The Zebra Room, where guests enjoy “casual haute cuisine.”
Mary-Catherine Deibel and Deborah Hughes
With its flamboyant plaid Monday Club Bar downstairs and the gilded Soirée Dining Room above it (not to mention the hotpink Zebra Room), Upstairs on the Square is a study in bright personalities. After one encounter with owners Mary-Catherine Deibel and Deborah Hughes, it’s easy to see where that eclectic charm originates.
It actually dates back to the early 1970s, when Deibel, Hughes, and the late Michael Silver—who would later marry Hughes—all worked at Peasant Stock restaurant (now the site of Dalí) in Somerville. The three decided to open a restaurant of their own, and when a realtor showed them the third-floor dining room at Harvard University’s Hasty Pudding club, it was love at first sight. “We walked up the stairs and saw that beautiful, high-ceilinged room painted dark green, a working kitchen with a great stove… and we said, ‘We’ll take it,’” Deibel recalls. The legendary UpStairs at the Pudding opened in February 1982. Silver cooked, Hughes made desserts, and Deibel ran the dining room. The Italianinspired menu changed daily and featured a number of dishes that would not be out of place today; in the kitchen, local culinary luminaries, such as Evan Deluty (now at Stella), Michael Leviton (Lumière), and cookbook author and former New York Times columnist Molly O’Neill, all cut their teeth.
The tomato soup with gourmet grilled cheese has its own fan base.
Regular diners included Larry Summers, Margaret Marshall with husband Anthony Lewis, and a slew of Harvard honchos. “We were definitely Harvard’s dining room,” Deibel recalls. “The Rudenstines [former Harvard University president Neil L. Rudenstine and his wife, Angelica] came to lunch all the time.” Additionally, the restaurant hosted Hasty Pudding Theatricals’ Man and Woman of the Year dinners, beginning with Ella Fitzgerald in February 1982. That has continued at UpStairs on the Square, which Deibel and Hughes opened in the autumn of 2002, after Harvard declined to renew their lease.
The restaurant, decorated by Hughes in shiny, neon-bright lacquers—emerald green, hot pink, gold, blueberry, and eggplant—with faux-leopard carpeting and zebra upholstery, extends over four floors. The parlor-level Monday Club Bar (named for the original investors, who would dine at the Pudding on Monday nights, when it was closed to the public) looks grand after a recent face-lift that added a Bubble Bar, serving grower Champagnes and gourmet pizzas. That’s where you’ll often find UpStairs’ chef, Susan Regis, a 1998 James Beard Foundation Award winner.Regis is the genius behind the new menu items, as well as Monday Club faves stozzapreti with roasted cauliflower, beef tongue sliders, and chicken al mattone.
Regis has also taken over the third-floor Soirée Dining Room, a powder-pink and gilt Barbie bordello that offers a more traditional dining experience. Regis, whom Deibel and Hughes refer to as UpStairs’ “food voice,” intends to turn the Soirée Dining Room into a culinary homage to UpStairs at the Pudding. She’s been poring over old Pudding menus and will recreate many of the early dishes. “Grilled leg of lamb with figs and garlic, beef on a string… Brilliance is ageless,” she says. “These dishes are just as provocative today as they were 30 years ago.” Few restaurants can tap such storied and delicious histories. 91 Winthrop St., Cambridge, 617- 864-1933.