One taste of Chef Jay Silva's sweet potatoes at the Eat, Drink and Be Fair event and I was intrigued enough to learn more about his cooking at Bambara in Cambridge. So, when an invitation appeared in my "In-Box" to try out his restaurant, I happily agreed.
Bambara is a perfect place for a "date night" for a few reasons. First, it is the apex of convenience. I suspect that like us, most parents have no time to actually shop. So the fact that it is literally attached to the Cambridgeside Galleria can make it a bonus to have a great meal after buying some clothes or gifts. When we arrived on a night with driving rain, we also were thankful for the inexpensive parking garage that makes it simple to find parking in Cambridge.
The restaurant itself has the potential to be pretentious and clubby. It is anything but. Instead, the modern furniture and warm service from our waiter, Mustafa, made us feel welcome.
The curved and plush booth was a romantic twist for my birthday meal, while a chance to have dessert by the open kitchen gave us a chance to chat with Chef Silva.
Mustafa helped to steer us towards drinks that are on their "Cocktails for a Cure" Menu. The Grapefruit Spritzer was crisp and refreshing while the Orange Blossom Fizz had a flowery taste from the St. Germain. We closed the night with a "Morning Daiquiri," which tasted better than the description of rum mixed with orange marmalade!
The Chef treated us to tasting portions of a number of the dishes to give us a sense of his cooking. While he trained at the Newbury College's Culinary Program, he cooked at both the Ritz and Pho Republique. So, he has both French and Asian influences on the menu. Yet he also calls his food "Contemporary American". What I noticed was a menu that had a nice balance of meat, fish and vegetarian options, as well as both small and more substantial options.
We started with two different appetizers. My husband had arancini filled with short ribs.
These risotto balls had the soothing comfort of meatloaf and were a substantial starter.
I enjoyed the arugula salad that was topped with spiced walnuts and fried goat cheese. It was gooey, rich and delicious.
Next, I enjoyed the lobster sliders. These also came with a delicious side of greens.
The buttery rolls could have been a light meal in themselves. What I enjoyed most was the fact that the lobster was warm and wasn't coated with mayonnaise.
Next, my husband had a tasting portion of the pumpkin risotto.
This was a dish that has potential. The pumpkin flesh and seeds added contrast and depth.
However, the balsamic was too acidic for this dish and marred the more soothing flavors. I tried another fall speciality: a spicy squash bisque with coconut milk. Tasting of curry in a bowl, it was warming and filling.
Next, I had the weakest dish of the night: tuna tartare. Perhaps I have been spoiled by other versions, but this would have been stronger if the tuna was chopped less finely (e.g. diced to retain the texture) and with less of the binder.
The best tuna tartare are the most simple, letting the meatiness of the tuna shine through.
However, my husband's main dish was a true success.
First, the skirt steak was cooked perfectly and the accompanying sauce added, rather than detracted from the dish. We couldn't stop eating the "frites."
These french fries are cooked in fresh oil in their own fryer. This means that they were clean and crisp. Yet they were also fried with fresh rosemary, adding a subtle pine to the dish. The slow roasted tomatoes that were served on the side were so good, that they could be the centerpiece of another dish.
My main dish had 3 good elements. The scallops, perhaps due to the Chef's French training, were seared perfectly.
The smoked tomatoes still tasted of summer, despite it being November. The pulled pork was rich and would have been delicious on its own, in say, a pork slider. I never grasped these parts together. Together they lost what made each one good enough on its own.
We ended the meal with two treats. First, we sat aside the open kitchen, giving us a chance to talk with Chef Silva.
We also enjoyed a decadently rich and sweet date cake (or pudding.) The vanilla ice cream from Christina's was as heavenly on its own as it was melting on top of the toffee like dessert.
After a few hours there, we were well fed and relaxed: a perfect feeling at the end of a long week.
Bambara, 25 Edwin H. Land Blvd (the Hotel Marlowe), Cambridge, 617-868-4444