Thursday, February 10, 2011
It was, at most, twenty degrees outside. Weeks of continuous snowstorms had created huge mounds of snow that nearly walled off area businesses from view. The ground was icy; parking was impossible to find (darn snow piles taking all the spots!); and traffic was horrendous.
It is from this hostile, wind-whipping environment that we entered the warm and inviting oasis of Bondir, one of the newest restaurants to open in Cambridge. This was unquestionably one of the nicest, coziest spaces I had ever seen.
The moment you enter, a huge fireplace greets you, roaring and crackling away. The radiating warmth invites you to sit down, take a deep breath, and relax. Comfortable benches and cushions line the open waiting area. A woman sits in the corner - a glass of wine in one hand, a book in another.
Alas, we aren't here just for drinks, so we pull ourselves away from the roaring fireplace and settle into one of the 22 seats in this tiny restaurant.
Amuse Bouche - Chatham Oysters, Rhode Island Periwinkle, Sepia Nori Toast (squid ink/seaweed)
Our server is warm, attentive, and very personable. She raves about the dishes and, you can tell - she is genuinely a huge fan of the food. Though it takes awhile before she finally takes our order, the kitchen is actually quite fast, and moments later our amuse bouche arrives.
Bigger than a typical "bite," this amuse is almost like a small appetizer. The flavors sing of the ocean, complemented by a rich, aromatic sauce and herbs. The oysters and periwinkles (a type of snail) provide a creamy umami that's soaked up by the uniquely flavored toast.
The menu is set up in a way that gives you the opportunity to try many different things. Almost every menu item is available either as a half size "appetizer" portion (which is actually pretty generously sized!) or a full size dinner portion. Bryan orders three half size portions, and I order two halves. This actually turns out to be way too much food (did I say generous?) but alas, the "sacrifices" we make for our readers. ;)
Roasted Kuri Squash, Vegetable Mignardises, Teff Polenta, Mustard Oil 12/23
I love the colorful array of roasted vegetables in my next course. The Teff Polenta (teff is a highly nutritious food grain originating from Ethiopia) is delicious. I'm not exactly sure what spices he used to flavor it, but it works beautifully with the vegetables, which are caramelized and roasted to perfection.
I also learn that I'm not a huge fan of Kuri squash. I find it quite bland, especially compared to kabocha. However, the other vegetables are so good that I'm sure I would absolutely love this dish had it been made with a different squash (which happens quite often on his ever-changing menu).
Herbed Pappardelle, Rapini Greens, Pu-erh-Braised Celery Branch, Confit Duck, and Shaved Scamorza 13/24
All the pastas are handmade and thus have excellent texture. The duck has a very strong "ducky" flavor (which Bryan loves and I don't), which stands up to the rapini (another strongly flavored vegetable) and the shaved Italian cheese, Scamorza.
Hand-Rolled Garganelli, Sour Milk Ricotta, Seared Wild Mushrooms, Fava Leaves, and Olive Oil Toasted Bread Crumbs 13/24
The texture of my hand rolled garganelli is excellent, even chewier than the thinner, more delicate papparadelle. The toasted bread crumbs remind me of similar dishes I had enjoyed while at Beacon Hill Bistro (where the chef worked before opening Bondir). The crunch from the breadcrumbs adds a unique textural component. Overall, the dish is nice - simple, well executed, and just the right size.
Roasted Mallard Duck, Hen-of-the-Woods and Bean Stew, White Flint Corn Meal Cake 15/28
Bryan likes duck so much, he orders BOTH duck items on the menu. As one who doesn't like duck, I can't really comment objectively on this dish. All I can say is that Bryan thought it was very good. The meat was cooked perfectly, with warm, rustic flavors that are just oh-so-satisfying on a cold winter's night.
Wagyu Beef Brisket Sauerbraten, Red Wine-Braised Carrots, Red Cabbage Aigre-Doux,
Black Pepper Pears 16/30
This, my friends, appears to be EVERYONE's (server, front of the house, customers) favorite dish. I can totally see why. The meat is melt-in-your-mouth tender, full of beautifully deep flavors from the red wine, beef jus, and whatever other secret ingredients he's added. I'm sure the marbled Wagyu beef contributes its own fair share! The dish is very very good, and it's easy to see why this is one of the most popular dishes on the menu.
Tangerine Dream, Génoise, Vermouth-Infused Tangerine, Thyme-Buttermilk Ice Cream, Meringue Brulée 9
We end the meal with a lighter dessert (since we were sort of stuffed!). The meringue brulée tastes like a fancy toasted marshmallow, distinctly capturing the nostalgic flavors of childhood. I'd say that the dessert is not "wow" but it's still quite good. The lighter, clean citrus-y flavors act as the perfect finish to a rich, satisfying, and delicious meal.
Meet the Chef!
After the meal, I asked if I could meet Jason Bond (pictured on the left). He was really friendly and actually invited me into his TINY little kitchen (he has a tiny urban kitchen too!!!). I was AMAZED at the level of cooking that happens inside such a tiny little work space.
Every night, it's just two of them in there, cooking up a storm!
I really felt I was crowding them while I was in there.
That night, Dan was on duty as Jason's "right hand man." Here he is, starting up another beet salad.
Jason works really hard. He gets into the kitchen around 9:00 every morning to prepare all the various components of his dishes. Everything is made from scratch - he butchers his own animals, rolls out his own pasta, and makes all of his own breads, sauces, polentas, etc. It's insane and quite labor intensive.
The menu changes daily (you can see all the permutations on their blog) depending on a number of factors such as availability, what's in season, and (of course!) Jason's inspiration.
Honestly, I think this place is a gem for several reasons. It's hard to find that magical combination of warm ambiance, friendly service, a chef truly dedicated to his food, and reasonable prices. Admittedly, the dishes are a bit more conservative and less edgy / inventive than those at other places in this price range. However, the cooking is top notch, the ingredients are excellent, and the food is really good.
We had a delightful time there and definitely plan on returning.
There's no real bar right now (you can get beer and wine), but I think I'm OK with that. It makes the ambiance even more cozy, even more home-like. It's almost like you're eating at someone's house.
Someone with a really really nice fireplace.
Cambridge, MA 02139