Amid the atmosphere of good books and good food
With Boston's reputation as a literary city, it is only natural that one of its newest and most interesting restaurants also be a bookstore. The Harvard Book Store Cafe, on the city's chic and trendy Newbury Street, is not a bookstore with a restaurant attached any more than it is a restaurant with a bookstore attached. It is, rather, a place where diners can peruse the latest best sellers without straying from their tables.
As such it is difficult to determine whether the bookstore operation, dating from 1932, or the restaurant operation, dating from last spring, is the more serious business. Frank Kramer opened the bookstore-cafe last May (the parent Harvard Book store is in Cambridge and another bookstore-cafe is in the Faneuil Hall Marketplace) with the intention of offering a varied and comprehensive book list, along with an equally varied and comprehensive menu.
"There have been bookstores that serve food, but never in a very serious way, " he said. "I wanted to have good books andm good food."
So, in addition to stocking the shelves with an ample supply of best sellers, cookbooks, calendars, and paperbacks, he put his kitchen in the innovative and experienced hands of Chef Les Schulman. Along with a breakfast menu and another featuring lunch and light supper dishes, the cafe offers special soups, hot entrees, and deserts which change daily.
"I can't think of another restaurant that would give me the leeway that I have here," said Chef Schulman, a graduate of the culinary school at Johnson & Wales College in Rhode Island, who was worked for both the Hilton and Mariott hotel chains.
The leeway he is referring to includes the opportunity to create new recipes daily from just about any cuisine he chooses. His favorite creations are Western Chinese stir-fry dishes, but the menu always includes a pasta dish, soups ranging from a delicate chilled cherry to a hearty butternut squash, a pate, or a simple use of the region's excellent seafood.
"It's also a real stimulation to have the books around," he said. "Many times someone will run out of the kitchen and over to the cookbook section, which is invaluable for reference and ideas."
On a recent occasion a new cookbook, "The New Italian Cooking," by Margaret and G. Franco Romagnoli (Little, Brown & Co.), was the stimulus for a reception at the bookstore and several new offerings among the cafe's daily specials. Shortly after the Romagnolis demonstrated pasta cookery at the bookstore, the cafe prepared entrees from the new book.
Such author-related events are an integral part of the bookstore-cafe's business. In fact, the restaurant was designed to convert easily from its densely packed plan of tables and bookshelves into an open area conducive to large literary receptions and autograph parties.
Bookcases on casters roll aside to open up floor space, a method that came in handy recently when 500 people came to meet Kurt Vonnegut at an autograph signing.
For a somewhat smaller party for Russell Baker, bookcases were left in place to provide the setting for an informal talk by the columnist. All author receptions are open to the public and hors d'oeuvres and beverages from the cafe are free of charge.
Far from being the dark and musty place that the word "bookstore" brings to mind, the Harvard book Store Cafe receives an ample supply of light filtering in through large windows in both the front and back. Bookcases and tables of pale wood, white walls, and cherry red carpeting add to the bright, pleasant effect.
Some 350 to 500 dinrs are served daily from 8 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Not surprisingly, much of the cliente is drawn from the city's literary community.
"Books and food seem to go together quite naturally, and people responded to the idea right away," Mr. Kramer said. "And, of course, people are welcome to look at the books before, during, and after they eat.
"The question most often asked is whether or not the books remain clean under such conditions. The answer is yes. People are very careful; in fact I've found that most of them have a reverence for books. In the rare case when a book gets soiled, the person usually goes ahead and buys it."
The following are two of Chef Schulman's recent specials: Pasta Primavera 1/2 cup broccoli flowerets 1 carrot, peeled and chopped 1/4 cup each of green pepper, red pepper, onion, zucchini, summer squash, green cabbage, and red cabbage, cut in julienne strips 4 tablespoon butter 1 pound cooked linguine 1 1/2 cups light cream 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg Cracked black pepper to taste 1/2 cup grated Romano cheese 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
Steam broccoli, carrot, peppers, and onion until tender. saute zucchini, summer squash, and cabbages in 2 tablespoons of the butter. Cook linguine according to package directions.
Heat cream in a large saute pan and add seasonings. Then add cooked linguine and toss until heated. Add remaining butter and toss until melted. Combine and toss liguine with vegetables, cheese, and parsley.
Serves 4 to 6. Vegetables can be changed according to availability and taste. Butternut Squash Soup 1/2 of an onion, chopped 2 tablespoons butter 2 1/2 pounds butternut squash, peeled and chopped 1/4 teaspoon each of cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice 2 quarts chicken stock 1 cup heavy cream Salt and pepper, to taste
Using a large pot, saute onion in butter until transparent. Add squash, spices, and chicken stock and simmer for an hour. Puree in a food processor or blender and transfer back to pot. Add cream, cook until heated through, and season with salt and pepper, to taste.