A Hamburger Today
Boston: Bondir Sets High Standard For Seasonal New England Cuisine
"I felt like my dinner had been cooked by an old friend, which is the literal truth, but I can't think of an old friend whose kitchen I'd rather be eating from."
To say that I'm unbiased when it comes to chef Jason Bond's cooking would be more than a bit misleading. I'm a fervent fan of his, and have been ever since working with him about a decade when he was the Chef de Cuisine at Barbara Lynch's No. 9 Park in Boston, and I still didn't even know how to slice a shallot.
Since then, the self-proclaimed farm boy from Kansas (he comes from a family of ranchers) has gone on to work as chef at Burdick Chocolates, and more recently as the chef at the Beacon Hill Hotel & Bistro, serving a New England-inflected take on rustic French cuisine.
With Bondir—a cozy spot just outside of Central Square in Cambridge in the old Con Sol digs that opened last November—he's finally got a restaurant of his own, and it's a good one. It's small—only about 30 seats or so—with the front third of the restaurant devoted entirely to a fireside waiting area where gracious servers pass out glasses of wine and plates of hors d'oeuvres before dinner. It feels more like the living room of a New England B&B than anything else. I can't think of a cozier space.
Once you're seated, every meal starts with house-baked bread. Of the four on the plate, the 9-grain was the best. All of them had good sourdough flavor and a nice rustic crumb, though we didn't detect much squid ink flavor in the Sepia-nori version (despite the dark black swirl running through it).
The menu format is perhaps the best part of the whole deal. Nearly every dish is offered in either appetizer or entrée-sized portions, so you can make an entire meal with a few friends grazing half portions of things like a pile of springy cavatelli with a musky wild boar and venison ragoût ($14/26), and a Beef Brisket Saurbraten ($16/30) served meltingly tender with whole poached pears and braised carrots.
Or, if you'd prefer, you can hog an entire full-sized portion of his Chestnut Tagliatelle ($13/23) to yourself. You'll want to. It comes spotted with cultured ricotta cheese and a dusting of olive oil bread crumbs over a stew of celery and cabbage.
His style has always been thoughtful, comforting, and simple, with an eye towards the classic American dishes of his youth (think chicken and noodles or beef braised with onions). Now that he's finally got a place all to himself, it's no surprise that the menu and space embody these values.
Even in an age where it seems like every chef is serving "local" cuisine, it's hard to find someone who's walking the walk as much as Bond does—impressive, given harsh New England winters. What's striking, though, is that eating your way through the menu, you don't miss anything. It's only after that you realize that you've just finished a meal entirely composed of turnips, carrots, parsnips, celery, and other such normally tedious fare; such is his remarkable way with vegetables.
Folks would quit complaining that winter is the worst season for vegetables if more chefs took their radishes as seriously as Bond does.
Meat and seafood are equally well-considered, and nowhere is it more apparent than in the stunning Roasted Chicken Breast ($15/28) easily as moist a bird as I've ever had. The birds are pasture raised just outside of Boston from Pet & Jen's Backyard Birds. Bond regularly makes the trip out to Concord to slaughter the birds himself. How's that for commitment? Though the accompaniments may change with the season, I pray the chicken never does.
His style may be unmistakable (it's easy to tell that all of these dishes are coming from the same kitchen), but his influences are vast. From the distinct Indian spicing of his Georgia Candy Roaster Pumpkin Soup ($9) with a sprinkle of caramelized shallots to the sourdough flatbread served under an explosion of shaved root vegetables and creamy locally-produced burrata, it's clear that he's been around the block a few times.
The kitchen at Bondir is tiny. Bond, along with cooks Lan Lam (formerly of Craigie on Main) and Daniel Amighi form the entirety of the kitchen crew. Still, they take no shortcuts, offering both cheese (a single well-curated option each night), and a couple of desserts with admittedly silly names like Tangerine Dream and Chocolate Enlightenment ($10, Bond says, " "well, we couldn't think of any good dessert names, so we just made up humorous ones"). The first is a cake paired with thyme-scented buttermilk ice cream, while the latter is a creamy, cold pyramid of chocolate (oddly paired with a parsnip puree on the side, which we didn't care for).
Tied so closely to the seasons and to Bond's own inquisitive palate, the menu here changes more often, perhaps, than any other restaurant in town, which means that the only thing that's ever the same twice is the warmth of service and care that goes into the food. It's a really great addition to the already spectacular Cambridge dining scene.
Like I said earlier, yes, I'm biased. When I say that leaving Bondir, I felt like my dinner had been cooked by an old friend, I'm telling the literal truth, but I can't think of an old friend whose kitchen I'd rather be eating from.