Catalyst owner and seasoned chef William Kovel relaxes in his environment.  PHOTO BY ERIN BALDASSARI/METRO Catalyst owner and seasoned chef William Kovel relaxes in his environment.
PHOTO BY ERIN BALDASSARI/METRO

Catalyst chef and owner William Kovel has been whispering culinary sweet nothings to Boston palettes since his tenure at the defunct Aujourd’hui. Catalyst, which celebrated its first birthday last fall, is much more in keeping with the less showy times, but it’s not neighborhood-casual. With a simple menu of salads and fish and meat tidbits to start, a trio of intriguing pastas to chomp as desired, several entrees and a handful of tantalizing desserts, the airy, open-plan beam and girder-framed restaurant is refined.

Kovel seems to know when to act, when not to, and when to reinvent the wheel. Take a side of roasted seasonal vegetables: Big, tasty carrots are cut into chunks, turnip is cubed, and Brussels sprouts sweetened by frost on the stalk are perfectly cooked through, as they should be. Nothing is added, but time and attention. Conversely, finely diced mushrooms are wrapped in al dente pasta, which is topped with sautéed Hen of the Woods and a little Parmesan. But it’s tarragon — an unusual soft but pungent herb with a meadow-y, hay-ish flavor — that forms a remarkable complement to the mushrooms.

Catalyst’s roasted blue cod sitting on a bed of olive oil crushed potatoes is a winter menu star, too. It’s surrounded by de-shelled mussels and clams and finished off with lots of creamy sauce. No wonder the waiter left a spoon with the knife and fork. It’s a riff on clam chowder, of course, and an excellent one at that.

 

Valentine’s specials

Every February 14, food and love are paired as perfect mates. But eating is one of the least romantic pursuits on the planet. Really, how romantic is it trying to get food in your mouth and keep it there whilst trying to impress your date? Once you’ve gotten the food part out of the way — and however awkward it might be, here you won’t want it to end — curl up by Catalyst’s fireplace with a glass of oak-y St. Supéry and guzzle some local oysters. Aphrodisiac? Who cares?

Catalyst

Entrees: $15-$30

300 Technology Square, Cambridge

617-576-3000

www.catalystrestaurant.com

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