Where bold meets brasserie

BY JUSTIN OSOFSKY

In every end, a new beginning. The last issue of The RECORD may be upon us, but news continues to pour in from the Boston restaurant scene. Following a winter of notable culinary activity (ranging from the much anticipated launch of the nearby Upstairs on the Square to the opening of Teatro in the Theatre District from the owners of Mistral), spring promises plenty of excitement. The most recent buzz comes from Bambara, a chic restaurant adjacent to the Cambridgeside Galleria, which opened in late March with much fanfare and great potential.

Bambara is the restaurant of the Hotel Marlowe, the latest incarnation of the Kimpton Group’s growing national chain of luxury boutique hotels. However, it disdains any classification as a “hotel restaurant.” To break from the generic mold, the Kimpton Group hires talented local chefs and gives them substantial autonomy in developing their restaurant concepts. For Bambara, it chose the precocious Tom Berry. Only 28 years old, Berry has already served as sous chef at Ming Tsai’s Blue Ginger. Bambara’s menu reflects his fusion background, alternating from French to Asian to nouveau American (occasionally in the same dish).

Walking into the restaurant, you may briefly forget where you are because the design of Bambara feels much more hip Financial or Ladder District than Cambridge. The entrance and restaurant seating area rises above the stylish sunken bar area, with its spiraling column of alcohol and open kitchen. Bambara has put impressive thought into libations, and has an ample bar menu that includes many appetizers from the regular menu as well as a burger with crispy pancetta and pommes frites ($9.50). Featured drinks include the Bambara Bellini (fresh peach puree and champagne) and a Blue Cosmopolitan (vodka, white cranberry juice and blue curacao). The wine list is expansive, and offers a reasonable selection by the glass. And after-dinner options include one of the best scotch and cognac selections in Cambridge.

But Bambara is not simply a “scene” restaurant (a good thing because the crowd is more Cambridge and touristy than chic). Its food can easily stand on its own. While the dining experience has some of the hiccups characteristic of a new restaurant, it nonetheless reveals plenty of potential. Bambara offers a diverse appetizer selection under four categories: Crispy, Fancy, Leafy (salads) and Soupy. “Crispy” fans should try the dumplings ($7). In a successful fusion experiment, four empanada-like dumplings are stuffed with wild mushrooms and brie. The creaminess of the cheese is offset by a tangy balsamic vinegar, soy, and scallion dipping sauce, and the concoction as a whole works. “Fancier” options include marvelously fresh Blue Point oysters on the half shell topped with a champagne mignonette spiked with black pepper and scallions ($10).

For a chef with Perry’s fusion upbringing, the entrees – while well-executed – have surprisingly non-risky preparations. A standout is the halibut, surrounded by a crab crust and served with roasted fingerling potatoes and steamed cockle clams ($22). The cheesy, creamy polenta served with the organic roast chicken was highly addictive, more so than the chicken itself which while good was fairly uninventive ($17). The oven glazed duck breast was an attractive medium rare and seared perfectly, though the wild rice and warm duck confit salad formed a somewhat bland background ($23).

The dessert selection is more risky than the entrees. Unusual options include a pistachio popover with honey vanilla ice cream and strawberry rhubarb compote ($7) and passion fruit crème brulee ($6.50). The a la mode options are also standouts, ranging from a fudgy brownie with warm caramel and vanilla bean ice cream ($6.50) to a rustic pear tart topped with pecan streusel bourbon ice cream ($7).

Bambara touts itself as a restaurant “where bold meets brasserie.” And while some experiments are more successful than others, Chef Perry is clearly a rising young talent and Bambara is a most welcome addition to the Cambridge dining scene.

Bambara’s new beginning coincides with the end of The RECORD’s publication schedule. Many thanks to Alex Sundstrom, Eugene Mar and Eric Czepyha for their excellent food reviews. In addition, thanks to the wine columnists (Josh Solomon, Duncan Crosby and Michael Chaisanguanthum) for both increasing our knowledge of wine and their social lives. We have greatly enjoyed sharing our experiences this year, and wish you the best of luck on your culinary adventures ahead.

Getting there:

Bambara
25 Edwin Land Blvd.
(617) 868-4444
5:30 – 10 (M-Th); 5:30-11 (F,Sa);
5:30-9 (Su)

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