David Bazirgan Debuts a New Menu at Bambara

The chef sees great potential to make the Cambridge restaurant a dining destination.

Chef David Bazirgan and dishes from his new menu at Bambara in Cambridge

Chef David Bazirgan and dishes from his new menu at Bambara in Cambridge. / Photos by Scott Gardner provided

A family move recently brought chef and native son David Bazirgan back from San Francisco, and now, he’s showing local diners his culinary style at Bambara Kitchen & Bar. A North Shore native whom the San Francisco Chronicle called “one of [the city’s] most respected chefs over the past decade” (he spent 13 years in the Bay Area), Bazirgan joined Bambara as executive chef in August and has been introducing specials nightly. The new menu rolls out tonight.

His transitional period was spent connecting with local purveyors like Verrill Farm, Siena Farms, and Savenor’s meats, networking, and reconnecting with cooks he met in the early days of his career at places like Todd English’s Olives, and the Barbara Lynch Gruppo’s No. 9 Park.

Bazirgan was integral in the conception of Dirty Habit, a swanky, food lover’s bar, which took over for the San Francisco institution Fifth Floor.

In 2013, “We were fine dining, and fine dining wasn’t going anywhere,” Bazirgan says of the decision to re-conceptualize. “We made it what it is to adapt to the climate, and cater to the clientele we wanted, based more around the cocktail program, [people] coming in to have snacks. I see a lot more of that these days, and this is something that we started thinking about four years ago.”

He approached Bambara’s new menu (check it out below) with a similar outlook. Former Bambara chef Jay Silva’s take on New American fare—New England clam chowder, lobster sliders, crab cakes, grilled flatbreads, and the like—“is delicious, but not really how I cook and what I want to do. We’re doing a 180,” Bazirgan says.

There are still entrée-sized dishes, including pastas, a burger, and a grilled pork chop with Romanesco, but the bulk of the menu is smaller plates meant for sharing. The trend toward social dining definitely reflects how people want to eat, Bazirgan says, but it also represents an understanding of market realities.

“How do we do it with less labor?” Bazirgan says. The problem, acutely palpable in Boston, is the worst in San Francisco, Bazirgan says, thanks to high cost of living.

When he and his family decided to move back to the Boston area, Bazirgan kept an eye on the goings-on in the industry and inquired with Bambara when he heard about Silva’s plans to leave. Hotel Marlowe, where the Cambridge restaurant is located, is a Kimpton property, the hospitality group that oversaw Fifth Floor when he started there in 2010.

“I was happy to be back with Kimpton. [Bambara is] a cool property: It does really well, but there’s a lot of opportunity, as well. We’re trying to draw more local [clientele], make it more of destination restaurant, whether they’re driving in from the suburbs or across town,” Bazirgan says.

The dinner rollout highlights a few of the things Bazirgan has started instating at Bambara over the past three months: homemade breads, pastas, and charcuterie.

“I was doing charcuterie at No. 9 park, and I had the environment for dry-curing in San Francisco. Here, we’re doing stuff I can do,” he says. That includes a head cheese, chicken liver mousse, Urfa pepper andouille, country pâté, and beef tendon chicharrón. The opening board will also have artisan speck and salami from an outside producer.

Bazirgan is leading the pastry and bread program, with choereg, an Armenian bread, for the table, and other accompaniments for cheese and charcuterie. Desserts include beignets with last season’s blackberry preserves and ras el hanout sugar (a Moroccan spice blend), and chocolate cremeux with Bosc pear and hazelnut toffee.

In a few weeks, Bambara will revamp its lunch menu, too, including an $18 two-course prix-fixe aimed at the business crowd, plus updated go-tos like sandwiches and salads. The restaurant continues to offer breakfast daily, and Bazirgan will roll out a new brunch menu in the coming weeks, Bazirgan says.

Bambara Kitchen & Bar, at the Hotel Marlowe, 25 Edwin H. Land Blvd., Cambridge, 617-868-4444, bambara-cambridge.com.