One such institution is Cardullo's. I love this specialty market because stepping inside means entering a shop with a decidedly old-world European feel. They offer candy and chocolates I haven't seen since I was last in Scotland and Rome and there are rich cheeses from as far away as Holland and as close as Vermont. It is a great place to splurge on dinner party appetizers and food gifts during the holidays and to pick up a gourmet sandwich at the deli counter. Cardullo's has been family-owned and -operated for over sixty years. I met with co-owner Donez and Francesca Cardullo Tavilla who let me know how excited they are to again see more independently-owned and small chain shops in the neighborhood.
Speaking of a European feel, I headed over to Sandrine's, a French-Alsace bistro named after the daughter of executive chef and owner Raymond Ost. This gorgeous restaurant feels very French with its art-deco wrought iron exterior and lushly decorated interior. Sandrine's serves classic French bistro cuisine and dishes from the Alsace region of France, which is on the border of Germany and Switzerland.
Chef Ost is extremely passionate and proud of the cuisine that he serves at Sandrine's. He is a man who relishes the taste, smell, and look of well-prepared food. While we were making the flammekueche, also known as tarte flambee, I commented how it was a bit like preparing a pizza. If you could have seen how his mustache hairs bristled and his back straightened at the suggestion that I would compare the commonplace pizza with the pastry-bottomed, fromage blanc-layered, and nutmeg-scented specialty flammekueche! Well, I still say that it is as fun to make as pizza, but flammekueche should be credited as its own delicious dish to be savored.
On my visit, we also made a unique French-Alsace and New England dish: choucroute, or sauerkraut, with scallops, mussels, clams, salmon, and bacon with a Riesling seafood cream sauce. Now, this is not your average canned or hot dog vendor sauerkraut. This choucroute has been slow-cooked for two hours with delicious smoked bacon. Chef Ost's decadent dish had a myriad of flavors and textures to enjoy. The seafood cream sauce was most impressive and I can attest that Chef Ost continued to taste it for “flavor” off camera saying “mmm, mmm,” every time. Not even Chef Ost, who has been cooking this type of food for 45 years, can get tired of that incredible sauce.
As much as I liked Chef Ost's flammekueche and choucroute dish, nothing could compare to his foie gras. This liver was like silk on my tongue as its heavenly richness melted away in my mouth. I recognize that I am not your average American diner as my favorite deli-meat is liverwurst and I get incredibly excited at the prospect of eating liver, but trust me that this foie gras is an otherworldly experience for those who enjoy eating meat.
That flavorful taste of foie gras nicely sums up a visit to Sandrine's and Harvard Square. It's as if I had been transported to a beautiful bistro in France with an incredible chef in a neighborhood where unique shops and eateries agree that food should be savored, not rushed and run-of-the-mill.