Corby Goes to Bondir
On display in the restaurant is a blown-up charcoal portrait (done by Bond’s grandfather) of a distinguished breed of pig: the Mangalitsa, currently the breed of choice in the nationwide cult of swine. It’s prized for its high fat content, which Bond turns into home-cured lardo. At my dinners he draped it over two first courses: burrata with shaved vegetable salad, pistachio vinaigrette, and aniseed tuile ($14/$26); and seared baby artichokes, Berkshire pork, fava beans, and greenhouse lettuces ($14/$26). I’ve had lardo with more flavor — his is pretty bland — but the fat was impeccable, and lent a welcome richness to the artichokes.
You’d expect someone so farm-oriented to be good with vegetables, and Bond certainly is: The ones with the burrata made winter seem fresh, and Bond sprinkled pollen (from fennel flowers he bought last season) over the plate. (He says he takes a snout-to-tail approach to edible plants, too.) But it was the pork that made both dishes — particularly the big, square lardons, slightly smoky and very porky, served over the artichokes. Those lardons ought to be used as often as the lardo, even if Bond doesn’t always help raise the pig.
Because I’m so sympathetic to Bond’s sensibility, I’m at risk of overselling. So I’ll say that if you’re someone who wonders what the big deal is about fresh-local cuisine, and you’re unwilling to make allowances for subtle flavor, you could come away disappointed, as I did with several selections. Wagyu brisket sauerbraten with roasted fingerling potatoes and braised sauerkraut ($15/$28) seemed dry and stringy, even though the Wagyu, a luxuriously fatty meat, was braised for hours in wine vinegar with spices; likewise, the potatoes were dry and mealy. Quinault River steelhead ($16/$30), a spring-run fish from Washington state, was a rare seasonal treat but low in flavor; a homemade pickle — the current de rigueur — of nail-size Japanese mushrooms and bean sprouts (grown at Red Fire Farm in Granby) helped. The roasted rutabaga that came with it sounded unappealing but did have a depth thanks to the beef fat in the roasting pan. Meanwhile, a disk of roasted butternut squash was the best part of a dish that also included teff polenta and mustard oil ($12/$23); the teff just seemed like mush. Grits with the same squash on another night were a much better match.
But I’m a sucker for most anything heirloom, such as those grits. And for the nutty, fresh flavor of the flours Bond uses — most from Four Star Farms in Northfield — in the breads he’s teaching himself to make with admirable results (pray he’s serving the cranberry-walnut when you go). As for the expertise he acquired during a year cooking for the L. A. Burdick restaurant at its New Hampshire headquarters? He puts that to use in the best dessert, chocolate panna cotta ($10), the most delicate but deeply chocolaty pudding you’ll ever have.
Bond continues to learn each night. But this is a chef who’s grown enormously during his years on farms and in restaurants. I’ll make Bondir a mark on my own growth chart, too.
Bondir, 279A Broadway, Cambridge, 617-661-0009, bondircambridge.com.