A waypoint is a stopover on a journey, its coordinates marking the next stage of a trip by air or sea. It is a fitting name for chef Michael Scelfo’s new restaurant. Waypoint is the follow-up to his vegetable-centric Alden & Harlow, which quickly became a Harvard Square favorite.
Waypoint is on the outskirts of the square, a vast space of concrete floors, repurposed woods, antique-y bulb lighting, and found neon signs. (If only some of the bright lights from the open kitchen could find their way into the overly dark dining room.) The industrial decor is a no-nonsense backdrop for the food. Waypoint opened in late August, and there are surprisingly few missteps.
The focus here is “coastally inspired fare,” and we head into the ocean from the very first bite. The delicious house-made breads are seaweed sourdough, colatura di alici (anchovy syrup) baguette, and squid ink batard, served with smoked seaweed butter and a chunky walnut-anchovy dip.
The kitchen’s commitment to detail is baked in: Pastry chef Kenny Hoshino mills the grain to make the flour that goes into the breads, pastas, and pizzas. A smoked whitefish pie is a bagel masquerading as a pizza. The chewy crust is slathered with creamy mascarpone and covered with capers, dill, and shards of whitefish, with “everything” bagel spices sprinkled around the perimeter. Chopped clam pizza, with its parsley, Pecorino, and pepperoncino toppings, adds subtle, peppery piquancy to a beloved New Haven classic.
Ping-Pong ball-shaped Anson Mills corn and clam cakes are excellent dunked into bacon fat mayonnaise or spritzed with a squeeze of grilled lemon. Smoked and salted, peel-and-eat shrimp are served on a wooden board with a pile of homemade saltine crackers and containers of buttermilk crème fraiche and hot sauce, for you to make your own canapés.
Crusty octopus meatballs crown a wonderfully satisfying bowl of spaccatelli (curved penne) tossed in olive oil, more of that colatura di alici, mint, jalapenos, and shaved ricotta salata. A few less jalapenos would have meant more balance. Meaty Casco Bay Pemaquid mussels, steamed open in buttery shellfish-hambone broth, are ladled over calamarata noodles (so named because they resemble squid rings) and strewn with crunchy breadcrumbs. Waypoint’s dishes are made for sharing, but I’ll keep this one all for myself.
Served with a chicory Caesar salad, a grilled Portuguese sardine is triple the size of its canned cousins, with that wonderfully fatty oiliness that so entices hard-core sardine fans. Wood-roasted char belly, dappled with chopped, fried chickpeas, sits on a bed of pureed chickpeas, surrounded by grilled grapes, pea greens, pickled lemon, and a sprinkling of sumac. While the skin is admirably crisp, the char is undercooked in the center.
Deep-fried, butterflied smelts are finger-long cracklings of concentrated fish flavor. Dunk one into ramp remoulade and consume it in two bites. “Snails & eggs” may sound like a brunch special at Hogwarts, but it is Scelfo’s attempt to update escargots, with quail egg yolks, American paddlefish caviar, and Pecorino crostini. Sometimes it’s better to leave well enough alone.
From there, the menu supersizes with roasts, including a 34- to 36-ounce ax handle rib eye steak and an equally imposing Maine lamb shoulder. (While the menu claims roasts are “for 2 to 3,” they really serve four or five.) A whole chicken from Raynham’s Feather Brook Farm — head and feet included — looks like a 17th-century Flemish still life. The bird is expertly cooked, fork-tender with marvelously moist meat, accompanied by grilled chicory and bunches of roasted red and green grapes. Those who don’t eat meat can also go big here. A root-centric market-vegetable platter includes roasted carrots, radishes, turnips, beets, squash, and assorted beans — a caramelized cornucopia from three New England farms (Allandale, Siena, Sparrow Arc), arranged on herbed cashew butter.
Desserts are excellent. There’s dark and dense chocolate sourdough cake with blackberry coulis and swoon-inducing white chocolate butter. Hot cinnamon-sugared donuts are plated beside a swath of coffee-chocolate ganache studded with chocolate nibs. Our “daily” hearth-baked fruit crostata is apple. It arrives straight from the oven in a pool of warm absinthe-caramel sauce and is finished with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Wine director Jen Fields’s fascinating wine list is organized by style and geography, filled with unusual bottles. Her recommendation of a 2015 Terre Nere Carricante Blend from Etna, Sicily, is a full-bodied, peachy white perfect with seafood. There’s also a small selection of mostly local beers. Bar manager Seth Freidus seems bent on spearheading an absinthe renaissance. Waypoint offers 17 varieties; three copper faucets at the end of the bar drip cold water through a sugar cube into every glass, the traditional method of preparing absinthe.
The high-proof spirit, banned in the US from 1925 to 2007 because of supposed hallucinogenic properties, can be a hard sell due to its intense, licorice-y flavor. It’s not the only place Waypoint pushes the envelope. “We don’t sell as many duck tongue pizzas as I’d hoped,” laments our server one night. Still, business appears to be booming. Scelfo’s fans are on board for the next stage of the journey.
1030 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-864-2300, www.waypointharvard.com
All major credit cards accepted. Wheelchair accessible.
Prices Appetizers $6-$195 (Israeli caviar). Entrees $13-$89. Desserts $9.
Hours Sun-Thu 5 p.m.-midnight., Fri-Sat 5 p.m.-12:30 a.m., Sun brunch 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Bar open nightly until 1 a.m.
Noise level Moderate
What to order House-made bread, whitefish pizza, Pemaquid mussels pasta, roast Feather Brook whole chicken