I have not been to Harvard Square in Cambridge in probably a decade. It was a favorite haunt in my college years, but after moving outside of Boston, I rarely found myself crossing the Charles. But then an e-mail appeared in my in-box inviting me to the Sweet Sixteen party for Chez Henri, situated on the corner of Mass. Ave. beyond Harvard Square on the way to Porter Square. Who am I to turn down a celebration? Especially when it fell the week of my wedding anniversary? The hubby and I headed out for a night on the town to celebrate our anniversary and the 16-year anniversary of a bistro well loved by its community.
Founder and Chef Paul O’Connell’s Chez Henri is billed as “a modern French bistro with a Cuban twist.” When you enter his restaurant, you can see his wall of photos above the hostess station, some of which show him having a grand time in Cuba. I was curious what the Cuban connection was and according to Paul, “I like to really delve into the culture behind food and how the flavors and cooking methods are influenced by the anthropological backgrounds of the native people. Basically I had planned on just doing the Cuban sandwich and empanadas on the bar menu and then the Latin flavors started drifting onto the main menu.”
Chez Henri’s Cuban sandwich is well lauded. And with good reason. The Sweet Sixteen celebration was a festive affair with endless trays of appetizers passed around in the crowded but intimate setting. Among those was none other than large halves of their famous Cuban sandwich. I am a fan in general of this creation. I am a bigger fan of Chez Henri’s version; filled with slow roasted pork and sliced ham pressed on flaky and tasty bread to melt the Gruyere cheese to perfection. This went especially well with a handful of crispy plantain chips from the basket up on the bar.
The bar is pretty swanky looking and I was told that the restaurant recently underwent a decorative renovation. Decked out in deep, earthy greens and warm reds, the beautiful glass blown light fixtures provide just the right level of darkness, giving it that sophisticated smoky feel. The place is small and was filled with friends and business associates of Chef Paul, who is obviously well loved and appreciated. I don’t know if this is because he is a wonderful human being or because he bribes them all with his wonderful culinary creations.
While mingling with a collection of very welcoming and entertaining guests, we were served an inviting variety of appetizers – some from the menu and some that don’t appear formally, though I assume you will find them served as specials. I went out of my comfort zone to eat Octopus because it was an ingredient in the enticing Ceviche that kept making the rounds. Normally I would screw my face up at the mention of Octopus but honestly, if they hadn’t told me it was in there, I never would have known. I enjoyed the Ceviche immensely – due to the Octopus or not, I have no idea and I don’t really care. It was good, that’s all my taste buds know.
Also passed around were the extremely popular Conch Fritters dribbled with a guava barbecue sauce – these were gobbled up as quickly as they came out of the kitchen. There were also samples of shredded duck on wafers that my adventurous side did not try. I was full from the yummy Empanadas and Ham Croquettes – I am partial to fried breading filled with meat and cheese. Speaking of cheese, I met the “Cheese Guy” over drinks and can attest to the flavorful product he provides to Chez Henri through his gourmet cheese shop, Formaggio Kitchen.
While hanging out at the bar, someone placed a huge nacho platter in front of us, though instead of nacho chips beneath the beans and salsa and cheese, the bed was made of salty pita chips instead. What a very awesome twist to an overdone appetizer.
Sadly, we had to duck out of the party before the toast with rummy Periodista cocktail shots occurred. We were an old married couple out on a school night after all. But I do appreciate the hospitality of Chez Henri for allowing us to celebrate our anniversary with their own. Hopefully we’ll be able to return to Cambridge soon to give their entrees a whirl.
One Shepard Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
Post by and photos credited to Molly G.
Find out what Molly is doing when she’s not eating @ The Bumbles Blog.