91 Winthrop St, Cambridge, MA | Directions 0213842.372419 -71.120946
Neighborhoods: West Cambridge
Yummy, Green, and Super Friendly – Definitely one of the best restaurants in Harvard Sq. My friend and I went there to try their special SuperBowl menu. We just got appetizers and drinks, but they were extremely good. The maple-glazed wings especially (though according to the chef, whom we met, there was a lot of bourbon in the glaze, too). And the cocktails were quite creative - I especially liked the smoky-sweet mezcal cocktail. They also had a lot of info on the origins of the alcohols (and whether they were organic or sustainably produced) in the wine menu, which was awesome. And they gave us complimentary dessert, possibly because we got so many drinks. Overall it was a fabulous experience, and the fact that it's a green certified restaurant made me feel that much better about going there.
A really bad experience – My party of four arrived at 8.30 pm for an 8.30 reservation. The hostess - an ugly disinterested troll - made us wait for 20 minutes in a dark crowded hallway where people were pushing past us to go to the washroom. A second hostess - a younger bimbo with no qualifications - told us that our table would be another 10 - 15 minutes. No apologies or explanation. We were treated like dirt.
(For those readers who think the previous paragraph is sexist, all I can say is that my wife concurs with this assessment of the appearance and behavior of the hostesses.)
We noticed that other people were invited to sit at the bar so we pushed our way into the restaurant and stood at the bar where we waited ten minutes to be served.
45 minutes after arriving I asked the bimbo when our table would be ready and said if it wasn't soon we would leave (which we should have done at that point). Nothing happened so after a few minutes I told her to go upstairs and find out if the table she had said would be ready in 15 minutes half an hour ago was ready. She came back and said it was. This was 45 minutes after the time of our reservation.
We went upstairs to find the staff throwing a tablecloth over a table that really was too big for four people.
We had planned to have the vegetarian and vegan tasting menus promoted on the website but first we didn't get menus for the tasting menu and then the waiter made it pretty clear that, because it was now 9.30, the tasting menu was not a good idea because it took a long time. As if the fact that it was so late was our fault? The vegan tasting menu was not on the menus we finally forced the waiter to give us.
So we left and had a nice meal for about one fifth of the cost nearby.
I can't comment on the food at Upstairs on the Square because we never got any.
But I can comment on the fact that if you plan to make a reservation at a nice restaurant and spend $150/person on the meal, then Upstairs on the Square is not the place to go because their ability to courteously host and seat their customers is hardly world class. In fact, it's unconsciounably bad.
OVERPRICED HYPE: DON'T GO – HAVING SEEN THE VERY FAVORABLE REVIEW OF "UPSTAIRS" ON CHRONICLE RECENTLY, MY FRIEND AND I WENT FOR BRUNCH YESTERDAY (02/09/09) AND LEFT FEELING VERY DISAPPOINTED FOR THESE REASONS: THE FOOD WAS ONLY MEDIOCRE--OUR APPETIZER OF PROSCIUTTO AND MELONS (AT $10) WAS SKIMPY WITH ONLY TWO THIN NOT-QUITE-RIPE SLICES OF HONEYDEW AND CANTALOUPE; MY ENTREE, FRENCH TOAST ($14) WAS SO DENSE AND SYRUPY RICH THAT I WAS UNABLE TO FINISH IT (IN FACT, I GAGGED AT THE MERE THOUGHT OF SUGAR FOR THE REST OF THE DAY); AND THE COFFEE WAS LUKEWARM, DESPITE REPEATED CUPS, EACH OF WHICH HAD GROUNDS SWIMMING IN THE BOTTOM. MY FRIEND'S FRESH-EGG TART ($13) WAS LITTLE MORE THAN MUSH, THOUGH SHE LIKED THE SALAD DRESSING ON THE GREENS THAT CAME WITH THE EGG DISH. THE BRUNCH MENU WAS VERY LIMITED.
ON THE BRIGHTER SIDE, OUR MALE WAITER, THOUGH VERY BUSY, WAS PLEASANT AND ATTENTIVE, AND THE REST OF THE STAFF SEEMED CHEERFUL. THIS, HOWEVER, WAS SCANT COMPENSATION FOR THE EXORBITANT PRICE OF OUR UNSATISFACTORY GOURMET EXPERIENCE. WE WILL ADVISE OUR FRIENDS NOT TO MAKE OUR MISTAKE, NOR DO WE PLAN TO RETURN.
Perfect Date – I took my boyfriend here for his birthday, which also happened to be the night of Obama's inauguration. I can't imagine a better place to have spent this important day! We dined in the elegant and romantic soiree room and ordered from the special event menu. Between the two of us we tasted everything on the Obama menu. It's always a challenge finding a place that won't disappoint my boyfriend, a five-star chef by profession. Here he thoroughly enjoyed his meal and didn't try to analyze the complex flavors in his meal-- he simply enjoyed. They also surprised him by presenting him with a beautifully scripted birthday message on his dessert. (I had mentioned his birthday when I made reservations). Strongly recommended!
