Tagged: central square

Meat on sticks in an urban alley at Moksa

Moksa, Cambridge’s newish “Pan-Asian Izakaya” is a welcome freshening of the Mass Ave Asian food scene. As the Izayaka label suggests, Moksa takes the drinks seriously – they have cocktails for each sign of the Chinese zodiac and each of the elements (classical four, not scientific 118) – but the food is no slouch either.

Weather permitting, I recommend the patio, a nice brick alley adjacent to the Central Square Theater.  Recently, I enjoyed a half bottle of Henri Bourgeois Sauvignon Blanc from Sancerre.

Moksa’s food menu is a riotous array of small plates, many inspired by street food, others spinning off from classic dum sum, rice dishes and roti.  Bring lots of friends so you can try as many as possible.  I especially enjoy the Twice-Cooked Green Beans with onions and soybeans, both whole and sauced.  The beans are somehow still just crisp enough to the bite after two cookings.

Other notable dishes include the possibly hyperbolic Fried Rice with Twenty Vegetables, the sushiesque Tuna Poke with Avocado and Hearts of Palm, the border-blurring Popcorn Shrimp Roti, and an array of grilled meats on sticks, including chicken hearts, beef tongue, and smoked duck breast.  The menu changes often, so some of these might be gone for now or forever, but I’m sure something just as good will take their places

The price of Cronin Park is eternal vigilance

Just about two years ago, I wrote about Cambridge’s Cronin Park, a triangle of green near Central Square. These days, location-based stuff is all the rage, and I was pleased to note that Cronin Park is a place on Foursquare.  I quickly became the mayor.

But when I was taking screenshots for this post, I noticed that something was off. Foursquare’s Cronin Park pin, if you zoom in on it, turns out to be across the street from the actual place – in an adjacent green patch that is authoritatively labeled by Google Maps as… James Cronin Park.  Didn’t I add James Cronin Park to Google Maps two years ago?  What gives?

A search for “Cronin Park” shows two places: map point A is next to Google’s mislabeled Cronin Park; map point B is the center of the actual Cronin Park as added to the map by yours truly in 2008.  Indeed, you can see my car parked across from the park on Franklin street.

Just to make sure, I visited the site today, and “my” Cronin Park – the triangular one – is indeed, still James P. Cronin Park, still marked by a big rock with a plaque on it.  The park across Franklin Street has no name that I could find on site, but it seems to have been anointed by Google Maps.  Neither place is mentioned at the City of Cambridge’s DPW page of parks or shown on the Park Maintenance district 2 map.

What does this all mean?  Probably not much you didn’t already know.  Google Maps isn’t perfect, crowdsourcing with curation cuts both ways, the City of Cambridge website isn’t encyclopedic.  We’ll see if this post or my efforts with Google and Foursquare make any progress in getting Cronin Park properly located and noted.  In the mean time, be sure to check in if you’re passing by.

The Mayor of Central Nowhere

A lot of the people who said that microblogging or Twitter was the Big Thing of 2008 or 2009 are saying that location or Foursquare is the Big Thing of 2010 or beyond.  I don’t know if Foursquare is played yet, or if Twitter already has jumped the shark, but I’m starting to worry that the actual, physical concept of location might be on the way out as businesses evaporate from downtowns, especially in my own Central Square.

Earlier this week, I noted a bit in xconomy singing the praises of Central Square as a new startup hub, singling out a particular office building and featuring a couple of its startuppy tenants.  I’m all for it, having previously noted Beta House and OpenCoffee among others.  Plus, Central is home to Harmonix Music.  Good news, to be sure.

But the day before that article, Hollywood Express closed their Central Square store, adding to a distressing list of businesses vacating Central Square and its environs.  In fact, I was both pleased and saddened to discover an entire blog devoted to the disappearance of businesses along Cambridge’s Massachusetts Avenue.  Compare for example my February 2009 post on the decline of the furniture cluster to Empty Mass Ave’s post on the same topic in February of this year.  Apparently, we’re all in this together.  Empty retail space around Central now includes the long-gone Gap, Pearl Paint, all those furniture stores, the space next to the Central Square Theater, and I’m sure more.

