Pizza with fennel sausage and pickled banana peppers at Area Four
by MC Slim JB
| July 25, 2011
Photo: JOEL VEAK
Success in the restaurant business is often tied to location: flourishing where you were first planted offers no guarantee that your seedlings will thrive in the light and soil and air of different gardens. Michael Leviton has enjoyed long-running success in West Newton as chef/owner of Lumière, a suburban outpost of modern French cuisine, but his first venture into town, the bygone Persephone in Fort Point, never quite blossomed. With the Southie waterfront currently experiencing a restaurant boom, perhaps Leviton was simply ahead of his time. That shouldn't be a problem for Area Four
(500 Technology Square, Cambridge, 617.758.4444), his second foray into urban climes, a pleasantly spare-looking, high-ceilinged space planted squarely in Cambridge's Area IV, the moment's hottest hothouse for independent chefs.
The new concept is cleverly bivalent: by day, Area Four serves as a gourmet bakery/cafe for the weekday throngs of workers in nearby high-tech, biotech, pharma, and research firms. Taking advantage of the neighborhood's new status as a magnet for diners and drinkers, it assumes a second guise for lunch and dinner, that of a sit-down bar/restaurant offering a combination of highly seasonal fare (charcuterie, soups, salads) and the products of two large wood-burning ovens that dominate the bustling open kitchen. Every chef mouths the "seasonal-local-organic" mantra these days, but one can actually taste farm freshness in small plates like sweet-pea hummus ($5.50), a vivid legume pâté (cunningly presented in a wee cast-iron skillet) that sings with fresh-pea flavor. The accompanying pita exemplifies one of the spot's hallmark strengths - terrific fresh breads. A bolt of the Mediterranean sun seems to streak through another simple, perfect cold mezze of green beans, olives, and potatoes ($5.50), held together by a pungent, vibrant pesto: it's tantalizingly green-on-green-on-green to both eye and palate.
From those impressive ovens emerge pizzas ($12-$14) that mercifully do not overcrowd their thin, bubbly, delicately chewy, marvelous crusts. It takes a certain little-seen restraint to start with a simple tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, and chopped basil, then add a bit of fennel-seed-rich pork sausage and a few thin rings of lightly pickled, lightly fiery banana peppers - and then stop. The result is an extraordinary pie in the true Neapolitan tradition, one that lets a few of-the-moment flavors speak. Add in a fine, small bar focused on local spirits, beers, and wines, an expansive patio, and jaw-dropping desserts, like an olive-oil chocolate cake with salted-caramel sauce ($8) that deserves its own review, and it starts to look like Leviton can get over any nerves about expanding. Area Four seems destined to help cement Area IV's emerging reputation as Boston's next great dining destination.