Where to Viale, a new Central Square restaurant in the space formerly occupied by Rendezvous.
What for Mediterranean flavors, New England ingredients, and craft cocktails from veterans of the local restaurant scene. Co-owners chef Greg Reeves and Mark Young are both alums of Green Street, among others.
The scene Structurally, this is still recognizable as Rendezvous, with a lot of dark wood, exposed ductwork, long red banquettes, white brick, and artwork on the walls. The Pats game plays discreetly, the TV off to the side. Above the bar, the taxidermied head of an impala gazes out at the cute young Central Square couples and restaurant industry workers eating fried cauliflower and drinking cocktails. At one table, a man and woman both sport long ponytails, heads shaved below. Girls with henna’d hair, black ballet flats, and silver earrings drink wine at the bar. Two friends sit side by side, one completely bald, the other sporting an immense, bushy beard, as if all the hair crept off one’s head onto the other’s chin. A man with silver stubble and a pained expression peers at his phone. Two young gents in sorbet-colored polos with vertical gelled hair enter, go straight to the restroom, emerge five minutes later, and exit the restaurant. “Well excuse me, take a few minutes to mellow out,” instructs Big Daddy Kane on the sound system. At the end of the meal, the check arrives in a miniature pizza box.
What you’re eating The menu offers the likes of calamari pizza, fried polenta, and braised pork shank with sweet potato puree, red cabbage, and burnt orange. Pasta dishes are a highlight, composed of layered flavors that make an impression: duck cappellacci with Marsala, foie gras butter, cipollini onion, and mushrooms; saffron fettuccine with lobster, squid, tomato, chile, and rapini leaves.
Care for a drink? Patrick Gaggiano (Fairsted Kitchen) runs the drinks program here, which means you should have a cocktail. There are plenty of seasonally appropriate creations, such as the Old Plank Road (bourbon, apple vanilla maple syrup, lemon, and whiskey bitters). But the summery-sounding Off to the Races (white rum, lime, pear syrup, rose, and soda) is a surprise hit, refreshing and not at all too sweet.
Overheard Talk about movies, house-made infusions, strategies for sleeping on airplanes, and what to do when you forget people’s names. A man confesses his favorite rom-com is “Along Came Polly”; Matthew McConaughey’s career is analyzed at length. “Do you like more bitter or less bitter things?,” Gaggiano asks a patron. “I like this guy,” the customer says. A woman arrives, laughing nervously. “This random guy just high-fived me and now I’m scared he gave me Ebola,” she says. Old acquaintances meet again: “I think we were hanging out at Eastern Standard and that girl behind you put Mentos in your champagne,” a bartender tells an imbiber, who turns around to look. “Hi! Nice to see you!” An out-of-towner who hasn’t been to Central Square in years arrives: “This neighborhood used to be homeless people and now it’s [jerks],” she declares. At a high-top, some real talk about relationships is taking place. “It’s over! I’ve had 2½ drinks, so I’m not going to sugarcoat it,” one friend tells another. Gaggiano sidles up to a table and sets down a few Starbursts. “I brought you ladies dessert.”
Viale, 502 Massachusetts Ave., Central Square, Cambridge. 617-576-1900. www.vialecambridge.comDevra First can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @devrafirst.