Finally! We finally got to experience "spring-like" weather yesterday with temperatures flirting with the 60's. Of course, with that came some lovely intermittent rain showers, but for brief moments, it was glorious to actually feel the warmth of the sunshine on my face.
Spring is a time when seasonal menus finally start to come alive again. Instead of being stuck with different variations on winter root vegetables, menus "spring" to life with fresh ingredients like garlic scapes, asparagus, ramps, and nettle.
A couple weeks ago, West Bridge reached out to me to tell me about Chef Matt Gaudet's new 4-course tasting menu. A relatively new addition to the menu, the 4-course Seasonal Tasting costs $52 per person and replaces a 5-course tasting menu they used to have. Would I be interested in trying it?
I have always been curious about dinner at West Bridge. It's been on my "to try" list for quite some time now (not a surprise, considering the numerous accolades it has received).
It wasn't a hard decision. Even though Bryan would be flying straight back from a two-week around-the-world trip, we decided to have dinner at West Bridge the first night Bryan was back in town, jet-lag and all.
West Bridge is no stranger to recognition and awards. Soon after it opened in 2012, it won Eater's "Restaurant of the Year" award. The following year, executive chef-owner Matt Gaudet won Food and Wine Magazine's Best New Chef award (2013). West Bridge still holds coveted spots in multiple lists, such as Boston Magazine's Top 50 Restaurants (2014) and Bon Appetit's Top 50 Restaurants (2013). Devra First from the Boston Globe gave it three and a half stars out of four, an enviable score attained only by a small, handful of restaurants.
Pictured above: Lunch! Duck Liver + Saba Toast, Chickpea Quinoa Salad, and Chopped Chicken & Romaine Salad
I'd visited West Bridge once before, just for a simple lunch. At the time, I was immediately impressed with the freshness of the local ingredients (the salads were lovely), and the overall quality of the food.
Because it was daytime, I loved the vast amounts of sunlight streaming through the tall windows. The space felt cheery, bright, and relaxing.
In fact, I loved that bright open feeling so much, I opted to have my dinner early as well (5:30!), to take advantage of our later sunsets.
Bryan started with a cocktail called "The Heatwave", which included Mezcal, Averna (an Italian amaro), ginger, lime, and jalapeño.
"Try it, I think you'll like it."
I took a sip. It most certainly had a smoky kick to it, yet was also sweet from the lime and ginger.
We began with a warm amuse, a tiny little glass cup filled with a root vegetable pureed soup topped with coffee oil and pepitas. I couldn't quite pinpoint all the root vegetables, but the flavors were comforting and familiar, reminding me of the root vegetable soups I had made during the autumn with my farm share CSA vegetables.
All of their bread is baked in-house. It was sourdough the day we went, and we both loved the delightfully intense tartness of the bread. The bread itself was dense and not super moist, but had lovely flavor and went well with the butter.
Our first official course was a Cured Swordfish Salad. Slices of tender swordfish cured in fennel and salt came over a bed of chutney made from fennel, capers, and oven-roasted tomatoes. A "Tonato" dressing made from egg yolk, oil, garlic, capers, and anchovies pulled it all together.
"It's like an aoili" the server explained to us.
On top sat a bright salad of seasonal greens: salsify ribbons, shaved purple top turnips, frisee, and mache all tossed together in a yuzu kosho vinaigrette. Finally, a few sourdough crisps completed the composed plate.
Both of us really liked this dish. The cured swordfish was super tender and had a texture similar to sashimi, which I love. The saltiness of the swordfish was nicely balanced by the sweetness from the yuzu kosho vinaigrette. Overall, it was a well thought-out dish that worked exceptionally well.
The second course was Octopus cooked sous vide for 12 hours. It came over a toasted barley ragout with an olive, squid ink, and celery root puree. The dish was topped with a relish which included pomelo (a citrus), shallots, and guanciale. On top, a few radish greens added color and crunch. Tableside, the server poured a mussels "fumet" (broth) which tied the entire dish together.
In all honesty, Bryan and I were both a bit confused by the dish. The olive flavor was very, very pronounced, so much so that it overpowered the delicate mussels fumet. The dish had a lot of depth from the combination of the earthy squid ink, salty olives, and smoky guanciale. The pomelo served as a bright and tart contrast, though Bryan wasn't a fan of it in the dish (I didn't mind it). The octopus was fine, but it wasn't as tender as other versions I've had around Boston. All in all, there were a lot of interesting flavors, but at the end neither of us loved the entire dish as a whole.
Nevertheless, it was still reasonably enjoyable and a very generous portion size as well. We each ate about half and packed the rest for later.
The third course was a lovely Grilled Hangar Steak that came served over nettle puree together with beer pickled onions, a crunchy black garlic crumble, squash with sunflower "Hozon" (a trademarked seasoning by David Chang consisting of seeds fermented with koji and salt), and fried Brussels sprout leaves.
We both loved this dish. The steak was beautifully cooked. It had a lovely sear on the outside and yet was super soft and tender on the inside. Additionally, the components worked really well together. I loved the grassy herbaceous nettle puree, which complemented the meaty steak so well. I especially enjoyed the crunch and bursts of flavor from the black garlic crumble. Similarly, the "Hozon" and crunchy Brussels sprouts added additional layers of flavors that overall came together really, really well.
If I wasn't so full already, I would have loved to finish this course. However, we were already quite full from the generously sized portions we had earlier, so we also ate about half this course and packed the rest for later.
Dessert was a Dark Chocolate Cremeux which included a chocolate crisp (left) and a caramel corn ice cream (right) on top of a passion fruit caramel. Tiny kernels of puffed sorghum completed the dish. I really enjoyed the caramel corn ice cream, which was rich and had a nice, deep caramel flavor. I personally thought that the passion fruit caramel on the bottom made the overall dessert a bit too sweet, but I'm guessing that I'm in the minority on that opinion, since I am pretty sensitive when it comes to sweetness of desserts. All in all, it was a creative dessert and it was pretty good and definitely enjoyable (I just used less of the passion fruit caramel in my spoonfuls!).
In general, we came away quite impressed with Chef Matt Gaudet's cooking. The seasonal tasting menu is definitely executed with a lot of creativity, love, and care. I personally loved the cured swordfish and hangar steak courses. Both showcased seasonal ingredients beautifully and I would order those again in a heartbeat if I could. In general, I thought the portion sizes were very generous and we took home quite a bit of food. Seriously, any of the first three courses could have been a decent (European-sized) entree. The leftovers were perfect for Bryan the following evening at home while I was out teaching a food photography workshop with the Harvard University Taiwanese Cultural Society.
I believe the menu will change every couple of weeks depending on what's in season. It will be fun to revisit throughout the spring and summer to see what new creative ideas Chef Matt Gaudet has in mind!
Thanks West Bridge for the opportunity to try this!
West Bridge Cambridge
1 Kendall Square
Cambridge, MA 02141
Disclaimer: We did not pay for the Seasonal Tasting Menu. We paid for everything else (lunch, drinks, gratuity, etc). All opinions are my own.