Where En Boca, a Mediterranean-inspired wine bar in the former Sandrine’s Bistro space in Harvard Square.
What for Wine, tapas, and an elegant escape from a massive construction project across the street. The restaurant is part of Classic Restaurant Concepts, which owns two Irish pubs, the Asgard in Central Square and the Kinsale in Government Center, and the snob factor is low: Several culinary terms are defined on the back of executive chef Benjamin Lacy’s menu, including cloumage (a cow’s milk curd served with the roasted beets) and bagna cauda (a dip of garlic and anchovies that accompanies the grilled oysters).
The scene Women everywhere, from stylish 20-somethings to casual 30-year-olds to well-heeled seniors with impeccable hair, nodding understandingly as they converse. The vibe is mellow and dark, with soothing shades of gray and brown, light fixtures that cast geometric shadows on the wall, groovy instrumental music, and a 17-seat soapstone bar framing a library-like collection of booze and books.
What you’re eating Small, artfully arranged plates of wood-grilled octopus (above), wild mushrooms, crispy Brussels sprouts, halloumi cheese, and Arctic char poached in buttermilk, as well as a few larger dishes such as a whole roast haddock and braised lamb neck. Charcuterie specials are written on a chalkboard behind the bar, including $30 jamon and four kinds of cheese.
Care for a drink? The wine list hits the Mediterranean highlights — Italy, Spain, France, Greece — as well as a few from California and the Pacific Northwest. There are more than 40 bottles to choose from, and nearly two dozen varieties available by the glass, including eight “fancy” selections — for those looking to shell out $20 or $30 a pop — served from a wine dispenser that can preserve open bottles for weeks. There’s also a sherry section, a well-curated selection of beers, and a cocktail list featuring such enticing ingredients as pluot-infused vodka, cardamom-ginger syrup, and housemade strawberry cordial.
Overheard Talk of Head of the Charles, simple syrup, and a Halloween costume involving chest-shaving. A bald man at the bar seems to be having a serious conversation about someone’s mental health — “I think he was breaking down,” he says into his phone — but it turns out he’s talking about composting. A blond woman wearing a fur vest vents to a brunette companion in lace-up booties: “I sat in my car and made her father a gift basket” . . . “I don’t talk about it every time I do a good deed” . . . “I could have said so many rude things.” One bartender tells another bartender: “There are a lot of Asian gangs in Boston,” to which she replies,” “Oh, you grew up here?” Two women drink sangria under a mural of a flamenco dancer and discuss an art installation depicting the refugee crisis: “These are bright orange mannequins holding onto inner tubes,” one said. “Is it scary?” her friend asks. “It’s not scary,” she replies. “It’s distressing.”