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Gentle experimentation at Café ArtScience

Brown butter panna cotta with pepitas nougatine, sugar pumpkin espuma, and coffee ice cream. Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe
Café ArtScience chef Patrick Campbell. Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

Café ArtScience is not so much about art or science as it is about ideas. One of the people behind the project is Harvard professor David Edwards, who thinks without boundaries, about the serious and the whimsical, the body and the soul. He invents new drug delivery platforms to treat infectious diseases. He invents inhalable chocolate. What is important and what is frivolous? Why make a distinction? An edible skin might be seen as a sustainable form of packaging or a tasty vessel for ice cream, or both. (Edwards invented it. It’s called the WikiPearl. You can try it at Café ArtScience.)


It is more boring but also neater that most of the population doesn’t look at the world the way Edwards does. We want to classify and divide. Part of Le Laboratoire Cambridge, the local arm of Edwards’s Paris art and design center, Café ArtScience is a restaurant and bar, but also a gallery, a lab, a store, a performance. The impulse toward taxonomy will only trip a visitor up.

Situated between Genzyme corporate headquarters and a sweet little skating rink, it is visible from a distance: a bright, sprawling white room surrounded by expanses of glass. At the entrance, shelves display a white orb that vibrates when one sings, inhalable pods for boosting energy and promoting sleep, and Le Whaf, a bong-like device that turns liquids into vapors one “drinks” through a special straw. These are for sale. Behind the bar are tubes, blenders, centrifuges, rotational evaporators. This is the domain of partner Todd Maul, who began infusing cocktails with science when he worked at Clio.

Get past all the “Sleeper” stuff and one runs smack into old-school hospitality, the doing of Thomas Mastricola, formerly of No. 9 Park, Clio, and more. A host greets diners graciously. Someone takes coats. In the spare dining area, servers are keen to describe dishes, offer apt wine pairings, and anticipate needs before they arise. (They can go overboard. When looking at the bill we discover we’ve received double orders of soup because a server wanted there to be enough for everyone. And the ever-replenishing supply of bread is a filling temptation.) White marble tables and white chairs are arranged behind curved, green-velvet couches. Dangling white lights look like blastulas or anime clouds, and a hexagonal motif calls to mind benzene and honeycomb.


The kitchen is headed by chef Patrick Campbell, previously of Eastern Standard and No. 9 Park. Here he tries something different, but not as different as one might expect. Dishes don’t feel like science lessons. They are instead a careful scrutinizing and rearranging of traditional fare. Over at the bar, curious guests are inhaling vaporized spirits from Le Whaf and drinking cocktails made with lime juice clarified in a centrifuge. In the dining room, things don’t smoke or spin.

The food is frequently beautiful and delicious. One might find carpaccio, crimson slices overlapping on the plate, a canvas for shavings of truffle, bites of lobster, scattered microgreens, and dollops of XO sauce. An artichoke soup is perfectly composed — just the right amount of salt and acid, pure artichoke flavor, and a texture so fine it is like drinking ribbons. Plump boquerones and focaccia croutons add salinity and texture. Tortellini with house-made ricotta have the silkiest skins; in their thin, salty Parmesan broth the plump dumplings read more Asian than Italian.


Salade de canard is all duck, no salad — a tile of smooth, luxurious foie gras sprinkled with salt and pepper, a puck of pate, and excellent duck prosciutto, accented by caramelized chestnuts and poached pear and served with buttery brioche. Rich, tender braised beef cheek sits atop a ruff of fried cauliflower, prettily decorated with orange cubes of pickled squash and pink matchsticks of radish; vadouvan curry provides a warm undercurrent of flavor. A lamb dish is a real showcase for the meat, including perfectly rare and juicy lamb saddle and belly cooked until it’s jammy, like meat candy. It’s served with pistachio pesto and farro couscous. The dish arches along one side of the plate, the rest of the space open and empty. It feels less like artful presentation than wasted real estate. It highlights how restrained the portions can be at Café ArtScience, while the prices are not.

Braised beef cheek with fried cauliflower and pickled squash.Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

The cooking is becoming ever more confident, but there are dishes that still don’t work. Rhode Island fluke is served on the bone with crosnes, quirky little tubers, and birch emulsion. The esoteric combination doesn’t add up to deliciousness, and the fish arrives at the table nearly raw at the center. (A server apologizes and removes it from the bill.) Leeks au vinaigrette serve as a base for peekytoe crab with hazelnuts and Meyer lemon, but the leeks are fibrous and hard to cut and chew, and the flavors don’t come together.


Braised vegetable marrow is just the kind of dish one wants to see at a place called Café ArtScience. It takes a familiar ingredient and looks at it in an entirely new way. The “bones” are Brussels sprouts stalks, served with egg yolk and crisped cross-sections of potato. How wonderfully clever, and thrifty, too. But the stalk centers are tough rather than tender, nothing like bone marrow, and not particularly nice to eat. Chefs’ fascination with gels and spheres is on the wane, and nobody wants food that is ostentatiously wacky. But at Café ArtScience, just a little more whizbang wouldn’t hurt — at least to bring the food more in line with the beverage program.

Salade de canard consists of foie gras, pate, and duck prosciutto with caramelized chestnuts and poached pear.Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

For this is a four-star bar. Cocktails make the most of new technology and techniques. That clarified lime juice tastes so clean and bright, perfect in a gimlet. Oak smoke underlines the flavors of the Ardbeg Drink, made with Scotch, sherry, and Swedish punsch. These are good cocktails made great. It’s possible to geek out on the hows and whys talking with staff at the bar. But one can also simply drink and enjoy. Whatever their methods, the bartenders excel at the old-fashioned art of drinky-time chat.

In the hands of pastry chef Renae Connolly, dessert is excellent, too. Brown butter panna cotta with pepitas nougatine, sugar pumpkin espuma, and coffee ice cream is a tapestry of warm, nutty flavors. A huckleberry and lime creamsicle is a gorgeous purple-black cylinder, its tartness complemented by ras al hanout sponge cake, frosted amaranth, and candied rose petals. And “tiny spoons” provide that one bite of something sweet — say, cherry-wood bourbon gelee with burnt orange meringue and Angostura lace, a dessert version of the burnt cherry-wood Old Fashioned offered at the bar.


Every aspect of Cafe ArtScience is lavished with care and presented with enthusiasm. Not all good ideas must be groundbreaking.

Braised vegetable marrow with Brussels sprouts stalks, egg yolk, and potato.Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe


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Devra First can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @devrafirst.