Area Four's Web site describes it as "Coffee, Bakery, Bar, Oven." If the area near MIT and Kendall Square does not demand technology, then the theme here can be technique, from the French-press coffee ($5), to the splendid French pastry of the "Apple Almond Tart for Two, Croissant Crust, Cider Caramel, Whipped Mascarpone" ($12), to the serious craft cocktails and superb wood-oven pizzas. The split oak and maple for the ovens is stacked along the way back through this odd duplex space that won immediate popularity for coffee and pizza before the seriously cheffed small plates and other excellences began to emerge.
BIRD IS THE WORD The "Crystal Valley Farms Roasted Half Chicken" is carefully cooked to brown its terrific herbal crust. Best of all, it actually tastes like chicken.
We started with small plates, and the "House-Smoked Gloucester Hake Pâté" ($7). It's fabulous, with little melba toasts they call crostini and will refill, if you haven't spooned up the rest in the meantime. Hake is a mild white fish, sustainable for now, and many chefs and fish CSAs are working with it, mostly as a vehicle for sauces. As a vehicle for smoke, it does surprisingly well for a low-oil fish.
Cold roasted cauliflower ($5) uses a green cauliflower that holds some color and some char. It's marinated with almonds and served in a small salad. Broccoli ($8) is served hot, with hot pepper, Kalamata olives, and shaved pecorino cheese — tasty but salty. Special our night were Maine oysters at $1 each: big, sweet, and clearly fresh to market. Grilled squid salad ($13) wasn't grilled or roasted, but it was cooked through and tender, if a little lost amid lots of parsley, some chickpeas, and more of the pitted olives.
From a dozen pizzas in two sizes, we took a small meatball ($13) that did honor to Area Four's wood-fired ovens. It was thin crust with a thick rim, and the high-heat ovens delivered some taste of the flames to the thin parts while fully bubbling up the rims. The basic topping is tomato, cheese, and basil, and the bits of meatball had some sausage flavoring.
"Mac & Cheese" ($11) is a small plate with big flavor (aged cheddar, like I use at home), shells, and a wonderful croissant-crumb crust, although some readers will be shocked at the size/price ratio, and not everyone will tolerate the salt.
The "Raincrow Ranch Grassfed Beef Meatloaf Cheeseburger" ($14) is a good idea gone bad. One can generally taste the difference in pastured meat ground into a burger, but the meatloaf treatment, a pile of mushrooms and fried onions, about two-and-a-half inches of bun with sesame and poppy seeds, and a loaf-burger done medium well when ordered rare pretty much neutralizes the effect. Possibly a switch from California to Missouri suppliers will make a difference, but not until we are eating real hamburger.
The "Crystal Valley Farms Roasted Half Chicken" ($19.50), however, is terrific. The chicken has an herbal crust on the skin, meat carefully done to a turn, tasty chunks of bread, roasted apple, and winter squash soaking in the juices, and a fine salad of arugula and pumpkin seeds. Even better, the chicken, raised in Indiana, actually taste like chicken.