Blue Notes change the tune

(Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff)
By Luke O'Neil
Globe Correspondent / July 24, 2009

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It feels odd to call a restaurant that’s been around for 15 years and received its fair share of accolades one of Cambridge’s best-kept secrets, but we’re just not hearing enough love for The Blue Room lately. Maybe it’s the tucked-away Kendall Square locale, or maybe we’re just hitting it on off hours. For years it’s been one of our mainstays for post-movie dining, and it has one of the outstanding brunches in the area, so we won’t be happy until we see a line out the door every time we stop by.

If we have piqued your curiosity, first dig in at the well-worn wooden bar. It flows around the middle of the dark dining room in a way that calls to mind the texture and movement of an old vinyl record. You’ll be in good hands with the barkeeps. Mainstay Reggie St. Paul has been there for the entire run and brings a been-there, seen-that, made-the-drink wisdom and hospitality to the bar. Colleague Mary Graham adds the classic-cocktail revival aesthetic and recipe knowledge that most of the best bars have been wise to incorporate into their game plan of late.

The fruit of that partnership, literally and figuratively speaking, jumped out at us in the form of the Caipiruva (red and green grapes muddled with sugar and cachaça, $8). This “Brazilian classic - like Pelé,’’ as one of the many cheeky menu descriptions reads, adds a pulpy texture from the grapes to this variation on the widely popular caipirinha.

“This one isn’t for toddlers,’’ Graham said, presenting a cocktail called The Dark Side (Plymouth gin, Erbaluna Barolo Chinato, Peychaud’s bitters, lime, star anise, $10). It’s based on the recipe of the classic cocktail Gin and It (“It’’ meaning Italian, or sweet, vermouth). Here, instead of vermouth, they use a high-quality barolo, stewed with herbs and spices. In combination with the star anise and lime, it allows this cocktail (below right, with the Caipiruva) to behave more like a wine, opening up over time and developing. After letting it sit for a while, we returned to an almost entirely different drink altogether.

Variations on other well-known cocktails like the Pimm’s Cup (Maine Root Lemon Lime soda, Pimm’s No. 1, cucumber, $9) stand out with use of the organic, light, and refreshing bottled soda as opposed to mediocre soda gun sugar water. The Town and Country (sour cherry-infused Old Overholt Rye, $10) is Graham’s take on the Manhattan. Here she infuses the rye with sour cherries for about three weeks before serving, then adds a little French vermouth and a touch of Angostura bitters. The Momisette (pastis, orgeat syrup, sparkling mineral water, $8) is yet another nice option. This one is a good balance of almond sweetness and the licorice of anise. All of these cocktails, like The Blue Room itself, are no doubt familiar to you, and yet you may not be drinking them frequently enough. Perhaps it’s time to stop in and remedy both those problems at once.

The Blue Room, 1 Kendall Square, Cambridge. 617-494-9034.

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