CAMBRIDGE — I’d been to Bambara before, about three years ago for Restaurant Week. One of my better Restaurant Week experiences for sure, I still remember that awesome Blueberry Mojito like it was yesterday. And the food was well-cooked and insightful. When I heard about Bambara’s “Happiest Hour” menu I needed to try it. So I got on the Green line to Lechmere and walked a pleasant five minutes toward the restaurant, flanking the Cambridgeside Galleria on the Edwin H. Land Blvd.
25 Edwin H. Land Blvd., Cambridge
Green Line to Lechmere Station
617-868-4444 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 617-868-4444 end_of_the_skype_highlighting
The menu has five offerings, slightly smaller versions of many of their menu appetizers, for only $2 a piece. I was promised a good portion, and I held my breath as I sipped on my decadent, if not slightly too-tart, Caramel Apple Martini. Side note: I caught myself licking the caramel swirl inside the glass more than once as I was wishing for a caramel-dipped rim to balance out the apple cider and Stoli Apple.
I placed my order for the “mini arancini” and “mini grilled flatbread.” The description of the arancini which were anything but mini, were described as Crispy risotto balls, with short rib, Parmesan, fontina, herbs with tomato and aioli sauces. The combination: divine. The arancini rice balls were denser than I was used to with my Brooklyn, New York upbringing, but it worked. The outside was crispy and delicious and the marinara sauce had a touch of cream giving it a lighter color and deep flavor. The flatbread was a hearty, light, fluffy bread reminiscent of thicker Syrian bread and took up the entire large plate. (I’d say the pizza was approximately 10 inches long and 7 inches wide) and it was just delicious. The ingredients, roasted garlic, goat cheese, over dried cherry tomatoes, arugula, and aged fig vinegar, were perfect and this dish was filling enough as a light dinner. Arugula and goat cheese is the perfect marriage of peppery greens and creamy goodness and the aged fig vinegar was sweet and I feel a strong need to go out and purchase some to dip all my bread in, all the time. It was … I was … needless to say, I was enjoying this meal and I was getting full off of only two bar menu dishes, cashing in at a total of only $4.
Last dish up for me to try was the “mini fried squid.” I can’t stop myself from using the quotes because honestly, mini has to be some sort of sarcastic inside joke between Executive Chef Jay Silva and his warm staff, which were attentive and informative. Served with spicy, tangy aioli, fried lemon slices and chili paste the fried squid was very good. I, however, wasn’t doing as good because I was getting ridiculously full. I only managed three (okay maybe five) bits of squid including tentacles (yum!) and just couldn’t finish. It was kind of perplexing to me how they, the little squid guys, managed to have the full, robust flavor of deep fried squid, but with not the traditionally thick breaded coating you find at many chain American eateries, and even small mom-and-pop run Italian restaurants. It was damn good, and overflowing oval bowl loaded with the seafood was mind-boggling. So for $6 dollars I’m sure a friend and I could have polished off every last arugula leaf and fried squid-breading for a filling, gourmet dinner that was extremely wallet-friendly.
In the spirit of not being wasteful, I couldn’t just leave my sad little squids alone in their bowl, and overheard a quabble with my neighbors at the bar. “Is this one bowl for both of us, why didn’t you get me my own serving,” the late-arriving man said to his friend while he eyed the plate of mini fried squid. I instantly offered up my own fried squid seeing as it would only go to waste since I was about to explode, and had a back-and-forth while he decided to take me up on my generous offer.
It turns out Frank and Frank are New Yorkers in town for business staying at the gorgeous Hotel Marlowe, where Bambara is housed in. (Apparently Hotel Marlowe is one of the only pet-friendly hotels in Boston, who knew?!) We had some good laughs and toasted the large portions that we just feasted on, and I made some new friends from my hometown of New York City.
So if you’re looking for a mellow atmosphere with light jazz music in the background and fragrant food smells wafting from the partially open kitchen, head to Bambara between 4-6 p.m. (I suggested they extend it until 7 so we’ll just have to wait and see if they take my advice) for their Happiest Hour menu and bring a few friends, or just meet some new ones. I’m planning to head back to try the herb french fries with spicy mayo (I kind of have a serious thing with spicy mayo, we’re involved AND exclusive) and the mini fish cakes. Their menu, and in turn Happiest Hour menu, is always changed seasonally to reflect the best ingredients.