Opening to universal, almost ungodly acclaim in November, 2010, Bondir undoubtedly comes with lofty dining expectations. Thankfully, chef/owner Jason Bond’s (formerly executive chef at Beacon Hill Bistro) little (and by little, I mean roughly 25 seats) gem of a French-inspired restaurant not only met, but exceeded my expectations. His cooking technique, execution, and passion for local, seasonal, and sustainable fare are awe-inspiring and evident in every dish. There’s nothing pretentious about his plating (culinary theatrics such as liquid nitrogen need not apply), but merely a mind-bending focus on unique ingredients that elevate simple dishes to grandiose heights.
The bistro is tucked away on a more remote, quieter side of Central Square in Cambridge (blink and you’ll pass by it on Broadway Street). Behind a curtained entryway, you’ll find a smug little waiting area – complete with log chairs – warmed by a brick fireplace. Antique wood benches are built into white and green colored walls. A small flower romantically resides on each table, while plates are decorated with floral and fruit patterns. A painting of a pig amusedly adorns the back wall. So this is what dining in an intimate, romantic French bistro must feel like.
Bread, baked daily in-house, nicely kick-starts our meal. From 9-grain, to Caraway Rye, to a most unique variety called The Sea (containing seaweed, dried shrimp, and black squid ink), these are some of the best loaves I’ve tasted since be treated to L’Espalier’s expansive, renowned bread service years ago in its former, more romantic location on Gloucester Street. Bondir also graciously offers all of its dishes in half plate or full portions (all $16/$30), a gesture most welcomed to those like myself who yearn to sample multiple dishes. My dining companion and I decide on five plates (between five and six come recommended for two people), which are well-placed and intelligently split into three separate courses.
We begin with Rhode Island Fluke Sashimi, perfect in its not-too-rubbery texture, along with its potent flavor, which packs subtle traces of heat attributed to dabs of chili syrup and black garlic. The next serving consists of hand-rolled cavatelli with venison ragu, cooked in rich red wine and cocoa nibs. While the dish is relatively solid (the pasta is perfectly cooked al dente), it’s slightly disappointing, particularly due to the fact that the ragu isn’t nearly as hearty as I expected, the venison has more of a dried-out, nuggety consistency, and the intense flavoring from the cocoa nibs I anticipated is barely discernible. Scituate scallops, on the other hand, are a revelation. Three plump, perfectly seared crustacean are served with cauliflower, Mutsu apple, and terrific pickled cranberries - which take on the appearance of small tomatoes – for tart contrast. The scallops are also topped with sage froth, which not only adds visual flair, but also provides a subtly sweet flavoring to the dish.
Next, a moist piece of roasted capon (a gamier, stronger flavored alternative to the poussin chicken also available on the menu) is neatly stacked atop a scrumptious, inventive trio of white flint cornmeal cake, kumi kumi squash and black lentils. Westport Dexter Beef Short Ribs are also tender, and laced with a light, sweet cider glaze. Unlike the capon, however, its sides of wild rice with currants and saffron spiced purple carrots don’t quite mesh as well while the carrots are slightly undercooked.
Desserts (all $10, while sorbets and ice creams come in at $8) provide a creative, delicious conclusion to the meal. Westport Winter Sunchokes, in name, sound dreadful, but its moist gingerbread cake with olive-oil caramel, lemon mouseline and apple leather are heavenly, if not a tad too sweet. And if strawberry fields are forever, how about tangerine dreams? The namesake dessert, which consists of sponge cake, vermouth-infused tangerine, and meringue brulee, delights my sweet tooth. My companion found the concoction excessively sweet, but I politely disagreed, although the accompanying thyme-buttermilk ice cream, while refreshing, was a bit superfluous given the richness of all the remaining ingredients.
For all of the imaginative dishes on display at Bondir, don’t expect an equally creative cocktail menu to boot. Wine and beer are all that is available here, although the selections are well-thought out and the majority are reasonably priced (such as a lovely bottle of Urbans-hof German Riesling for $39). Aside from a minor hiccup at the outset (our waitress disappeared for a few minutes shortly after checking in on us), service as knowledgeable, pleasant, and extremely well-paced. Chef Bond later visited us tableside to check in on our experience, another welcomed, sincere touch.
Throughout our meal, several diners commented on how grateful they were to have finally secured reservations at this quaint, cozy establishment after months of futile attempts. Laughter, conversations, and wine openly flowed from table to table, as if we were all communally sharing this intimate experience. Yes, Bondir is indeed a dining destination worth waiting for, and I can’t wait to frequent Chef Bond’s highly appealing bistro again, and soon.