A Prince of a Hotel


There was a time that I thought the difference between a good trip and a bad trip was determined by the quality of the hotel. Now I spend so much of my life in good hotels I have come to see that happiness is not necessarily a given even when everything is well appointed. There are some excellent hotels out there that are simply too fussy, too noisy, too dark. Then there is the Charles Hotel, which, even on the many dismal days Cambridge, Massachusetts, has to offer, manages to be flooded with light. Everything has a wide-open feel. They have a quilt motif that calls to mind Shakers and Quakers but doesn't tip over the edge into cloying. No hotel is ever going to feel like home, but the Charles is spare and spacious and very comfortable in a way my home would approve of.

charles hotel

I also love the hotel's midlevel restaurant, Henrietta's Table, and would happily eat my breakfast, lunch, and dinner there no matter how long my stay. The restaurant's motto, printed boldly at the top of every menu, is "Fresh from the Farm and Honest to Goodness Home Cooking." Like the quilts, one would think that such a claim would make the diner suspicious, but they deliver on the claim. At lunch, I wring my hands trying to decide between the chicken pot pie and the wild salmon burger and the baked Gloucester scrod. I've had them all before. I also know I would be very content just eating from the bread basket for lunch. One piece is heavy and filled with cranberries and sunflower seeds, and the next piece tastes like it's been made with a quart of Jack Daniels (I mean this in a good way).

The upscale restaurant, Rialto, is quiet and elegant and ridiculously expensive (the steak is $43, the lamb chop $39.) I had the smooth white-bean soup with minestrone, lobster and fennel pesto, and then potato and creamy cheese ravioli with faro, wild mushrooms, and pomegranates. It was an excellent dinner (the pomegranates gave a perfect jeweled touch), but it was one of those menus that contains words like "skordalia" and "dukkah," which I find irritating given as how the table doesn't come with a dictionary. One of the nice things about dining in Cambridge is that you can pretty much bet your waitress is smarter than you are, or at least that was the case for me. She was more than happy to help me navigate the difficult terrain.

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