bondir was already confident, understated, unusual, coherent, and generous a few weeks after it opened in december 2010. i've been back many times since. always reluctant to write about it, i was hoping to keep it from being overrun by the hordes. we all know how well that works. we went back for dinner after a long break and bondir is better than ever. the highlights:
a warm, firm yet creamy sac of shad roe coated in bread crumbs then sautéed (possibly even shallow-fried) in butter, with a scattering of spinach leaves, bacon, red onion and kohlrabi batons dressed in a vinaigrette made with confit yuzu (which tasted like kumquats). the whole roe sac is presented, an approximately crescent-shaped mass about the length of a beer can. this can be intimidating to the diner expecting something like salmon or flying-fish roe. the first bite erases all trepidation: it has the crunch of a great japanese croquette, and a mild but permeating sea flavour. shad, as is common knowledge, is an anadromous fish and the subject of john mcphee's book the founding fish.bondir's idiom is confident simplicity, inside which many complex and comforting layers unfold. service is unassuming and unobtrusive, competent, warm, well-informed, and unpatronising: a balance that any good restaurant seeks and few achieve. exotics and foraged ingredients are used often but in small, almost unnoticeable ways. they are not referenced in the menus but contribute bursts of unfamiliar or vaguely familiar flavour: allusion rather than outright statement. the casual diner passes by noticing nothing and enjoys the dish regardless; the gastro-nerd notices and his enjoyment is different but not deeper. the flashy-flash way to do seasonal food is to renovate the menu wholesale each day; bondir adopts the quieter approach of gradually introducing new components to each dish while retiring others. continuity with change, evolution instead of revolution. as with another instant favourite in tokyo, going back to bondir is an occasion for both pleasant familiarity and delicious surprises.
butter-poached lobster was the perfect texture, a soft and yielding crunch. the "celerisotto" underneath was outstanding: celeriac pieces cut down to the size of rice grains and cooked the texture of lightly al dente rice, in a light but creamy binding. the whole dish was dressed with an oily salsa verde, and adorned with raw discs of yellow carrots, brussels sprout leaves, and a few splinters of caramel made with kalamata olive. the faint sweetness of celery without its pungency, the strong green flavour of the salsa, the sweet brine of the olive caramel and the lobster. a wondrous combination.
chocolate panna cotta, which was a solid trembling on the edge of deliquescence. this is a simple but not simplistic thing, and its simplicity leaves no room for execution failure. edward espe brown says: "Preparing things simply is deceptively difficult, since there is no way to cover up our mistakes." (on execution failure in panna cotta, also see this diatribe.)
confit sunchokes on a piece of warm gingerbread with strips of quince leather and a lemon mousseline. the slowly cooked sunchokes became a translucent deep brown with the same chocolate and caramel overtones as the quince leather. with the warm spices in the gingerbread and the cool, tart lemon cream, the ideal meal-ender on a cold night. everything about this is tradition, tradition, tradition, and yet it isn't traditional. it looks unassumingly simple and yet it isn't simple. among the desserts, people seem to love the the tangerine dream, which is on the menu a lot: toasted meringue on top of gènoise layered with vermouth-infused tangerine pieces, and thyme-buttermilk ice cream. good, complicated-looking, spectacular, but too obvious! the much simpler-seeming desserts are where its really at: the crostatas, the cakes, the panna cottas.
francois chidaine's clos habert, a demi-sec 2009 chenin blanc from montlouis-sur-loire which was at once brilliantly acid and full of subtle sweetness. while i usually go straight for the acid, this one was best—taut and unctuous, lightly vinous—a little bit off the ice.