Three-year-old ethnic bargain spot Con Sol snuck under reviewers' radar with an Iberian menu that draws mostly on Portuguese-American food — a cuisine that feels native to long-time Cantabrigians, but otherwise is little known north of New Bedford and Fall River or west of Provincetown. Better for you, since this Inman/Central Square-area storefront serves up savory meals in the vein of the past, and a sense of knowing what few others have discovered.
|Con Sol | 279A Broadway, Cambridge | 617.868.3111 | consolcambridge.com | Open Monday–Saturday, 5:30–10 pm | AE, DC, DI, MC, VI | Beer and wine | Up one step from sidewalk level | No valet parking|
We begin with thick slices of white bread and good, not great, olive oil from a cruet that really is intended to make oil-and-vinegar salad dressings. Appetizers come on seriously, though, as chef-owner Tony Amaral borrows a lot of tapas and small plates from that other Iberian country.
A fine crossover dish is sopa de casa ($4), here done home-style and not overly thickened, with kale, Portuguese sausage, and a few beans. Sopa de ajo ($4) is more Spanish, a false soup (no meat stock) based on a broth of tomatoes and fried garlic, with an egg dropped in and softened bread to thicken it. Both are winter warmers.
The short-rib appetizer, costillar lacado ($7/appetizer; $15/entrée), is perhaps the biggest portion I've ever seen, and is falling-off-the-bone tender and full of flavor. If you are going for all small plates, it could center your meal. Octopus ($8) is prepared on a redware dish (a cazuela in Spain) and stewed with salt, pepper, and a bit of tomato until tender. Clams ($7) are presented in a nice size bowl of the usual, flavorful garlic-wine sauce, with bread that is ideal for dipping. The best appetizer buy is pasteis bacalhau ($6): eight beautifully fried finger croquettes with balanced funky salt cod and potato to smooth it out, plus a lemony mayonnaise dip.
One appetizer that didn't delight was bland pork-and-cheese spread on toasts ($6), though it was eaten nonetheless. The house salad ($5) uses olives and plum tomatoes.
A paella entrée ($16) didn't suffer from the all-too-common Lazy Paella Syndrome; instead, the rice was undercooked and soupy, and the seafood (clams, mussels, scallops) was perfect, as were shreds of chicken and slices of chorizo sausage. Carne porco alantejana ($14), a classic combination of pork and clams — some say it was invented during the Inquisition to test the sincerity of converted Jews and Muslims — is mostly about the clams, with the pork as flavoring and cubes of oven-fried potato as filler. Pollo carioca ($12), despite its Brazilian name, is a simple dish of braised boneless chicken breast in a mild white-wine sauce with bell peppers and a lot of white rice. (Amaral's parents owned the old P.A. Seafood in Somerville — since sold, moved, and turned into a nightclub — which always had some Brazilian food.)