Eggs, coddled in heaven: West Bridge brings unpretentious flair to Kendall
RESTAURANT REVIEW: West Bridge Restaurant
Nearly open for a year, West Bridge is back in the limelight, this time under Food & Wine’s fanfare. Chef-owner and Aquitaine alum Matthew Gaudet made the list of the magazine’s ten Best New Chefs, and the culinary tour de force has breathed new life into an ever-changing dining scene of Kendall Square, now a swanky destination for neighbors Blue Room and Area Four, and more conveniently a cafeteria for the tech wunderkind of Microsoft and Google.
That Gaudet has previously worked his way up in Eleven Madison Park and Jean Georges—much like the ambitious chefs today—shouldn’t be reason to dine here. Paradoxical, in fact, is how West Bridge is conveniently designed like an industrial-chic cafe cum storage facility: veneered woods throughout, high ceilings, prohibition-era lamps, exposed white-bricks, and no tablecloth in sight harks back to a sandwich-stop.
On the flipside, however, is subtle elevation here and there, like gorgeously unfinished porcelain,1950’s window blinds, a keen eye to eye-popping color in their terrific vegetables dishes, and charming (but not schmoozing-ly so) waiters dressed in pale pink oxford shirts. Come in bohemian chic attire—distressed denim paired with white poplin shirts seems to be the norm—a vintage suit, or a t-shirt bearing the name of your company. On our first dining occasion, we spot a man in his late 20’s with a Twitter-logo t-shirt and corduroy blazer working off Wednesday night munchies. He seemed to be enjoying himself — first trappings of a happy diner.
The real test is the food, most of which is astonishingly good. Do come with high expectations, as Gaudet is here to exceed them all: from a woven basket, snug with warm, fluffy sourdough bread to roughly snipped carrots and the Eggs in the Jar. The latter dish, reproduced in an intersection between oeufs en cocotte and onsen tamago (or so my Japanese aficionado dining-partner enthusiastically points out), has been a media-darling in recent press reviews, and rightfully so: in a tiny mason jar, smoky, golden duck eggs, cooked just past runny till it just barely quivers, co-mingle with crisp duck skin, silky pommes puree and hen of the woods mushrooms to a holier-than-thou perfection. By far, the $12 dish contends as among the best egg dishes ever conceived — rich, salty, fatty and faintly umami.
But perfection doesn’t always come at the cost of excess. Gaudet’s produce-driven menu means that products as simple as carrots and cauliflowers are given the most respectful treatment, and small tasting portions, too, warrant breadth in dining. Highly recommended is his carrots ($11), which arrive with strings attached, literally with their chewy stalks, blackened with a smoky sear, an aioli-like barney milk, whipped to tart-tinged thickness that counterbalances the acidity of the slightly crunchy carrots. Or the beets ($9), roasted like meat and similarly paired with sweet dates.
There is also no shortage of more carnivorous options, like Crispy Pigs Head ($13), which sounds like respectful homage to Tony Maws’ Crispy Pigs Ears at Craigie on Main but in reality is a simpler—remarkably so—in its crisp deep-fried form is offset by a delicate fried-egg puree, root vegetables and crowned with frisee: textbook perfect in theory, but missing in the dreaminess that Gaudet weaves in his previous dishes. Luckily, a rich but not cloying seafood potages takes you there, and beyond. With clams and mussels, Gaudet nods to New England chowder ($14); with cider subtly thrown in the mix, he brings in a lightness that isn’t watered-down; with uni butter there’s an elevation into highbrow, and with grilled toast he expects you to wipe-up every last drop. But here, an extra kick: twirls of chewy calamari, cut thin, long and strewn into the soup-bowl as if it’s clam-chowder-noodle soup. Ingenious.
So enraptured diners might be in the small plates that they ignore the bigger picture: entrees and “big” plates to share. It’s difficult to decide.
“Oh gosh, I love them all,” our server Grey quips as we ponder in undecided silence. Even the Chicken ($42; portioned for 2-4), which he insists is so tender and ‘bacon-ey.’ We decided to give in, and never looked back.
Perched nakedly on a platter, a whole chicken has been expertly segmented to showcase the breast in pristine form, and the drumstick unscathed as it rightfully should. You might not need the jus, which only moistens an already perfectly-roasted bird more; roasted skin, crisp but not overly so, encases the well-bred meat’s pillowy tenderness — white with a faint trace of pink creeping towards the drumstick. Eat them with little treasures that fill a small ramekin: thick-diced bacon and cubed trumpet royale mushrooms. Or better yet: have the platter arrive with a heaping plate of Black Tuscan Kale ($11), sweetened with bright yellow gooseberries, duck confit, and finished with a spritz of lemon—any veggie lover’s wet-dream.
If only desserts ($8), announced at the end of dinner, could live up to expectations, then one needn’t end the meal on a lesser note. With something as theoretically unique as white-chocolate, coffee and parsnip parfait, nothing jives. The parfait, an over-frozen block of custard, a bland coffee gelee (much like granita), and an unnecessary flourish of coffee-clove foam are all difficult to finish. Slightly better is a deconstructed lemon meringue resembling a slab of butter speckled with shortbread crumble: a citrusy, if not sickly sweet treat. It’s a break to our momentary revel in gastronomic silence, but hopefully a short-lived one, too. West Bridge is still making waves, and we’re all in for the ride.
– Jon Cheng