Bondir (Cambridge): The secret’s out as diners flock to taste chef Jason Bond’s improvised farm-to-table cuisine

Chef Jason Bond changes his menu daily as he features the freshest ingredients his purveyors have to offer. Photo by Kateryna Odyntsova

The name is Bond.  Jason Bond.  And what he’s doing in Cambridge’s Area 4 section is no secret.

Bondir, the chef’s first solo venture, recently garnered a Bon Appétit Magazine Best New Restaurants in America citation for its “homespun” farm-to-table cuisine.  The tiny eatery aims to give diners that salt-of-the-earth experience of having somebody who cares — say, one’s doting grandma — procure and cook the freshest food imaginable.

But the erudite Bond (Beacon Hill Bistro) describes himself as “a locavore by default.”  In his quest “to showcase special ingredients by people doing things in a special way,” he just happens to have a nest of outstanding purveyors — farmers, ranchers, fishermen — nearby and at the ready.

With a network of farmers, ranchers and fishermen, Bond has the good fortune of being a "locavore by default." Photo by Kateryna Odyntsova

“A farmer can call us and say he has 20 pounds of pea greens. And we can take it and have pea greens soup that night,” he says.

Bond, a former musician, likes to ad-lib, and almost his entire menu changes daily.  So instead of offering an item from every category — say beef, poultry and fish — he is free to simply serve whatever is fresh and available.

If something is abundant, it may be a featured item.  If there’s only a limited amount, it may appear as an accompaniment or even a garnish.

“It keeps the ideas fresh,” says Bond, who played the trombone and upright bass.  “It’s a much harder way to cook than when you are coming in every day knowing what you’re going to cook.

“It allows for flexibility and improvisation, which is a lot of fun.”

But like the best musicians, Bond has a solid foundation that enables him to make things up as he goes along.

Although he improvises a lot, Bond has a solid culinary foundation, having spent years as a chef; he also voraciously reads cookbooks "like they were novels." Photo by Kateryna Odyntsova

“It’s been 20 years of paying attention and not going through the motions of the job,” says Bond, who has devoured cookbooks “like they were novels.”  Some of his primary inspirations include Harold McGee’s “On Food and Cooking” and texts by the Culinary Institute of America.

Bond believes his food, like music, “should paint a picture.”

“Hopefully, it’s evocative of something,” he says.  “You can make a dish that says ‘spring’ or ‘the coast of Scotland,’ ‘the Mediterranean’ or ‘the mountains of Wyoming.’

Indeed, some of Bond’s dishes evoke a particular place or time.  But others are clearly his original compositions.  And played together, these pieces can make for one well-conducted meal.

I visited Bondir on an early spring evening with my college friend Robin.  And we were happy to see almost every dish offered in both small and large portions.  This was a terrific option for two women who wanted to sample as much as humanly possible.  Robin, after all, was not only my college housemate, but my food soul mate, the one person who walked side by side with me as I packed on the “freshman 15.”

The chef wants his dishes to evoke something special for Bondir's guests — be it a specific time or place. Photo by Kateryna Odyntsova

Bond’s welcome trio of fresh-baked breads with creamery butter was greatly appreciated.  While many chefs have taken to charging for their artisan breads, Bond’s were complimentary, and featured both a rustic nine-grain and a caraway rye.  The standout, however, was “the sea,” a marbling of dehydrated shrimp and squid ink wonderfully heavy on the sea salt.

I admittedly had high expectations for Bondir.  But I honestly wasn’t prepared for Bond’s unique ingredient pairings and unexpected flavor combinations.

Take Bond’s spinach pappardelle ($15/28).  I saw pappardelle.  I saw Parmigiano-Reggiano.  And I immediately expected to experience a very good bowl of Italian pasta. But the dish, which features butternut squash, celery baton and French breakfast radish, instead reminded me of the very best part of a really great bowl of my Bubby’s noodle soup — from its earthy vegetables to its broth-soaked noodles.  And the grated cheese added the perfect dusting of tang and saltiness.

Menu items celebrate unique ingredient pairings and flavor combinations. Photo by Kateryna Odyntsova

Stewed fresh chickpeas ($15/$28) had the same effect.  I registered dried olives and baby artichokes among its components, and anticipated a Mediterranean-influenced mixture.  Instead, the legumes had a naturally sweet, split pea-like flavor that was unadulterated by any anticipated seasonings or ingredients.  Woodbury Wellfleet clams and Scituate lobster proved offbeat — but totally enjoyable — additions to the mix.

Hand-made burrata ($14/$26), on the other hand, was totally straightforward.  But it still impressed with its incredible milky freshness and delicious simplicity.  During our visit, Bond paired the cheese with Westport spring herbs and greens, shaved vegetables and a shallot-tinged citrus vinaigrette.  A flavorful anise-seed crisp served as both garnish and salad scoop.

Robin and I pushed on with Bond’s Concord rabbit turnover ($14/$26) — a super-buttery homemade pastry crust filled with gamey rabbit, mustard greens and Brussels sprouts served with green garlic salsa.  And we finished off with a last-vestiges-of-winter Wagyu beef brisket sauerbraten.  Surely gone by now, the filling cider-glazed beef was plated with fig-dotted rye, wheat berries and brown-sugar parsnips.

Bondir offers most dishes in small and large sizes, which is helpful for those who want to leave room for dessert. Photo by Kateryna Odyntsova

Could we have passed on desserts?  Yes.  Did we?  No.

And that proved a smart move, as Bond gets a standing O for his sweets.  The richness of chocolate panna cotta ($10) was offset by Kalimantan lime mostarda, blood orange gel and pistachio.

But our closing number — tangerine dream ($10) — deserves an extra round of applause.  Here, Bond tops spongy génoise cake with vermouth-infused tangerine, thyme-buttermilk ice cream and a toasty crown of meringue brulée.

Had Robin and I had room, we might have shouted, “Encore!”

279A Broadway
Cambridge, MA 02139

Bondir on Urbanspoon

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