The starving-poet special is perhaps the pan-fried tilapia ($14.95): mountains of lentils (a little chewy in the contemporary style), with spinach and tomato, topped with fish. Tilapia are farmed and come as rather small filets, but taste pretty good for fresh-water-farmed fish and stick together when cooked, so they can be pan-fried. They do well with sauce, and Sussman’s aioli, pink with red bell pepper but not overly garlicked, is a contender. Grilled whole rainbow trout ($16.95) is served without the head — this would not happen at a South End bistro — in response to customer concerns. That said, it’s very nicely grilled, with a taste of the fire that seeps into the meaty part of the fish flavor, and comes with a garnish of cress, strawberries (it works), and toasted almonds.
A veal special ($21) was perhaps a little too nostalgic, reminding me of the undercooked wine sauces and excessive salt of the semi-amateur restaurants of the old Harvard Square. The meat was tasty and tender, and there were lots of shitake mushrooms on a risotto that was dark with the same seasonings but flavored with asparagus. There’s also an arugula salad, but winter arugula isn’t worth it. Paul, put this on a white risotto with a little more cheese next time, okay?
For drinks, there’s a list of 10 martinis, all sweetened, as well as a rather good, mostly California, wine list. A glass of 2005 Guenoc sauvignon blanc ($8/glass; $36/bottle) was not as dry as I remember their earlier bottles, but still rather French in style. Coffee ($1.50) is good enough to start an all-nighter, and tea ($1.75) is made correctly, loose-leaf in a metal pot.
Desserts run to comfort food. The brownie à la mode ($4.95) is a good, large brownie with even better vanilla ice cream. Daddy-O’s did a lot with bread pudding, so I jumped on a special of chocolate bread pudding ($4.95). But it turned out to be just like the brownie, except lighter in texture and with real whipped cream. Ice-cream cookie sandwiches ($4.50) are yet another combination of chocolate and vanilla.
Z Cookies ($3.95) are butter, chocolate, and oatmeal cookies, served on a little plate. And Arborio rice pudding ($4.95) is an idea that needs some work, as mine was gritty and heavy. The idea of Arborio rice is that it absorbs a lot of liquid (and hence flavor) in risotto without losing its shape. But the flavor in rice pudding is the stuff between the grains, so it might be better to use ordinary rice. Or to cook more milk into the Arborio for a little longer.
Service at Z Square is pretty good, especially given the youth of both my servers. The atmosphere hasn’t yet reached bohemian, but exam time is coming. So far the lunch crowd is leavened with shoppers and the dinner crowd is more student-ish, but dressed up to drink sweet martinis.
Z Square Restaurant + Bar, 14 Jfk Street, Cambridge | Open Mon–Fri, 8 am–4 pm and 5 pm–midnight; And Sat & Sun, 9 am–4 pm and 5 pm–midnight | AE, DI, MC, VI | Full bar | Valet parking: $10 | Sidewalk-level access via set-back entrance and elevator to basement dining room | 617.576.0101
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Robert Nadeau: RobtNadeau@aol.com.