My pick of the entrées was skate wings ($27) because skate wings are always my pick, even when they are "coriander-crusted" (but not really) or filleted and mounded around a pile of lentils and greens. More conventional seafood, the "horseradish-crusted" salmon ($27), was perfectly made, although again there was a coating a soft crumbs rather than a crust, and my bite lacked horseradishy bite-back. The understory of this chunk was a kind of barley pilaf and a red-wine sauce that did nicely.
Tournedos of beef ($28) was two towers of top-shelf flavor, each with a mini cheese ravioli, built on chard. The vegetarian option, spiced chickpea fritters ($22), came on a long plate with four piles of food. The fritters are pretty much falafel, but the presentation on a deconstructed carrot-raisin salad with shredded chard made this another favorite.
If one doesn't work the bread basket for all its considerable worth, side-dish options include roasted carrots ($6) in a sweet glaze, presented in a little enamel pot, and perfectly swell "Catalyst fries" ($6) with aioli and house-made ketchup.
The modern beverage program presses a reviewer and guests into two-drink territory. We weren't going to overlook draft beers like Rapscallion ($6, served in a large snifter), one of the hoppier American versions of Belgian dark-amber winter beer; nor Pretty Things' Jack d'Or ($7 in a Burgundy bubble wine glass), a golden American answer to a Belgian summer ale, more bitter and not as light as it looks. A surprising new cocktail is the Orange Congo ($11). For some people, a good cocktail is a smooth delivery system for alcohol. I like them with a story line, a sequence of flavor impressions like this one, that goes from orange vodka into a balance of sweet and sour on the palate, with a hint of Pernod's anise in the aftertaste.
The wine list is expensive, but the cheaper bottles can be very choice. It is organized by grapes, and under malbec, I spotted a 2007 Chateau du Cedre "Heritage" Cahors ($8/glass; $15/carafe; $31/bottle), a French regional which was all malbec, centuries before malbec was cool. The producer has kept a foot in the old French style which had a lot more color, tannin, and structure than the popular Argentine wines.
Desserts were the most mixed flight, and this is a surprising inattention from a veteran chef-owner. My favorite was butterscotch pudding ($9), lightened and sharpened up with passion fruit (the orange one, I think) and garnished with a square cruller of pound cake. But you can order a "pear-almond financier" ($9) and look at a piece of pastry the size of some steak fries, while trying to find the pear flavor under the pastry. It is like a parable of the financial crisis that closed Aujourd'hui. Crème fraiche ice cream is some compensation.
Service on a crowded weekend evening was excellent and not overly fussy. Our server was well informed about a menu where food has to be redescribed when served.
Robert Nadeau can be reached at email@example.com.
Catalyst Restaurant | 300 Technology Square, Cambridge | 617.576.3000 | Open Monday–Thursday, 11 am–2:30 pm and 5–10 pm; Friday, 11 am–2:30 pm and 5–11 pm; Saturday, 5–11 pm; and Sunday, 5–10 pm | $$$ | AE, Vi | Full Bar | Up Four Steps From Sidewalk Level, Sidewalk-Level Entrance at 281 Summer | Free Parking with Validation at Technology Square Garage