Rafiki Bistro

A neighborhood bistro for Cambridge's crunchy side
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  September 23, 2010
2.0 2.0 Stars

"Flash-Roasted wild sea scallops" ($21.95) had a bit of crust, and were delicious. Menus are always doing extreme things to scallops — they are seared, wood-grilled, flame-broiled. I don't know why such delicate seafood requires all this torture; the only culinary rule is: don't wash them. Maybe chefs could just yell at the scallops and get it out of their system. In any case, these were wonderful, with a white bean "cassoulet" that had none of the preserved meat flavors of real cassoulet, not even pepper, but plenty of the starchy wonderfulness of white beans, and a few green beans thrown in for snap.

Someone is bound to order the wild boar chops ($27.95). That person is not so macho as they are pretending. This wild boar is a genetically bred back to wild animals, and raised leaner than domestic pork, but the flavor is not gamey — the sweet cherry cider sauce would work better on duck — although the three chops are certainly good eating, and the garlicky stewed chanterelle mushrooms and pea tendrils are excellent.

The wine-and-beer lists mix organic and conventional potables seamlessly, but what's up with organic rum, gin, tequila, and vodka? Aren't these spirits, uh, distilled? Of course, if one believes that modern farming is bad for the soil, that would include the crops that end up in rum or vodka — but really, wouldn't it make more sense to worry about the mixers than the vodka? (Rafiki bartenders are ahead of us here, with organic fruits and flavorings.)

Our group did not investigate fully, opting for a bottle of 2007 barbera d'Alba from Quattro Fratelli ($40), a red with an excellent balance of fruit and acidity, such that it concealed 14-percent alcohol and went with all the above food. Chai latte ($1.50) was mostly foam, Chamomile tea ($1.90) was nicely made, and decaf coffee ($2) was strong and clean.

Desserts were something of a letdown, other than grilled fruit and berries ($7.95), which was strips of mango, strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries, all softened by heat and brought together by a vanilla crème anglaise (custard sauce).

Flourless chocolate dream ($7.95) was pure chocolate delight, but a key-lime cheesecake ($7.95) lost the all-important pucker in the richness of the cheesecake, and a lemon-blueberry tart had too much crust, not enough blueberries.

Service was very good, other than a longish pause between appetizers and entrées, and the remade Forest Cafe is a more spacious bar-restaurant than I expected. It's back to bare brick behind the long bar, nice post-modern furniture and finish choices in the dining spaces. Given a price point graduate students can appreciate, it's a neighborhood bistro for this crunchy corner of 02138.

Robert Nadeau can be reached at robtnadeau@aol.com.

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