There is a saying that goes “don’t believe the hype”… well, I am inclined to now believe it after having made my first trip to Catalyst for dinner a few weekends ago with two of my friends. Catalyst is true casual elegance at its best. Beautifully and masterfully designed into a chic yet cool dining space.
The restaurant is huge with a number of different areas from two main dining spaces, a large bar area with high comfy seating and a loungy, retro casual area in front of a large blue flame gas fire that if it didn’t look so cool, it would be cheesy. The ceilings are high and the tables are spaced far enough away from each other so you don’t have to hear the conversation from those close to you. In the warmer weather you can sit on their outside patio, which looks perfect for those long leisurely summer evenings.
Chef and owner, William Kovel who hails from Mistral and Aujourd’hui opened Catalyst last fall to a buzz and hype like I have not heard in quite a while. An interesting location of Technology Square in Kendall Square with the techies and grad students perhaps do not lend itself to this type of restaurant but it seems to be working quite well.
We were seated in one of the large booths close to the enormous open kitchen area. Our waiter donned in a white shirt, vest and butchers apron greeted us with a smile and a relaxed air and offered still or sparkling water (sparkling is on the house – a nice touch).
The menu, albeit a little confusing as it had ingredients and food names I had not heard of looked intriguing and quite fun. It was not overwhelmed with choices, which I also like. The menu also gave us a good excuse to talk to our waiter and to check out his knowledge of the menu. He was indeed very knowledgeable.
After ordering a bottle of Chenin Blanc we listened to the specials and decided on a menu appetizer of Lobster Strudel and the special of Duck Confit with Farm Egg. The strudel looked more like a large spring roll and was super tasty with soft flaky, buttery pastry filled with small juicy chunks of lobster. I also really liked the herb salad, which was so much more than garnish – you actually wanted to eat it.
The Duck Confit had the freshest egg in the world. I mean that – we were literally blown away with how good it was. The chicken must have been petted and loved every day to have produced an egg that tasted that good! The duck was shredded perfectly and slightly seasoned but I wanted more than the tiny portions on the plate. Again the greens were more than just garnish and we ate them as voraciously as we did the strudel greens. The dressing was just perfect. There was also a puree of nettles, which sounds strange but worked quite well mixed with the egg.
After our appetizers we realized we never got any bread so asked for some. A little bit of a faux pas but not too serious. It was worth the ask – soft and crusty Tuscan style fresh warm bread with creamy butter mixed with olive oil and salt. Heavenly!
As well as the food being great we were having a fun time. The atmosphere lends itself well to being a littler more boisterous and noisy so laughing out loud with your friends is not met with a stern stare. In fact, the folks in the booth behind us were laughing so loud I thought the booth was going to come crashing down. It just made the evening more enjoyable.
Entrees were ordered after much deliberation. I decided on the Crispy Red Fish and loved every single bite of it. Soft, flaky mild white fish with a crispy top layer and surrounded with crunchy baby artichokes and bitter spinach.
Kathleen ordered the half portion Mushroom Ravioli. Delicate but firm raviolis filled with fresh earthy mushrooms. Lightly covered with a Madeira sauce made them absolutely fantastic – in my opinion.
Although I was a huge fan of my dish the favorite of the evening was James’ Roasted Blue Cod. The dish came highly recommended as a favorite of our waiters and we could taste why. The broth was creamy, salty with plump, juicy mussels and worthy of a bowl of soup on its own. Added to that were perfectly crispy potatoes. The fish was lightly placed on top of the sauce so it was not soaked through, which James’ liked a lot.
Although we were all full it was a foodie night and we were in it for the three-courses. As we all could not agree on dessert we decided on three to share. First up was the Chocolate Fondant which had been recommended to me. While is it was solidly good it was just that – good. The Pear-Almond Financier with the combination of crème fraiche and spongy cake made this dessert a serious contender for top place.
Our final choice and ultimate surprise winner was the Meyer Lemon Pudding Cake. Despite the bizarre combination of chopped pineapple and dill it was the stand out super star of desserts. We were not sure why the dill? Perhaps to add some additional freshness but it didn’t work for us. The Pudding was amazing with a light, not too tart citrus soft cake with white chocolate. Amazing (sans pineapple and dill).
While there were a few misses there were far more hits to Catalyst and I am happy to echo the hype of this relative newcomer to the restaurant scene. The whole experience exceeded all of our expectations and Catalyst can expect every one of us back at some point soon. In fact, I have already told my friend, Lauren we are going the next time she visits.