The Weekender: Cambridge, MA
PSA: the fastest way out of New York City on Memorial Day Weekend is in a Jaguar. On the recent long weekend, we piled our luggage into an F-Pace and drove north to New England, passing miles of lush trees. Once we got into Cambridge, MA, it felt like we had arrived in a pop-up book where each page was a cutout of the West Village. Endless brownstones lined the cobblestone streets in this historic city across the Charles River from Boston, where we also explored.
This particular weekend was Boston Calling Music Festival at Harvard Athletic Complex. The three-day event included headliners Mumford & Sons and Chance the Rapper, with platinum passes for the weekend starting at $900. On our itinerary, however, were dreamy meals at two new restaurants in Cambridge, Waypoint and Les Sablons. Our meal at Waypoint was like a “choose your own adventure” book with dishes including smoked peel-and-eat shrimp with homemade saltines, buttermilk and made-in-house hot sauce; crab-dusted fries with crab mayo (we wanted to bottle this and take it with us!); and pork and crab soup dumplings with fermented apple, vinegar and more.
Below, our guide to a weekend in this charming city that’s rich with history and an under-the-radar culinary scene that rivals New York and Chicago.
Friday afternoon: If you’re looking for a traditional New England stay, head to The Charles Hotel. A Cambridge fixture since 1985, the hotel recently renovated its 295 rooms just last year. The hotel has welcomed guests including Rihanna, Jennifer Garner and the Dalai Lama and is home to a jazz club called Regattabar.
The Charles Hotel
Or, if modern is more of your thing, and you don’t mind a quick drive, check into The Envoy Hotel in Boston’s Seaport District. Opened in 2015, The Envoy is the “it” hotel in Boston. Through the end of summer, try complimentary rooftop yoga every last Sunday of the month or visit Lookout Rooftop and Bar for a rosé-only menu.
The Envoy Hotel
The newly renovated Freepoint Hotel is also an option.
Friday evening: If you’re staying at The Charles Hotel in Cambridge, cross the street to Les Sablons for dinner (soon the restaurant will also offer brunch and lunch). The nondescript exterior of this restaurant—hidden on the corner of an alleyway—was once a break room for trolley conductors built in 1912. Les Sablons, which debuted at the end of April 2017, strikes a balance between fine dining and exceptional service without an ounce of pretentiousness. On the second floor—where we dined—there are exposed brick walls, mustard yellow banquettes and mint-colored velvet stools adorning the bar. At the far end of the restaurant is a pop art installation by Todd Pavlisko created with Play-Doh containers and an image of David Bowie. Once you’ve taken in the design, start dinner with the Alaskan king crab cocktail, rye spaghetti and roasted white-wash oysters. Then order the Spanish Turbot as an entrée—though we’re certain every item on the menu is outstanding.
Saturday morning: Drive outside of Cambridge to the Fenway neighborhood for artisanal doughnuts baked from scratch with locally-sourced ingredients at Blackbird Doughnuts. We tried the (aptly named) triple chocolate doughnut made with dark chocolate cake, chocolate ganache and chocolate sprinkles and the signature Blackbird vanilla bean old-fashioned doughnut with vanilla glaze. Blackbird Doughnuts is just a step away from Fenway Park, where this weekend we could have watched a Red Sox game, but opted to go shopping instead.
Saturday afternoon: From Cambridge, head across Massachusetts Avenue Bridge to an incognito store called Bodega. Picture Bounty paper towels, Sun dishwashing detergent, and pink bottles of VO5 shampoo arranged in neat rows as the window display. Inside the unassuming storefront, there are more shelves of household products and what at first glance appears to be a Snapple vending machine. Actually an automatic sliding glass door, the secret passage provides access to a shop similar to the likes of Dover Street Market, Opening Ceremony and Supreme. You’ll find brands like Comme des Garçons PLAY, A.P.C. and Common Projects as well as collaborations like Bodega x Vans Vault at this designer street wear outpost co-owned by Jay Gordon.
Saturday evening: We couldn’t wait to tell you about Waypoint, hence earlier the introduction. The seafood restaurant, which opened less than a year ago, is the second Cambridge restaurant by Chef Michael Scelfo of Alden & Harlow. The meal and experience (an intricately folded menu makes ordering quite an experience) were outside of the box and simply amazing. Along with the dishes listed earlier, the WP Fish Sando is a must-try. It has limited availability, and there’s no description that could do it justice. Then there’s the Bluefish with a beautiful presentation of walnut, reggiano, celery and black pepper honey. To finish, try the cheesecake with a cornbread crust, salted caramel dollops, candied hazelnuts and local wild huckleberry coulis (added bonus: it’s gluten-free). Also be sure to order the Milk Punch of the Moment. It’s a clear cocktail that’s concocted of privateer tiki gin, cantaloupe, mint and lime. We’re already dreaming of our next visit.
Waypoint Whole Branzino
Sunday morning: If you’re staying at the Charles Hotel, you can’t miss Henrietta’s Sunday brunch buffet from 12pm to 3pm, including a classic New England raw bar and an expansive selection of cheeses, pates, and terrines.
After, enjoy a run along the Charles River, which is a four-mile loop, or rent a kayak or canoe from one of the boathouses including Charles River Canoe & Kayak.
Sunday afternoon: If you’re staying at The Envoy Hotel (or even if you’re not), be sure to hit the The Institute of Contemporary Art. Situated on the water, the building itself is a work of art. Inside, Steve McQueen: Ashes and Nari Ward: Sun Splashed are currently on view, as well as the museum’s permanent collection of works including Barbara Lee Collection of Art by Women.
Sunday evening: This year marked the 20th anniversary of Boston mainstay Mistral. The best thing we’ve ever eaten (in life) is the beef tenderloin, mashed potato, and white truffle oil pizza (which makes amazing left overs too). Also, try the sushi-grade tuna tartare with crispy wontons, ginger and soy; and Maine crab ravioli with rock crab, thyme, and tomato broth.
Main image: @cambridgeusa