It’s been said that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Sometimes it’s hard to keep up with real estate in Boston and Cambridge, and when it comes to Kendall Square, it’s nearly impossible to keep up with the developments taking place within this neighborhood’s gigantic halls of innovation. But rest assured, all ye traditionalists, the recently opened Aceituna Café (aceituna is Spanish for "olive") now stands amid the modernity as a reminder of the might and permanence of culinary customs. And just as in any traditional kitchen anywhere on the planet, every dish comes from fresh ingredients, not from jars, jugs, or bottles. Whether it’s the baba ghanoosh ($3.99), stuffed grape leaves ($4.50), or falafel ($2.50–$6.75), don’t worry if the person in front of you gets the last of it. Chances are the cutting and crackling you hear from the kitchen is another batch in the works.
This Mediterranean mecca is an indecisive diner’s dream come true. You can scope out the selections as you slide your tray along, but you never have to deal with the overload that sneaks up on you at the lunchtime buffets: the portions are doled out for you here, and you predetermine whether you want five items ($8.50) or three ($6.50). Offerings include standards such as tabouleh, Greek salad, and moussaka, a tomato, chickpea, and eggplant stew, as well as more-intriguing picks such as pickled-turnip salad, spicy potatoes, and falafel salad. Or just pick a sandwich, any sandwich — such as the chicken shwarma ($5.99), made with the meat you see slow-roasting on the vertical rotisserie. It’s a time-tested method with a contemporary appeal: the fat drains off and leaves the flavors behind.
But traditional recipes and cooking methods hardly mean stale, old-school environs. If restaurants had soundtracks, Aceituna’s would include something hip and self-assured from Missy Elliott, a sassy number from Brigitte Bardot, and a classic and funky tune like "Mr. Big Stuff" or "Sir Duke." It’s a spacious, bright place with slick, colorful lighting fixtures dangling like charms from a necklace, and two walls of windows so you can gaze out upon the rapid development while savoring the flavors of more slow-going times.
Aceituna Café, located at 605 West Kendall, in Cambridge, is open Monday through Friday, from 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Call (617) 252-0707.