The other good news is that restaurants seem to be thriving even as retail suffers – Rendezvous, Four Burgers, Craigie on Main and Garden at the Cellar are all great –  but I can’t help worry that we need a bit of everything to make a neighborhood that all those fancy startup types will actually want to inhabit.

We can blame the economy for some closures, especially the furniture stores.  We can blame changes in technology and media for the demise of record stores, video stores and maybe even bookstores. We can blame landlords, that’s always popular.  I think we often forget to blame ourselves for not shopping, working and doing business enough in our own neighborhoods and cities.

Jazz brunch at Cafe Luna

This morning, like many Sunday mornings, I headed down Mass Ave to what’s always a difficult brunch choice, Mariposa Bakery on the right, and Cafe Luna on the left.   Today I went left.

Cafe Luna has spiffed up a bit of late, and I definitely approve.  When I arrived near 11am, it was close to empty but by noon there was a line out front.  They have a full brunch menu, but I tend to stick with the smaller savory items, such as the breakfast sandwich (bacon egg and cheese with spinach grilled on a ciabatta, $4.95) or the healthy wrap (egg whites, spinach, cheese and roasted red pepper in a whole wheat wrap, $4.95) and of course coffee.

Cafe Luna is also the source of some fine gelato and free wifi, and they have a scrabble set too.  I will forgive them for once stocking “puffo” flavor.

Sunday brunch is augmented by live jazz most weeks.  The usual combo seems to be Hiro Honshuku’s Trio La Luna, with Honshuku on flute and EWI, Casper Gyldensøe on guitar, and Alex Raymond Busby Smith on bass.  Last time I was there a quartet was playing but I didn’t get their name.  If you can ID them, I’d be hapy to link, they were quite good.

If you arrive early, don’t get too comfortable in the window, that’s where the band will start setting up.

Science theater grows in Central square

Maybe Central Square isn’t going to the dogs after all.  This weekend I caught a performance of a stage adaptation of one of my favorite books ever, Alan Lightman’s Einstein’s Dreams.  The show is closed now, and you can read better reviews of it in the Phoenix for example.  I enjoyed it a great deal, but more than that, I’m happy that it was put on in a new theater space in my neighborhood in collaboration with another neighbor, MIT.

If you don’t know, the Central Square Theater opened this summer or fall at 450 Mass Ave, on or near what I think was once the site of Pho Republique.  The production of Einstein’s Dreams is the work of something called the Catalyst Collaborative, a joint venture of MIT and Underground Railway Theater (URT) for “creating and presenting plays that deepen public understanding about science, while simultaneously providing an artistic and emotional experience not available in other forms of dialogue about science.”  How cool is that?  In addition, I spotted MIT Prof. Robert Jaffe’s name on the advisory board – you might remember him from another excellent MIT arts collaboration, the MIT-Photographic Resource Center gallery at the Center for Theoretical Physics.  And yes, the show did feature blackboards.  The next Catalyst Collaborative joint is going to be Bertolt Brecht’s Life of Galileo – with puppets! – in conjunction with the Cambridge Science Festival in the spring.

One should’t have to choose, but I’d probably take a theater over a police station as a neighbor.  But I’d certainly rather have police patrolling the neighborhood than actors.

There goes the neighborhood

On Friday, the Cambridge police department moved out of its 75 year old Central Square headquarters, heading for a new facility in East Cambridge.  In an unrelated incident on the same day, about two blocks away, somebody not very gently removed the lock on the door of limeduck world headquarters and availed himself of assorted valuables. Don’t worry, the art collection, vintage scrabble set, and Bordeaux are all intact.

I don’t for a minute assign the Cambridge PD any negligence around this burglary, and both the officer and the detective were prompt, compassionate and professional despite the disruption going on in their office, doing what little can be done after the fact of a break-in. My neighbors, on the other hand, who probably buzzed the burglar in without asking questions, are totally off my holiday card list.

I have to wonder if this doesn’t signal a downturn in the fortunes of Central Square, long among the least desirable of Cambridge’s major named squares, often fighting a reputation for grittiness.  Whenever somebody expressed any reservation about visiting me in Central, I would always say, “I’m two blocks from the police station.” Will tough economic times plus a reduction in the visible presence of the law turn Cronin Park into a shooting gallery?  It seems unlikely, but I’m going to be a little more vigilant, and I suppose you should be, too. You can see Cambridge crime reports on the CPD web site, although they don’t seem to be updated that quickly.  Here’s one for the Riverside area.

