>> Tuesday, February 12, 2013
It's a cold, cold snowy night. Where shall I go for dinner?
2012 was an unusual winter, to say the least. It was really the first winter in my life where snow did not stick around at all the entire winter. It was our first winter in our new home, and the lack of snow gently eased us into the life of "homeownership".
This year is quite different. All of a sudden I'm dreaming of warm, cozy spaces, crackling fires in brick fireplaces, and hearty, soul-satisfying food. Of course, when I think fireplace, I think of Bondir.
I can't believe it's been this long since I've visited Bondir. It's not for lack of trying, that's for sure. It's seems virtually impossible to book a last minute reservation at this tiny, intimate restaurant in Cambridge. Since I lasted visited, Bon Appetit Magazine crowned Bondir as one of the ten best new restaurants of 2011. There's a reason why it's hard to get a seat here.
So over time, I lost the will to try, and (sadly) it sort of fell off my radar screen.
A couple weeks ago, a local Cambridge start-up called Nara contacted me about trying their new restaurant recommendation mobile app. Now, I get contacted about trying new food type apps all the time, and there's no way I have time to really play with each and every single one. So I have to choose. For some reason, Nara seemed a bit different for two reasons. One, it was started by MIT folks (my alma mater!) who are applying their proprietary algorithms to predict and learn which restaurants you will like - sort of like a Pandora for food. Second, they offered to treat me to a meal in exchange for trying out the app. How could I resist?
After downloading the app, I immediately tried looking for a place. Obviously, since it knew next to nothing about me (I think I answered two questions in the beginning), the predictions were average, at best. However, as I began inputting "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" for every restaurant I had visited, I began to see that it was learning my preferences. Over time, the recommendations got better and better.
You aren't completely beholden to the app's suggestions, of course. You can filter by a variety of categories, such as distance, cuisine, and price. You can even type in the name of the restaurant into the search box, if you really want. The app is integrated with Opentable, which is really really useful for making immediate online reservations. For restaurants that are not on Opentable, an address and phone number are listed, so you can call directly from your mobile phone to make a reservation.
One cold Sunday evening, I did a search on Nara and Bondir popped up. It had really been awhile since I had visited the restaurant. I noticed that they were on Opentable, which (from my memory) was different from a couple years ago when all I could do was call to make reservations.
Shockingly, there was an opening at 5:30PM. Not ideal, but we took it. Lucky for us, there ended up being a cancellation that day, and we were able to dine at 7PM instead.
The most fun part about the menu at Bondir is that every single course is offered in half portions. They recommend getting 3 "half portions" per person, which is most definitely plenty of food. For fun, Bryan and I enjoy variety, so we always get 5-6 half portions every meal.
We began with the Long Island Cheese Pumpkin and Smoked Haddock Soup which came with a variety of toppings that you could add yourself, such as crisp garlic root, ginger salad, and sesame oil.
It's hard for me to ever turn down Handmade Burrata. Here it's served with roasted Jarrahdale pumpkin, red currant mousseline, chestnuts in Vin Santo, petit greens tossed in a huckleberry vinaigrette, olive oil poached jerusalem artichokes (sunchokes), flavored with pain d’epices. The Chestnut Flour Tart looks almost like it should be sweet, but it's actually a savory pie, served with butter confit shallots, washed rind cheese custard, seared teff, and puffed amaranth. The tart is topped with sprinklings of mustard "snow" and served with a side of winter vegetable "mignardises."One of our favorites, the homemade Rigatoni Cacio e Pepe, was served with sherry vinaigrette, guinea hog prosciutto, fiore sardo (an ancient Italian hard cheese), and toasted breadcrumbs for texture. The Scituate Scallops with Lobster came highly recommended by the waiter and turned out to be one of my favorites. It came with sesame roasted sweet potatoes, leeks, and Brussels sprouts. Japanese flavors, such as nori (black seawaeed) tuile and the lobster dashi, anchored the dish. Overall, the dish was excellent: the texture of the scallops were perfect and the lobster dashi was richly flavorful and sweet. Capon Galantine (traditional English-style deboned stuffed chicken) came served alongside Saint Émilion milk-poached red onion petal, roasted hedgehog mushrooms, braised mustard greens, and a cute little Rhode Island white flint corn cake. The chicken was extremely tender and the whole dish was hearty and well executed.Our last savory course was a Vermont Lamb Duet, which came with poached quince with dates, roasted Waldoboro "turnip" (a rutabaga from the state of Maine), and rye berries (similar to wheatberries!) in a red wine roasting jus.
Another unusual favorite of ours, the Caramel Poached Sunchoke and Spiced Olive Oil-Caramel Gingerbread Cake, was served with a bergamot mousseline and Lady Apple leather. I was pleasantly surprised how much I liked sunchokes (Jerusalem artichokes) served as a dessert. According to Chef Bond, the dessert was sort of a serendipitious creation, born one night when they ran out of their original ingredient and substituted sunchokes instead. The dessert became a hit, and I think it's shown up on the menu in one form or another time after time. Finally, for a simple finishing note, we sampled a taste of three homemade ice creams: Black Walnut Praline Ice Cream, Blood Orange Sorbet, and Chocolate Sherbet. I loved the intense darkness of the chocolate sherbet, which was rich, bitter, and gorgeously dark. The blood orange sorbet was bright, fruity, and tasted real.
There's some exciting news on the horizon. Chef Jason Bond will be opening a second Bondir in Concord Massachusetts. It will be located at 24 Walnut Street and will be much, much bigger, having the ability to accommodate 128 seats (unlike the current Bondir which only seats 26!). This one will preserve the same "farm to table" style of food that you see in Bondir right now. However, it will have a full liquor license, and will take advantage of the larger kitchen, including the wood stove! They are currently shooting for an August opening.
Jason plans to split his time between the two restaurants. Can't wait to see the new one!