Russell House Tavern, Cambridge, Mass.

Cotechino sausage pizza at Russell House Tavern, Cambridge, Mass.

Last Saturday Jeff and I made plans to go out to dinner with friends, and after much deliberation over restaurant menus, we decided to head to Russell House Tavern in Harvard Sqaure. 

We arrived a bit early, and our table wasn't quite ready so we headed over to the bar area. I was all set to get a St-Germain Cocktail (Russell House is the first place I ever had one and where I first fell in love with St-Germain), but I noticed there were some other drinks on the menu with St-Germain in them. I decided to branch out and ordered the Battle of Trafalgar. This refreshing drink made with Pimm's No. 1, St-Germain, Batavia-Arrack, lime juice, and honey simple syrup fringes on sweet with subtle balance from the lime juice and was a lovely start to our evening at Russell House.

Just after we got our drinks, our table was ready and we were led right over. Our waitress came by to fill our water. She offered us complimentary still or sparkling water, and when my friend asked for more information about the water (most places charge for sparkling), she explained that they have their own water tanks upstairs. I think offering complimentary sparkling water is a great way for a restaurant to step things up a little bit. (We still went with still water -- maybe out of habit.)

After we placed our order, our waitress dropped off a bucket of fresh bread with garlicky oil. You can probably tell just by looking at it, but that bread was amazing.

Bread and oil at Russell House Tavern, Cambridge, Mass.

At this point, I should mention that I was recognized as a food blogger when we got to Russell House. Our server was incredibly sweet and attentive right from the start, and I'd say that was because I was recognized, but I've been to Russell House a handful of other times (for brunch, for dinner on the patio, for drinks at the bar), and I've always had great service there. Sometimes it takes a few minutes to get some attention at the bar, but that's just because it's always packed.

We did get a little special treatment in the way of some treats from the kitchen though. Chef Michael Scelfo sent out an assortment of interesting small plates for us to try. I'm really glad he did, too, because I couldn't talk Jeff into ordering the beef and tongue meatballs even though he loves meatballs... because of the "tongue" part.

The first thing we tried was beef tongue cannelloni. The pasta was freshly made in house and encased a rich, soft meaty filling with a bit of a kick. Jeff and one of our friends and I all tried it. The guys thought the meat was a little mushy, but I thought it was just more tender than you'd expect. I'd never had tongue before, but if it's always going to taste like that, I would definitely have it again.

Beef tongue cannelloni at Russell House Tavern, Cambridge, Mass.

The next thing we tried was a special that night: warm striped bass belly with celery leaves and pistachio aioli on tomato toast. One of our friends can't eat fish, so he sat this one out, but the three of us who tried it all loved it. It had a great combination of flavors and textures going on. After eating it, I realized I need to start using celery leaves instead of putting them down the disposal.

Striped bass belly at Russell House Tavern, Cambridge, Mass.

Finally we broke into the oxtail pierogi. These came with spiced yogurt and bou-rye applesauce. I make my own pierogi, and I always like to fry it up and get it crisp on the outside, so I loved that these had a similar texture. (Some people just boil them.) The spiced yogurt sauce really made the dish and complemented the oxtail.

Oxtail pierogi at Russell House Tavern, Cambridge, Mass.

I so appreciated that we got to expand our horizons a little and try some dishes we wouldn't necessarily have thought to order. I definitely won't fear tongue anymore.

We did think to order the house made cotechino sausage pizza. This came with Linny's tomato gravy and house made ricotta. I loved how the ricotta was spread across the thin crust pizza and was evident in every bite. And I loved the incredibly thin crust of the pizza. It's hard to find pizza around here with a super-thin but still chewy crust. All four of us loved the pizza, and we completely devoured it.

Cotechino sausage pizza at Russell House Tavern, Cambridge, Mass.

I knew I wouldn't be happy if I went through the night without trying the warm burrata salad with honey-roasted brussels sprouts, heirloom apple, and Calabrian chili oil. It was the first thing that jumped out at me when I scanned the menu online ahead of time. My immediate thought after trying a bite of this was... how does one honey-roast brussels sprouts? That is something I seriously need to know! The sprouts were heavenly. The mild, creamy burrata and hot, spicy chili oil provided just the right contrast to those soft, sweet brussels sprouts and crisp, sweet apple slices. We cleaned this plate too.

Warm burrata salad with brussels sprouts at Russell House Tavern, Cambridge, Mass.

Shortly after we made our way through all those appetizers, our entrees arrived. One of our friends tried the burger; the other the chicken sandwich. The burger is made with Archer Farms beef and served on an English muffin with cheddar (usually bacon, but my friend requested it without -- and yes, we're somehow still friends!) and charcoal onions. The chicken sandwich is made with melted taleggio, pickled onions, heirloom apple, and arugula. Both of them reported that their meals were delicious. And I can vouch for those well-seasoned fries.

Burger at Russell House Tavern, Cambridge, Mass.

Chicken sandwich at Russell House Tavern, Cambridge, Mass.

Jeff got the grilled "Trace & Trust" market fish, which was striped bass that night. It came with a light and lovely arugula salad with fennel, red onion, and orange, as well as a green herb aioli. I tried a small bite of his fish, and he ate every last bit of the rest of it.

Trace & Trust at Russell House Tavern, Cambridge, Mass.

We all shared some sides of fries, brussels sprouts, and creamy Anson Mills grits. The brussels sprouts were honey-roasted just like the ones in the burrata salad. As much as I tried to convince Jeff that if he were ever to try a brussels sprout and like it, these would be the ones to try, he wouldn't go for it. (I cut him a little slack; I mean, he did have striped bass belly and tongue that night. Besides, we didn't need his help polishing them off.) And I think those grits were the creamiest, smoothest grits I've ever had. And lucky for me, they were the foundation of my entree.

Brussels sprouts at Russell House Tavern, Cambridge, Mass. Anson Mills grits at Russell House Tavern, Cambridge, Mass.

I ordered the Ozark heritage pork trio. Pork has been a go-to meat for me lately (it's even going to be one of the entree choices on our wedding menu). I loved having three different pork parts in this dish: loin, shoulder, and belly. The shoulder and belly were standout favorites. The loin was delicious as well. What really made the dish shine for me was the arugula and shaved beet salad on top. The gorgeous colors of the Chioggia and golden beets elevated the whole dish. And because the pork and grits are on the heavier side, I appreciated something so light and crisp to balance them.

Pork at Russell House Tavern, Cambridge, Mass.

This might be the first time I ever say this, but I was too full for dessert! (We all were.) Hopefully I'll save some room next time. We all really enjoyed the food, company, and service at Russell House. A huge thank you to Chef Scelfo and everyone else at Russell House for the great service, incredible food, and readily apparent attention to detail.

Besides the three small plates Chef Scelfo sent out, we paid for this meal ourselves.

What's the most adventurous food you've ever eaten?

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