And if a shady character offers you a deal on a used brass rat, call the cops.

Savoury scone update – Mariposa Bakery

After catching up with Gibraltarian M at 1369 in Central, I took an errand ramble around the neighborhood and popped into Mariposa Bakery on impulse.  On the counter, unlabeled, was a basket of scones that turned out to be cheddar-scallion, one of my favorites.  The friendly but somewhat overcaffeinated counterman cheerully rang me up.  Smaller than the usual cafe bakery scone, but not so small as to make me feel cheated (see recent oatmeal scone developments at Diesel), Mariposa’s scones were light and moist.  The cheddar flavor was subdued but attended by some tasty cheese crusts at the margins.

OpenCoffee at Andala

I got a message from Si in London recommending that I check out this upcoming TweetUp in Cambridge.  Turns out it was at Andala Cafe, home of my favorite hummus plate and barely a block from limeduck world headquarters.  Once again, the internet pwnz geography.  The TweetUp, called OpenCoffee, happens Wednesdays at 8:30ish, and seems to be a global phenomenon that has somehow landed right in my back yard.

This week, OpenCoffee was pretty Twitter-centeric, with Bijan Sabet of Spark Capital and Sanjay Vakil of LuckyCal leading a loose discussion of location-based apps, twitter platforms, and using twitter either as a start point or an end point for aggregation of what can only be described as your “stuff.”

The session was well-attended with some 40+ tweeple stretching the limits of Andala’s front room.  You can catch up on some of the chatter via this twitter search.

There was some debate about the utility of hash tags as opposed to unhashed tags, and taxonomy vs folksonomy.  I came down on the side of getting it mostly right and keeping it simple, which seems to be the guiding principle of twitter.  And then I fell off a chair while trying to explain Pants Status to the assembled masses.  My point, such as it was, is that there seems to be apps (if you can call Pants Status an app) that use twitter without any special action on the user’s part.

On a side note, the frothy beverage pictured above is an Andala specialty, fresh apple ginger juice.  I highly recommend it.  iPhone not included, but if you come to OpenCoffee, I promise you’ll be near one.

Open season

Last week I had a pleasant meal at Rendezvous in Central Square, a place that has reliably seasonal menus and art on the walls.  I was feeling a bit less than 100% so I chose the vegetable bollito misto (a Piedmontese boiled dinner, this one featuring polenta, fava beans, cheese and mushrooms) even though I was craving the Gascon duck three ways (grilled breast, confit leg and garlic sausage). I won’t regale you with all the details of the meal, but we also enjoyed grilled sardines with lemon and fried parsley, roast chicken with chanterelles, corn and green beans, and an impressive warm chocolate cake with cinnamon cream.

I was still thinking about the duck that got away – three ways, actually – when I stumbled upon an article in The Weekly Dig about the Fall game hunting seasons, complete with dates and recommended local dishes.

The Dig recommends EVOO, Rendezvous and Bokx 109 for duck dishes. Two down, one to go.  For rabbit, they suggest Marliave, Toro and the Publick House – I’m just one for three on those.  So I’ve got my work cut out.  If you want to take matters into your own hands, be sure to observe these dates:

Duck season: Wed 10.15.08–Sat 11.29.08 and Fri 12.12.08–Sat 1.03.09 (Berkshire); Tue 10.14.08–Sat 11.29.08 and Mon 12.15.08–Mon 1.05.09 (Central); Fri 10.17.08–Sat 10.25.08 and Wed 11.26.08–Sat 1.24.09 (Coastal)

Rabbit season: Sat 10.18.08–Sat 2.28.09 (cottontail); Sat 11.15.08–Wed 12.31.08 (jackrabbit); Sat 10.18.08–Thu 2.05.09 (snowshoe hare)

From this we can deduce that here in Eastern Massachusetts, from October 18 through 25 and November 26 through January 24, it’s both duck season and rabbit season, a time period during which it’s entirely possible to have a spirited argument about whether it’s rabbit season or duck season.  Have you figured out where this is leading yet?  Well, here it is.

Welcome to autumn, and happy hunting everybody.