Egg in a jar. West Bridge just opened in Kendall Square in May, and already the restaurant has become synonymous with the dish. Chef and co-owner Matthew Gaudet layers together rich potato puree, hen-of-the-woods mushrooms, slow-cooked duck eggs, and crisp duck skin in a jar.
“The best way to eat it,” explains a server in a red chambray button-down and black apron, “is to mix it all together so you get a taste of everything at once.” This explanation is delivered whenever the dish is ordered, yet the servers manage to seem excited about it each time. They are right to be. And there is reason for the repetition.
Because any restaurant worth its salt can put together a delicious plate: nicely cooked protein, filling starch, pretty garnish, maybe even a vegetable or two. Each element tastes good. Their flavors don’t clash. But they remain separate. Duck could go with the mashed potatoes and green beans as easily as lamb does.
It takes a great restaurant — and a very talented team in the kitchen — to deliver unity, consistently. At West Bridge, dishes offer satisfaction through synthesis. And that egg in a jar, as wonderful as it is, is just the beginning.
Thick, meaty slices of cauliflower grilled on a plancha and crisp, delicate slices of raw florets are tossed with tart verjus grapes, silky bone marrow, spicy harissa, and tangy, round sherry vinaigrette. Each bite is slightly different, but the best bite is a sum of the parts.
Crispy pig’s head would inarguably be compelling on its own. Brined and braised, tender meat is gathered into a puck, breaded, and deep-fried. It is ridiculously delicious. But with bites of pickled rutabaga and mustard aioli, the richness is balanced, and thus the dish. Squint a bit and you’re almost in New Orleans; the flavors and textures evoke fried green tomatoes with remoulade, but the pig’s head takes you somewhere new.
Where duck confit would ordinarily be the star of the plate, it is happy to join the ensemble in a salad of red mustard greens, cress, and gooseberries. A grilled veal chop is so delicious a generally well-mannered patron picks up the bone to gnaw on, but it is the combination of the meat with bits of dried olive and almond touched with brown sugar, with chard laced with candied orange peel, that elevates it to one of the best dishes I’ve eaten in recent memory. Chefs often incorporate salty, pungent ingredients to deliver punch and punctuation; one rarely tastes a dish that uses restrained sweetness to the same effect.
The dish is rivaled by a piece of Arctic char that has been cooked with careful attention, with a crisp brioche crust and just the right amount of rareness at the very center. It is matched with tender artichokes and a complex, unexpected, bitter-sweet sauce of grapefruit juice reduced with basil, then reduced again and again. Like so many of West Bridge’s dishes, it feels light and clean.
Lamb shoulder is heartier, one of the restaurant’s large-format dishes — whole roast chicken, bone-in rib eye with confit potato — designed for sharing. The lamb is served in thick, juicy slices, but the dish wouldn’t be the dish without the accompanying eggplant-fig puree and goat cheese.
And food that can be a New England cliche in lesser hands shines here: Chowder is made from sunchokes, packed with Wellfleet clams and smoked pork shoulder; mussels get a funky lift from uni butter; calamari is cut into tender “noodles,” served with whelks, cockles, and cherry tomatoes. Gaudet, previously at Aquitaine and other local establishments such as Mistral and Brasserie Jo, spent the better part of a decade in New York, putting in real time at restaurants including Eleven Madison Park, Jean-Georges, and Aquavit. His experience shows in confidence, not cockiness.
Even dessert is about layering and harmony rather than simple sugar — witness what I am guessing is the restaurant’s best-loved dessert, a riff on s’mores. In a glass, chocolate panna cotta is topped with marshmallow fluff, then graham cracker crumbs, the flavors brought together by miso syrup.
On some visits, the fluff layer is too thick, throwing off the balance of sugar and salt. Springy little cider doughnuts served in a sack are more adorable than they are interesting, and bear no resemblance to what one thinks of as a cider doughnut. And vegetable- and grain-based small plates can be too plain, too Alice Waters earnest, in attempts to let the main ingredients shine — a flaw that fades into the background increasingly with each visit.
But the showcasing of vegetables, the careful balance in the dishes, the emphasis on small plates with a few not-to-be-missed larger ones and big, shareable cuts of meat — it all feels like how we want to eat right now, or maybe five minutes from now without quite knowing it yet. The restaurant is the kind of space we want to be in, open yet warm, with old wood floors and white brick walls; rope-and-metal chandeliers; a big, wraparound bar; room to lounge. Bar manager Josh Taylor’s cocktails are quickly winning fans, while the wine list is lovely, interesting and respectfully priced. And thanks to general manager and co-owner Alexis Gelburd-Kimler, servers are both extremely well trained and brimming with personality.
I would be happy to eat at West Bridge regularly. I think you would be, too. Don’t forget to mix the ingredients when you order the egg in a jar. They really do taste best together.Devra First can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @devrafirst.