On Monday evening, the final fleeting hours of my long weekend before me, I met up with some of my favorite bloggers at Catalyst, a new restaurant in Kendall Square in Cambridge, Mass. I used to work in the building adjacent to the one Catalyst is in and would keep up with its progress, regularly walking around the closed-off space where its patio would soon be. I've since left that job (and my old company moved anyways), but even though I no longer work right there, I still followed Catalyst's Facebook and twitter updates. I was so excited when Catalyst opened recently and couldn't wait to try it out. I live within walking distance of the restaurant, and I knew it had the potential to be a new go-to spot.
The man behind Catalyst is Chef William Kovel, formerly of Aujourd'hui, where I enjoyed one fabulous brunch before it closed. Chef William has a passion for "simple, delicious food delivered with warm service in a comfortable, modern environment." I have a passion for that very same thing. I knew from that brunch and from other things I'd heard about Chef William that we were in for a treat that night.
Once we had all gathered at our table and those who wanted drinks had received them, Chef William came over to introduce himself and to tell us his plan for the dinner. He basically said he was going to send out a bunch of dishes family-style, clear them, send out more dishes, clear them, send out more dishes, clear them, and then send out dessert. We all prepared ourselves for a lot of food.
After nibbling on some focaccia and potato breads with pleasantly salty, soft, spreadable butter, we were presented with some of the starters and a side of grilled scallions.
The other salad we tried was the farmer's market vegetable salad with peppercress and crispy onions. Chef William described this as having pickled vegetables, but I didn't taste any strong pickled flavors, just some vinegar. I can always appreciate a salad with lots of veggies and crispy onions though.
I almost wasn't going to try the chicken liver mousse because I've never liked chicken liver, but I'm almost always willing to try something again to see if I might like it prepared differently. So I scooped up a little of the mousse on some grilled bread, topped it with mustard, and gave it a try. I either sufficiently drowned out the chicken liver flavor with mustard or this mousse was more mild than others I've had. I found it unoffensive... and those who enjoy chicken liver will likely love it.
The crispy quail came accompanied by a Black Mission fig gastrique, mizuna, and autumn berry jam. The sweet accents made perfect pairings for the gamey quail.
The side of grilled scallions, while simple, was packed with flavor with the addition of an almond pesto.
I had high hopes that we'd get to sample the onion soup, but Chef William sent over a couple bowls of the Jerusalem "sunchoke" artichoke soup. The soup typically comes with lobster, but we had someone in our group who doesn't eat it, so we tried it without. I found the soup slightly smoky, and it just wasn't my thing (maybe because of the addition of curry oil?). But I could tell others at the table enjoyed it because those bowls were quickly emptied. (I plan to go back and order the onion soup one chilly evening soon.)
Then we moved onto the pasta courses. To my delight, we tried every one on the menu! First up was the garganelli with chicken oysters, bacon, and black truffle butter. The fresh, house made pasta was perfectly cooked, and the luscious black truffle butter coated every bit of it. That plus the cheese melted on top and the bits of bacon took this dish over the top.
Oh, and about that chicken oyster. It's not actually an oyster but a tender piece of chicken from the thigh that resembles an oyster. (All I can think about when I hear chicken oyster is the controversy on Top Chef when Mike Isabella stole Richard Blais' chicken oyster idea from his notebook and broke "chef law." This definitely came up at the table that night.)
The next pasta dish was not only my favorite pasta dish but also my favorite dish of the night: Georgia Candy Roaster Squash tortellini with braised escarole and Parmesan. This sweet and savory dish came cloaked in a rich sauce and adorned with adorable carrot pearls. I asked Chef William how they make the carrots like that, and he admitted they use a pearler and joked that the prep staff doesn't like him very much because of that. I think it's totally worth it. Carrot coins just wouldn't have the same effect.
The last pasta dish was the mushroom ravioli with Hen of the Woods mushrooms. You have to be a mushroom lover to love this dish because the mushrooms are both in and outside of the ravioli. The ravioli, like the rest of the pasta, was nicely cooked and was full of earthy flavor from the mushrooms.
For our last savory bites, we tried two entrees, the lemon sole, which is on the menu, and a chilled pork dish, which is not.
The chilled pork was moist and tender and full of flavor from a spice rub and the accompanying apple slaw, cilantro, and balsamic. I wish it was on the menu because I'd definitely order it on a return visit.
The lemon sole was crisp and flaky and hid succulent chunks of lobster and creamy leeks that took on flavor from lobster stock and vermouth butter.
We ate as much as we could and had leftovers packed up to go, but thankfully, there is always room for dessert. Dessert came impressively served as a sampler platter for each of us, and Catalyst's pastry chef came out to explain what we were having.
A coconut cake sandwiching creamsicle ice cream and topped with chocolate ganache reminded me in appearance of the Boston cream pie at Flour, but the taste and texture was obviously much different. The creamsicle flavor of the ice cream was very faint, but if you tasted knowing what it was, you could pick it up. The combination was very interesting.
A moist Bosc pear cake sitting on creme anglaise was good but simple.
Cantaloupe sorbet with hazelnut brittle was the perfect palate cleanser and a lighter dessert option.
The butterscotch and passionfruit pudding with grilled poundcake is something I would have skipped right over if I was ordering off the menu. Luckily, it was served to me, so I didn't miss out on this incredible combination. Who knew passionfruit and butterscotch would go so well together? And I loved having the grilled poundcake to dip into the pudding.
I'm looking forward to returning to Catalyst to try some more of Chef William's dishes, especially the pasta dishes. The menu is constantly changing based on what's in season, so there's sure to be something new to try all the time -- which is a good thing considering I live so close by and could end up dining there often.
Emily, Elizabeth, Bridget, Bianca, Daisy, and Shannon were the perfect dinner dates. Be sure to check out their reviews too!
A huge thank you to Chef William and the staff at Catalyst for inviting us in and to Elizabeth for putting this dinner together.
Dinner was complimentary, but as always, my opinions are my own.
Have you been to Catalyst yet? Or if you don't live around here, are there any new restaurants opening up near you that you're dying to check out?