Cambridge Common: Music, Mescun, and More

“Baby – I’ve got $4 til Friday.” Thus began my journey into a my first Harbus-sponsored restaurant review. In part to assuage my Mexican girlfriend Sylvia’s spicy and, well, kind of loud protestations about my poor financial management abilities (­no mames guey! etc …), I thought I’d attempt a review of the HLS neighborhood pub Cambridge Common at 1667 Mass Ave. Plus in this economic climate, I think restaurant reviewer may be the job I am most likely to gain after graduation.

Wednesday night – 9:00 PM: Sylvia and I purposefully enter the fairly smoke-free and medium-lit hopping local pub. I note no music yet, and about 90% capacity crowd of mostly white hetero microbrew-pounding folks. The friendly hostess smoothly navigated us through the 20-something crowd, past the open square bar in the middle of the room.

Bricks painted red and mediocre acryllic paintings (on sale by local artists) adorned the spacious booth where Sylvia and I found ourselves.

Our hipster waitress Christina chillfully bestowed upon us a beer sampler ($4.50, pour moi as we say in Maine) and a mysterious martini ($4.95, cheap!) for my erstwhile companion – featuring local vodka and feta-stuffed olives. Sylvia loved the martini. I thought it sucked. The drinks took a while but I highly recommend the pumkin ale I sampled.

(Please do not tell my father I tried a flavored beer. Thank you.) We fought our way through a heaping mound of sweet potato fries ($3.95) which, while satisfying, did not meet the scrumpdilli-frickin’-icous billing they were given on the menu. The mescun salad ($4.95) was fine – present with its standard armada of gorgonzola, walnuts, balsamic vinagrette and apples. Foreshadowing my experience with the pan-seared salmon, the salad would have been better if the maker had used more discretion with the vinagrette.

Folks, if you are looking to seduce an HBS classmate, Cambridge Common is not the place – unless you are uniquely skilled or your date grows particularly inspired when the tender timbres of Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion” waft through the air, which they did. However, if you are looking for three single Leslie College chicks celebrating a 21st birthday, then da Common is for you! At the booth behind us, “Paula” (not her real name!!) was downing some diabolical concoction called a Snuggler while her friends looked on greedily. Answering my predictable query, waitron Christina segmented the market as follows: “HLS students, Leslie chicks, and Cambridge townies.” Christina also intimated the Common differentiates based on its microbrew selection – “they change every week!” and, “seems like most folks come for the beer.”

Then our entrees came. I devoured a ginger encrusted pan-seared salmon on a “bed” of Asian noodes ($11.95). Net-net: I’d give the salmon alone a B+ but the insanely overpowering ginger-ness of the whole dish was just too much to take – and I love ginger. On the other hand, Sylvia’s culinary wisdom triumphed, as the sirloin tips she ordered ($12.95) were asskickingly awesome. The tips came in a juicy bbq sauce, flanked by onion strips and were accompanied by buttery mashed potatoes. At this point, Christina goodhumoredly succumbed to my line of questioning about her background, craziest thing she had ever seen at the Common, etc. She is an aspiring writer – favorite author is “Buchosky,” or something. Since I didn’t know who that was (even through I was an English major who studied Russian lit), Christina switched to more prosaic topics, “Yeah, so Ben Affleck got real hammered here the other night. That was kind of cool. But he does that at lots of different places.”

By this time, the 90% capacity crowd had thinned to about 45% (@ 10:30 PM.) Imagining the terrifying visage of Das Narayandas cold-calling me in the a.m. was too much to bear. Hence, we ordered dessert. Sylvia’s “Brownie Binge Sundae!” was deliciously decadent and gooey. My civilized caramel apple pie was autmunal, refined, and, uhh, refined. I’d go with the Binge if I were you. On the way out, we heard the animated strains of live post-80s-death-pop emanating from the Lizard Lounge (linked to the Common). Inspecting, Sylvia said it was as packed as the Estadio Azteca on a bad day. Dude, that is packed!

In sum, the Common is your answer when you need that chill utilitarian vibe. Solid appetizers, good salads, tons of satisfying comfort food (e.g., meatloaf, burgers, etc.), and great beer. Oh yeah, before I forget, the HOUSE chardonnay is sharp and huge ($3.95/glass). To repeat, (1) great place to hang with your roommates to discuss job search woes or section luvin’, (2) don’t bring date here with attempts to seduce him/her – unless she is turning 21 and goes to Leslie College baby.