Friday, June 05, 2009

Review: Jasper White's Summer Shack, Cambridge

photo of Jasper White's Summer Shack, Cambridge, MAJasper White's Summer Shack in Cambridge is a place that I have been to a number of times (though the last time was several years ago). And while I have always wanted to love this spacious seafood restaurant across from the Alewife T station, I have never had a meal there that has knocked my socks off. That is, until this week, when we had what was truly a memorable dining experience from start to finish.

The Summer Shack in Cambridge is located in a warehouse-type building that was formerly home to the Aku Aku, an icon of sorts from long ago that featured greasy Americanized Chinese and Polynesian food, impossibly strong drinks in tacky cups, mugs, and bowls, and a bar that felt like it might be out of a Mad Max movie. Well, the Buddha statue still sits at the entrance, and the slowly rotating sign along Route 2 is still there (though now it says "Summer Shack," of course), but mostly everything else has been replaced or fixed up to make this restaurant look like a real seafood shack with only the water views missing (unless you feel like taking in views of the rather sad-looking pond across the street). Strings of lights hang from the ceiling, a colorful tile floor brightens up the room a bit, and the oyster bar and lobster tank within the place add some character to the spot.

We arrived at the Summer Shack early in the evening and were led to a moderately comfortable booth toward the back. We started with drinks and some bread and rolls, with the corn bread being a bit dry in spots and a tad too sweet for my liking, but otherwise ok. We then moved on to an appetizer of crab and cheese pupusas that was really satisfying; the two stuffed flatbreads were filled with deliciously fresh crabmeat and a good amount of cheese, though not so much as to overwhelm the sweet taste of the meat. Our entrees soon came out, and they were admittedly quite different, as the corn dog and the roasted salmon contrasted in a nearly humorous way on our table. But both were terrific; the Pearl Kountry Klub dog was juicy and flavorful, and the cornbread batter was moderately thick and seemed a bit more tasty than the aforementioned cornbread that we had at the beginning of our meal. The fries that came with the corn dog were pretty basic, but the pickle was salty and delicious. And the roasted salmon? Well, the Summer Shack is known for its seafood, and for good reason, as this piece of fish was tender and fresh, and came with a green pea sauce that went perfectly with the dish. We somehow found room for dessert, and it turned out to be perhaps the highlight of the meal, as the ultra-rich pecan pie with homemade whipped cream (which was on special) was overflowing with flavor, while the Mexican chocolate almond tart had a spicy kick that made it an unforgettable dish.

Our server was friendly, efficient, and enthusiastic from start to finish, and the prices were pretty good, especially considering that a celebrity chef runs the place.

So my overall impression of Jasper White's Summer Shack has gone from pretty good to excellent, even outstanding, in one meal. I hope that this streak will continue in the future, as I would love to be able to further distance myself from the ok-but-not-great meals I have had at this popular West Cambridge restaurant in the past.

The address for Jasper White's Summer Shack in Cambridge is: Jasper White's Summer Shack, 149 Alewife Brook Parkway, Cambridge, MA 02140. The phone number is (617) 520-9500. and the Web site is at:

Jasper White's Summer Shack on Urbanspoon