Restaurant Review: West Bridge in Cambridge
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.”
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.
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.