Restaurant Review: West Bridge in Cambridge

This Kendall Square newcomer has potential in spades, but feels incomplete.

By Corby Kummer | Boston Magazine |
restaurant review west bridge in cambridge

Beets with broccolini and fennel cream, $10. (Photos by Kristin Teig)

West Bridge, the new restaurant in white-hot Kendall Square, is a charming place that’s doing a good deal of skilled cooking. It’s run by two first-time owners who have worked their way up the local restaurant ranks: Matthew Gaudet and Alexis Gelburd-Kimler. They met when he was the chef and she was the general manager of Aquitaine, the successful South End brasserie that is reliable, professional, and fun.

Presumably Gaudet and Gelburd-Kimler spent a long time dreaming up their ideal restaurant, yet the place they opened feels like an unfinished canvas. The big, clean-lined space—located in the same complex as the Blue Room and the Kendall Square Cinema—has a stark, loftlike look, thanks to warehouse lights, painted concrete pillars, long wood-and-iron tables, and simple wooden chairs that could be from a French garden. It’s inviting, with terrace seating that feels lively and urban. And boy, is it noisy. You have to work to hear the people at your table. When friends complained, the server said, “The owner likes it that way.”

restaurant review west bridge in cambridge

“Egg in a jar,” $12.

Dining at West Bridge feels like being in a movie theater that’s still showing previews. One example from many on the menu: a small plate of calamari with whelks, cockles, and Sweet 100 cherry tomatoes ($13). It’s high-style and fascinating, with squid that’s shredded into impossibly fine, flat, linguine-size ribbons and placed in a briny broth filled with cockles and whelks. But the dish seems to be missing the main element—actual pasta. Gaudet told me he’d tried another version as a carbonara, and using that approach would have completed a dish that seemed more like a sauce.

The ambiance doesn’t align with the prices, which are on par with Aquitaine’s—in fact, some are a bit higher—and the service doesn’t, either. It’s casual and friendly most of the time, but when the servers don’t know the answer to a question, they don’t make much of an effort to find out. They also tend to either vanish when you need them or come to the table when you don’t, as if popping out of a cuckoo clock to ask if everything is delicious.

restaurant review west bridge in cambridge

Duck breast with grilled peaches, $26.

Perhaps such incongruities have become inevitable in the current restaurant scene, in which even customers willing to spend $60 per person on dinner aren’t interested in a formal or sedate atmosphere. Especially not if the restaurant is in the tech corridor that contains ambitious restaurants like Area Four, Catalyst, and the relocated Evoo. All of these places have the same spare aesthetic—big windows, high ceilings with exposed beams and pipes, and sweeping open spaces—yet have found a way to marry a young, casual feel with the kind of experience people expect from a destination restaurant. Catalyst, for instance, has managed to make its large, industrial space feel luxurious, with stone, wood, and cork finishes that soften the harsh surfaces. And the top-notch service at Area Four has attracted diners from all over town.

The food at West Bridge seems rustic, almost thrown together. But as I learned while speaking on the phone with Gaudet after my visits, it isn’t thrown together at all. It’s the product of years of working in agenda-setting New York City kitchens (Eleven Madison Park, Jean-Georges, and Aquavit) run by classically trained chefs. Disappointing, then, that the chef’s obvious skill seems lost in the incomplete, almost-there feeling of so many of the dishes.

restaurant review west bridge in cambridge

Radish toast with lardo, $7.

The disappointment is greatest in the “large” (or main) courses, which were mostly puzzling failures. Squares of beautiful, simply seared snow-white halibut ($27) were finished in a hot oven till they were unpleasantly dry, and paired with a vinaigrette of chorizo in minuscule dice and oddly sweet slices of nectarine steeped in syrup with bergamot. Tough veal chops ($29) were served with a side of Swiss chard in a too-sweet sauce of candied orange zest. Duck breast ($26) with grilled doughnut peaches was sliced so thick as to be nearly impossible to cut. Though, like every large dish, the duck was strangely sweet, it was by far the best-flavored protein. And then there were the giant-size (and -priced) “to share” dishes, which had better technique than flavor. The tastiest of them was roast lamb shoulder ($45), as expertly cooked as any lamb I can remember, with a firm yet tender texture and a marvelous seared crust.

There is a strategy to sampling the best of Gaudet: stick with salads, small plates, and a dessert or two. Local lettuces ($7) in interesting lemony abundance came with a bit of toasted brioche and a zesty honey-thyme lemon vinaigrette that could easily become a new favorite—if it had significantly less salt. Rather than the typical goat-cheese accompaniment, roasted multicolored beets ($10) appeared instead with blanched broccolini, fennel cream, and a warm, savory mixture of dark-toasted bread crumbs with lemon zest, garlic, and anchovies. More toasted bread, this time thin buttered slices of Iggy’s francese, anchored another very well-conceived small dish: radish toast ($7), draped with translucent slices of lardo and served with pickled Japanese mushrooms. It was an elegant tapa.

restaurant review west bridge in cambridge

West Bridge’s industrial-looking Kendall Square space.

Gaudet’s studied technique makes for two dishes that qualify as Boston insta-classics. The “egg in a jar” ($12), a duck egg cooked in a water bath so that both the white and yolk are creamy, was served over a buttery Yukon Gold purée and roasted maitake mushrooms and topped with Turkish pepper and a weighted slice of crisped duck skin. Every bit of it was pleasingly rich.

The other should-be signature is a creative take on the classic s’more ($7). Also layered and served in a glass, it featured homemade marshmallow fluff (slightly less sweet and much creamier than the original) and graham-cracker crumbs toasted in brown butter and cinnamon. At the bottom there was miso caramel and a homemade chocolate pudding, really a panna cotta, made with very good chocolate. You’ll scrape the glass for every last spoonful.

Most of West Bridge, though, seems like it’s waiting to be finished. I hope that the owner and chef, with their obvious talent and enthusiasm, will fill in the blanks with something more than noise.

Other Menu Highlights:

Local-lettuce salad, $7
Roast lamb shoulder, $45
S’mores, $7

Critic Corby Kummer—an editor at The Atlantic and author of The Pleasures of Slow Food—has been reviewing Greater Boston’s top restaurants in our pages since 1997.

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