When I first moved to Boston, Kendall square was a concrete wasteland filled with mysterious pharmaceutical companies and MIT nerds. Luckily, the people who make these kinds of decisions decided that Kendall Square needed a makeover. Now, chances are if you read about a "cool, new" restaurant opening in Cambridge, it will be in Kendall Square.
In my opinion (which is what we're all here for) these great and powerful decision makers got a little over-excited, and went for quantity over quality. Every one of these "new, cool" restaurants left me with an overall feeling of "meh".
Were all my meals fine? Sure. Do I feel the need to return to any of these establishments? Nah.
It was with this skeptical blasé that I accepted an invitation to dinner at the newest of the new restaurants, The Automatic.
Automatic is all about that 1950's kitsch. From the laminated counter tops to the chrome and vinyl booths to the Tiki glasses the bar stuff is stored in.
I wanted an aperitif, but as I'm not normally a cocktail drinker, I asked the bartender for help. I told him I do not like sweet, but I do like tequila and he told me to order the "Flor Amarga".
Based on the description, this is not something I would have ordered for myself, as I don't trust drinks that involve flavored liquors and more than 3 ingredients. But it turns out this bartender knew his stuff! Tart, with just a barely-noticeable touch of sweetness from the agave to balance it out. I could taste the tequila, but it wasn't so strong that it burned going down.
Onto the food. Automatic has decent sized menu and the prices are surprisingly low, with the priciest dish maxing out at $17. We started at the top of menu in their "Quick Bites" section and ordered the grilled street corn with chipotle aioli and cotija cheese.
The best street corn I have ever tasted was at Lone Star Taco Bar, and I have since compared all other street corns to theirs. This was not Lone Start Quality corn...but it was pretty damn close. So messy, the corn a little crunchy, the sauce a little spicy, it had everything good street corn requires. 9/10. If you eat here and don't order this, you're an idiot.
** A concept; restaurants that serve dental floss or toothpicks with their corn on the cob. Gross? Maybe. But people are going to dig the corn bits out of their teeth one way or another, and would you rather watch someone do it with their fingers or with a tool specifically designed for this purpose? **
Next up: Burrata and grilled peaches with blackberry balsamic, Thai basil and toasts.
You. Guys. I mean, do I even need to tell you how to feel about this? I fucked up by agreeing to share this before tasting it but now I know better. The next time I go I'm ordering my own plate and anyone who comes near it is getting stabbed with a fork.
What can follow this? Our mouths have tasted perfection! Where do we go from here?
We go to fucking Flavortown, that's where.
That's Buffalo fried sweet plantains with blue cheese crumbles and scallions you're looking at.
Buffalo cauliflower or brussel sprouts are nothing new to vegetarians, but plantains?! What is going on?! The buffalo sauce and the blue cheese made for a very feisty flavor combo, but the soft, chewy plantain mellowed things out a bit. This dish was a party in my mouth and I loved it.
Mushroom taco time, baby! Ancho marinated mushroom tacos with red cabbage slaw, jalapeño and coconut lime, to be exact.
Despite the fact that the pieces of mushroom looked like giant slugs, these were pretty tasty. Despite all the colorful toppings, the main flavor that came through on these was the mushrooms. Depending on how you feel about mushrooms, this could either be a criticism or a compliment. Personally? I could have used a little more slaw and coconut lime.
The Automatic noodles wrapped up the savory portion of our meal. They're listed as having "crispy Chinese sausage", but the menu assures that "you can lose the meat and sub veggies" so that is what we did.
These were...fine. While the peanuts were a nice crunchy touch, the sauce was thick and sweet and kind of overwhelmed the other flavors of the dish. The whole thing kind of tasted like something from a Chinese takeout joint. Maybe if this was the only thing we'd ordered it would have been good, but after those zesty earlier dishes this just felt sticky.
Despite the excess of corn syrup in this dish, we did not turn down the waitress when she asked if we wanted to suss out the desserts. We had to. For the blog. For research!
And man oh man, am I glad we did.
This is like those cheese carts they push around at snooty French restaurants but 1,000% better. This is a tray of delicious, frozen nostalgia and I was absolutely delighted. The entire table immediately reverted to their 12-year-old selves, rooting through the tray and bickering over which Klondike bar was best.
- Out of the 33 items on the menu, 13 of them were vegetarian! I'm trash at math but that feels excitingly close to half!
- This was - excuse me - a damn fine selection of dishes. I have to go back because there were things we didn't order that I still want to try! I'm looking at you, buttermilk cauliflower with green goddess!
- Prices were not bad. Even with a drink, you could walk out of here with a full tummy for less than $30.
- Most of these 13/33 dishes were in the "Quick Bites" and "To Share" portion of the menu. If you want an entree, you have 2 options to chose from and one of those is the above critiqued Automatic noodles.
- I don't know, I didn't like the vinyl seats because my ass stuck to them? I'm just reaching at this point because there isn't much about this place that deserves written criticism.
Automatic, if you're reading this, I do have a suggested addition to your tray of frozen treats: Charleston Chews.
You will make millions.