fighting Cock bourbon, Benedictine and lemon. Freidus says he thinks of using modifiers in cocktails much like preparing sides for a protein while cooking. The starchy but silky puree, spiced with cinnamon, star anise and green cardamom, complements the spicy caramel sweetness of the bourbon, and the herbal, vanilla characteristics of the Benedictine.
Elsewhere on the adventurous-sounding but eminently drinkable side is Golding’s Bastard, made with chinook hop-infused mezcal, Pimm’s, demerara sugar, lime and ginger beer. The hops come from sous chef and home brewer Dave Tollerud’s garden. “After smelling these whole flower chinook hops, I thought, instantly, let’s get some mezcal and bring the two flavors together,” Freidus says. “It’s really weird, not something I thought, ‘Yes, everyone will like it,’ but agave lovers will definitely like it.”
Also proving popular so far (it’s only been a week, after all) is the River Run, a savory apertif-style cocktail, that he didn’t think would land as well as it did. It’s made with Laird’s Bonded Applejack, an oloroso dry sherry, demerara (the house bitter), lemon and a pinch of salt. “It’s meant to get the salivary glands moving.”
It sounds like a lot to take in, but these are drinks good enough that you could quaff them down without paying much attention to what went in. Just know that nothing went in by accident. “I want everything to be interesting and different, and every drink to feature a house-made ingredient,” Freidus says. “And I think we’ve done that.”
Alden & Harlow
40 Brattle St., Cambridge