Type of Post: 
What's on my Mind?

There is something to be said for a restaurant where you order your favorite dish every time you go, and it always tastes the same. It’s as comforting as the pillow upon which you lay your head, but Bondir isn’t that sort of place. Oh it’s comfortable enough, and the staff is welcoming, and there are no snooty waiters peering down their noses to see which fork you choose. We entered the premises at 279A Broadway in Cambridge on a chilly evening and were offered a seat by a warming fire. We sipped Spanish cava and enjoyed the homelike atmosphere.

But as soon as they brought the bread basket, what we thought of as reality began to twist and bend. There was “sea bread” in which black squid ink ranged across the slice like the negative of a photo of the Milky Way. The bread also contained shrimp and seaweed. I think the shrimp may have been dried and ground to a powder. The bread had the heartiness of wheat and a briny flavor that reminds you of the scent of the ocean when you walk in the froth of waves in the cool of a summer sunrise. I ate it in fascination tinged with disbelief.

I’ve often read about foods like this. Restaurant critics in the nineteenth and the first part of the twentieth century knew exactly how a dish was to be prepared, and a chef who didn’t send it out in in the classic fashion suffered the eloquence of their disdain. Now critics, not wishing to seem like the concert-goers who rioted during the first performance of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, are content to list ingredients with an adjective thrown in here and there. I, on the other hand, know that you, dear reader, want me to tell you whether or not you’d like it.

My answer is that depends on your ability to shed preconceptions and be open to new experiences. When a chef leaves the safety of the orthodox there is a danger of his creating an abomination, and the only safeguard from this is his talent. Brendan Joy, the head chef of Bondir is a man in whose hands the diner is safe. Once you realize that you will have entered an alternate reality, you relax and enjoy the ride. There are delightful surprises.

You don’t have to ponder the menu; they bring it to you, and that’s what you’re going to get. Of course you have a little wiggle room. One of our party was a vegetarian, and she requested a substitute for the Beef Rib, with a confit of radicchio, bordelaise, and pickled kumquats. She got fluke instead, and they left the crisp curls of Parma ham off her portion of winter squash tortellini with black walnut. The staff believes wholeheartedly in the excellence of what they offer. We were brought a large bowl containing celery root and shreds of black trumpet mushrooms sitting in a warm broth made from those ingredients. When Erin, our server, saw me lift the bowl to my lips and drink the exquisite liquid, she beamed.

Chef Joy sent out a little extra consisting of a wild rice chip with Umami powder and black cherry puree. You will recognize the consistency of the chip if you eat Cheez Doodles. There are many crisp snack chips in Asian cuisine that are similar to it, but despite the wild rice base, it was still a chip. The powder ramped up the savory flavor, and the sweet fruit astonished the palate. Joy is not without audacity. The prix fixe menu is $68 per person for five courses. They are small, but if you don’t make a face and push some of them aside, they make a satisfying meal. For $35 more, i opted for an extra of risotto with black truffle. I was excited at the prospect. The risotto was the best I ever had, but I reached for the flavor of the truffle and didn’t find it. Annette, who sampled it, thought it was fine, but a truffle should knock your socks off, and this one didn’t.

That was my only complaint. With the bottle of the cava and three other glasses of wine plus my risotto, the bill was a budget-buster, but considering the excellence of the ingredients and the amount of skilled labor that went into their preparation, the dinner was a bargain. I advise you to skip bacon and egg breakfasts at your favorite café, forgo hamburger lunches, and even a steak dinner kicked off with a martini. Save your money, push all your chips onto the table, and take a chance. I’m betting you won’t be disappointed, but if you’re the timid soul, stick with IHOP.

We finished with what the menu lists as a Red Ida Fritelle. I’ll call it apple fritters with white chocolate, caramel sauce, and a topping of brown bread ice cream. It was perfect and sent us out into the December night a happy group.