In Harvard Square, En Boca feels far away
From top: Wood-grilled octopus; poached egg on polenta, studded with chorizo; crispy Brussels sprouts; and deeply smoked lamb loin at En Boca. (photos by Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff)
Stuffed piquillo peppers at En Boca in Cambridge. (Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff)
By Nestor Ramos
Globe Staff

En Boca

8 Holyoke St., Harvard Square, Cambridge, 857-259-6321, www.enbocacambridge.comAll major credit cards accepted. Wheelchair accessible.

Prices Bites $4-$9. Small plates $8-$18. Shared plates $25-$38. Desserts $7-$11.

Hours Sun-Thu 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Fri-Sat 11 a.m.-11 p.m. (Bar until 1 a.m.)

Noise level Pleasantly bustling

What to order Wolf Meadow ricotta, roasted delicata squash, poached farm egg, baked piquillo peppers, whole Acadian redfish

It’s really just a few paces from the crowds and cars and chaos of Harvard Square, but En Boca, a new small-plates hideout on Holyoke Street, can make the Mass. Ave. mayhem feel pretty far away.

A panoramic painting of a dancer fills the space along a back wall, echoing a Sargent masterpiece, “El Jaleo,’’ that hangs dramatically at the Gardner. Modern metallic light fixtures glow warm above high-top tables. Deeper into the dining room, comfortable booths and dark wooden tables stretch across the elegant space.

This is the latest offering from Classic Restaurant Concepts, the group that operates nearby Irish pub The Asgard, as well as The Kinsale downtown. With En Boca it aims to take diners on a more-ambitious trip, encompassing the Mediterranean’s full expanse.

The menu makes like a tour guide, featuring a glossary of sorts, with wordy definitions — several pasted directly from Wikipedia — of some of the less-familiar North African, Middle Eastern, and other regional ingredients and dishes that dot the menu.

Wood-grilled octopus, cooked slow until it’s pliant before being lightly charred, is served with pungent, herbaceous Moroccan chermoula paste. Miniature marinated clams are paired with fiery Calabrian chiles on sea urchin toast, each bite both bright and rich. Fried smelts — I feel like there are a lot of smelts around these days, but I’m not complaining — serve as a perfect vehicle for scraping up a fragrant green romesco sauce, made with arugula.

A small plate of fried cauliflower boasts a menu-best of three glossary elements: vadouvan (a curry spice blend), sultana (a seedless grape variety), and labneh (a cheese-like strained yogurt). Unfortunately, the dish appears to have touched down in frying oil that isn’t hot enough, and the soggy cauliflower arrives swimming in it.

But the tapas approach has endured in part because it promises diners they won’t have to suffer anything for too long. Duds — a falafel so dry that it crumbles apart when pierced with a fork, for example — get exiled to a distant corner of the table while new and interesting dishes keep arriving.

A poached egg resting on a bed of rich polenta, studded with salty, spicy chorizo, is the kind of thing you immediately re-up if you’re stuck divvying it up among too many dining companions. Roasted delicata squash would make for a marvelous side dish at Mediterranean Thanksgiving, with ras el hanout adding welcome complexity.

Executive chef Benjamin Lacy, who was running the kitchen at Ten Tables Cambridge when the restaurant abruptly closed in January, has created a menu that applies locavore, sustainability-focused sensibilities to En Boca’s greater-Mediterranean concept. Focusing on these flavors while committing to local agriculture can make for an interesting challenge. Regional cuisines develop based largely on what’s available, and New England’s bounty doesn’t look a lot like, say, Lebanon’s.

Sometimes the marriage doesn’t work. Had the mealy, sour foraged crab­apples that surround fried veal sweetbreads remained mercifully un-foraged, perhaps a passing deer would have enjoyed them. A selection of charcuterie and cheese ranges from adequate to interesting, though given the breadth of the menu, these selections, scrawled on a blackboard behind the bar, don’t seem particularly necessary.

But when it works, it’s seamless: A bowl of Wolf Meadow Farm ricotta with herbs is so fresh and airy, spread on grilled bread, that I immediately add a trip to Amesbury to my mental itinerary so I can buy it by the bucket.

Roasted piquillo peppers pop up from a bed of purple slaw like three Papa Smurf hats, each stuffed with thick snarls of braised beef shank, all of the components providing something distinct and welcome.

Locally caught redfish subs in for the ubiquitous imported branzino in a whole fish dish, one of three larger plates. Its flaky flesh is buried under piles of fregola sarda (which looks like couscous but is a Sardinian pasta, as another trip to the glossary reveals) and stuffed with fennel and lemon.

That admirable devotion to sustainability extends to butchering. Lacy’s commitment to using the whole animal is on full display.

A deeply smoked lamb loin from Hopkins Southdowns in Rhode Island is accompanied by roasted turnips and onions, plus a handful of breaded and fried lamb testicles.

Veal sweetbreads and lamb testicles on the same menu suggests a level of interest in the nasty bits of baby farm animals with which I can’t totally identify. There’s also no adjective to describe the latter that won’t raise your eyebrows, but I’m going to try anyway: Tender. They are tender.

Moving on.

An impressive beverage program has an Enomatic wine-preservation system at its center, allowing for a selection of by-the-glass options that would be too pricey to waste in the next day’s braise. And banking on the possibility that the many “sherry is having a moment’’ claims of the last decade are finally true, there is a list of a half-dozen options, from lighter and less-expensive manzanillas to a $25 glass of Palo Cortado VORS, a sherry that must be aged at least 30 years.

Cocktails focus on in-house infusions. Many a bar has tried in vain to improve on a Manhattan, but the Galileo Figaro, made with fig-infused bourbon and birch-infused sweet vermouth, is an unlikely success, sweeter than a traditional rye-based Manhattan but winningly complex. Quince-infused gin, yarrow-infused mezcal, cherry branch-infused rye: There must be somebody in the basement with a rack of test tubes, a lab coat, and a dart board.

Service is slightly uneven but up to the important task of pacing the dozen or so plates that make their way out for a table of four. It’s a little thing, but the tables are spaced well enough to accommodate the concept. A cramped tapas joint can make you feel like you’re playing dominoes in a phone booth, but not once do I find myself reorganizing the table and elbowing my dining companions.

Desserts are uneven too, ranging from a dry and unsatisfying chocolate baklava to a luxuriant, berry compote-topped pot de creme. Unless you have a real hankering, adding a small plate or two at dinner instead might be a better option.

En Boca is far from perfect, either in conception or execution. The menu draws on so many influences and ideas that nailing every dish would be a bit of a miracle. But it’s unfailingly interesting and ambitious.

There’s enough going on here for at least two restaurants. All that’s left for Lacy to do is carve up the whole, and do away with some of its parts.

En Boca

8 Holyoke St., Harvard Square, Cambridge, 857-259-6321, All major credit cards accepted. Wheelchair accessible.

Prices Bites $4-$9. Small plates $8-$18. Shared plates $25-$38. Desserts $7-$11.

Hours Sun-Thu 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Fri-Sat 11 a.m.-11 p.m. (Bar until 1 a.m.)

Noise level Pleasantly bustling

What to order Wolf Meadow ricotta, roasted delicata squash, poached farm egg, baked piquillo peppers, whole Acadian redfish

Nestor Ramos can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @NestorARamos.