A heavenly experience – Dining at UpStairs on the Square can best be described as a heavenly experience. Located in the center of Harvard Square overlooking a park, the two-story restaurant features all the trappings of a fine dining establishment - but with a funky twist. The formal atmosphere and beautiful china is tempered by a Zebra-print rug and hot pink walls in the first floor dining room. The more formal second floor Soiree Room is adorned with lipstick-pink and gold walls with a mirrored ceiling. The wait service is impeccable and the American cuisine is some of the best you will have anywhere. The flavorful Seared Nantucket Sea Scallops melt in your mouth. The Crispy Golden Halibut with Smoky Bacon and Marinated Shrimp make you want to sing with delight. Amazingly, the deserts are even better. Their famous Milk Chocolate Pecan Turtles are a slice of nirvana without being too sweet. And the UpStairs Blondie, a white dough brownie with butter rum sauce and toasted pecans, is unique vanilla treat that you will be talking about long after you leave.
Great, Original Food – Two years ago, I ate at Upstairs on the Square and had the single greatest dish I have ever eaten in my life. It was a kuri squash ravioli, with such a delicate balance of flavor and texture that I was speechless. When I discovered that a new kuri squash ravioli was once again on the menu, I knew I had to return. I arrived early on a Thursday, when the restaurant was mostly empty. I was disappointed to learn the ravioli was no longer available, but luck was on my side. The kitchen staff was meeting at a nearby table, and the chef informed me that she would gladly make the dish. She seemed even more excited after I told her about my last visit. Before the ravioli I tried two soups - a french onion and a tomato soup served with grilled cheese. The french onion soup was good, not great, but the tomato soup was delicious. It had a buttery texture, and the grilled cheese was tasty as well - the ultimate comfort food. The soup was followed by the ravioli, this time containing a lemon fondue, and while it was not as breathtaking as the original dish (which had become the thing of legend in my mind) the new version was still excellent. Upstairs on the Square is a master of combining unique flavors in such a way that you can taste each component individually, while losing yourself in the harmony they create as a dish. I was equally impressed with the duck confit appetizer, though the gingerbread accompaniment was confusing. For entrees, the standout dish was the pappadelle bolognese. I took one bite of this dish, and the flavor resonated in my mouth for at least a minute. The combination of a classic bolognese, fresh fennel fronds and hand rolled pasta is reason alone to visit this restaurant. I also enjoyed the skirt steak that, while slightly oily, was well seasoned and medium rare. The texture of the "tater tots" that came with it was also lovely. This is a restaurant that is creating original flavors with classic dishes, and is well worth the trip.
Overpriced, With Attitude – I hadn't been to Upstairs since they moved to their new space. I tried it last night for a special evening out, and will not go back.
The service was inconsistent at best. Our waiter practically hovered over us in the beginning, but seemed to be oblivious to the fact that no bread had been brought to our table. He made a huge deal of telling us that the wine we ordered was sold out and they were giving us a deal by bringing a much nicer wine for the same price, as if it was a huge favor. When it came to ordering dinner, I asked if the kitchen could make me a simple green salad. There was a salad on the menu but it included things I don't like. I figured if they had mesclun greens already available, how hard could it be to throw some vinaigrette on it? The waiter asked why I didn't want the salad on the menu. I explained that I didn't like most of the items on the salad. I was made to feel like I was an idiot not to like these foods, but I stood my ground and got my salad. It was just right -- fresh greens with a tangy vinaigrette. With the salad we got a small gruyere puff that was oddly sweet - a preview of the rest of the meal.
My companion had a pasta with beef short ribs. The pasta was tender with a nice bite and the beef was fork tender. My duck with vanilla mascarpone potatoes was as sickly sweet as it sounded. I felt the waiter had misled me on how sweet it was. Also, the duck was extremely tough. I've eaten duck quite a lot and it has never been that tough. The potatoes were gooey sweet although they were plain white potatoes, not yams.
To their credit, the restaurant did make every effort to address my dissatisfaction with the meal, and handled it better than I expected. However, I found the entire evening unsatisfying. The dining room, supposedly the quiet space, bustled with activity and never felt relaxing. This place is an expensive disappointment.
Don't bother to climb the stairs – I wouldn't bother to climb the stairs and spend the $$$. Last June we arranged a special celebration for our son and a friend who were graduating from the Harvard / JFK School. The $85 fixed price meal was a ripoff. Two dinners were good but very small - the 2 steak dinners were so tough as to be inedible. Several attempts at contacting the owners have met with no response. Bad food - bad attitude.
Intense, intelligent energy infusing the exquisite seasonal menu and impeccable service at the zebra-striped Monday Club Bar and pink-flourished Soiree Room. – Like an elegantly demented take on "Alice in Wonderland," the restaurant's Monday Club Bar is all odd angles and colorful touches, while the upstairs Soiree Room is a vision in pink, outfitted with a mirrored ceiling. Fireplaces are everywhere, as are colorful, knowledgeable waiters. Options abound: The Soiree Room serves pricier, contemporary dishes (farm vegetables and tiny ricotta gnocchi dressed with cardamom wine broth, shitake mushrooms and mint), while the Monday Club Bar features a more affordable menu of smaller, offbeat items (beet chitarra with crisp short rib and candied ginger). It's an injustice to skip dessert, especially the signature milk chocolate pecan turtles.
Photo by Christine Liu
Delicious food, wonderful wine selection and inviting decor. – I found Unstairs on the Square ramdomly on the internet and was instantly intrigued by the menu, photos and concept of throwing a dinner party every night. I was absolutely delighted to be greeted in the Monday room by a friendly maitre'd and was seated promptly near the roaring fireplace. The inside has a bohemian alice in wonderland feel--almost like you are indside of a birthday cake! Every meal that we ordered was delicious and unique. I highly recommend the kobe beef skewers. UATS is sure to be one of my favorite Harvard Square haunts.
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