Corby Goes to Bondir

WITH BONDIR, JASON BOND JOINS THE RANKS of our top artisan chef-owners. His intimate restaurant deserves to be a place of pilgrimage for visiting and local foodies alike.

[sidebar]There’s nothing showy about the place, located on a sleepy, mostly commercial block near Kendall Square. The small storefront’s lovely glass-windowed fireplace in the front and pillow-accented seating nook are practically the only real decoration. It’s spare and pleasant here, not noisy. The focus is entirely on the food.

And the food merits that kind of attention. In its humble way, Bondir serves some of the most elegantly conceived and executed dishes in the area. Bond manages to avoid the overwrought pretension that runs through too much of the current farm-to-table approach. Even if he doesn’t get every part of every offering just right, he nails the attitude.

Two interrelated dishes brought that home for me. The first was red wine–braised hen with Vidalia onion, calypso beans, and white-flint cornmeal cake ($15 for a half portion, $28 for a full — a wonderful policy I wish every chef would adopt, because it lets a group of four taste pretty much every item on a night’s menu). The wording is careful: “Hen” doesn’t refer to chicken you get in the supermarket. Bond’s come from Pete & Jen’s Backyard Birds in Concord. They’re stewing hens, two or three years old rather than the usual six to nine months, and at the end of the most productive part of their egg-laying life — the kind of specimens that gave rise to the expression “tough old bird.” The meat seems dry, shrunken, chewy, and dark compared with the Michelin Man birds we’re used to. But if you think of it as game — and game that needs some allowances (pigeon, quail, and the like on menus are farm-raised specifically to be served, and therefore not subject to lives of hard labor) — the flavor rewards are great. The roasted juices, which Bond uses to sauce the floury-textured fresh calypso beans, permeated the corn cake (lighter than a johnnycake but just as full of corn taste). The plate was like a farm-to-table version of chicken and waffles.

Bond knows how to run a frugal kitchen, as he shows with my favorite offering: buckwheat tagliatelle with celery simmered in pu-erh (an aged tea); braised chicken; ricotta; and olive oil–toasted breadcrumbs ($13/$24). Though not strictly an Italian preparation, it’s an example of how an Italian farm cook would make pasta: using the leftover shredded meat and pan drippings from yesterday’s roast. The homemade pasta, prepared with nutty buckwheat from Barker’s Creek Mill in Rabun Gap, Georgia, had marvelous taste (though, as with the hen, there was a slight tradeoff in chewiness). It’s a masterly dish, yet truly rustic, with homemade ricotta, tea-steeped celery, sweet local spinach, and whey from the ricotta that lent a luxurious thickness to the sauce.

Bond grew up in Wyoming and Kansas with farmers and artists, and absorbed the kitchen lessons of his grandmothers before learning of a more exalted kind from Ken Oringer and Barbara Lynch and, at an early and clearly formative job, from George Germon and Johanne Killeen at Al Forno. His background led to a personal philosophy, which he brought up in regard to Pete & Jen’s: Once a month he assists with the slaughtering, because “you should put in a day’s labor to help someone who needs it.”