In Cambridge for business meetings, I landed a good rate at the Hotel Marlowe and for various reasons -- including the lack of anything else that really interested me within walking distance -- ended up having several meals both with a business acquaintance and on my own at Bambara.I enjoyed both the restaurant and (especially) the hotel (which I immediately recognized as being one of San Francisco's Kimpton chain as the lobby resembles the Hotel Monaco.)
Friday Lunch -- had the swordfish sandwich, which was a sizeable, about 1/3 inch thick piece of grilled swordfish, some very delicious grilled corn relish, and a bit of a good butter enhanced sauce on a foccacia -- type bun. As the butter sauce made it difficult to eat this sandwich style, I left the top half of the bun... which was superfluous anyway. Good fish, nice flavors. This came with a good mixed greens salad with a shallot vinagrette, dressed appropriately lightly. One could also have fries instead of the greens. My lunch partner had a wrap with falafel, chick pea sauce and (I seem to recall) chard. She said it was the best falafel she had had since a trip to Paris a year or so ago. The two entrees and 2 ice teas plus tax/tip came to $31 -- not bad at all for the size and quality of what we had.
Appetizer dinner -- One of the featured appetizer items was a selection of "Mini rolls" -- small brioche rolls filled with a choice of 3 of 4 possible fillings. After conferring with the bar tended, I went with the whole clam and tartar sauce, the corn and cherry tomato salad with arugula mayonaisse and the scallop ceviche. The clam included four large, cornmeal dusted fried clams -- the most traditional of my choices. The clams were perfect and delicious, and this roll worked wonderfully -- although they should have drizzled some of the tartar sauce on top, so that it flavored more than the roll and bottom clam. The delicious brioche roll gave a real luxurious touch to a normally down-home but tasty item. The corn salad -- my own choice -- was delicious and the arugula mayo complementary, but it was an odd item to put into the roll. Similarly, the ceviche was well prepared with a nice bit of spiciness, but didn't really match well with the brioche roll. (the fourth choice was a crab and mango salad). These came with a small amount of a good cabbage, leek and carrot slaw. This had more mayo than I prefer -- but would probably be fine with most people as I just don't care much for mayonaisse dressings period. ($12) I also had some good frites served with a side of a nice black pepper aioli.
The restaurant has a nice wine list, including about a dozen well-selected and quite interesting pours by the glass. I treated myself to a Trimbach pinot gris.
Second dinner. When I ate at Bambara on Friday, the place was only moderately busy with few people at the bar. Saturday evening that had changed dramatically -- both due to the after-gathering from a business meeting at the hotel and seemingly increasing business since their opening a few months back. This time, I decided to try one of the full entrees -- an excellent halibut arranged over a risotto that was chock-filled with fresh chanterelles, surrounded by delicious sauce flavored with lobster and uni ($23). Very nice. The two of the assortment of breads I tried were very good too -- a tasty green onion foccacia and a delicious, very raisiny Boston brown bread that was almost dessert-like. Wines enjoyed included a New Zealand sauvignon blanc and a delicious Santa Barbara area pinot noir -- don't recall the label, as it wasn't one I was familiar with.
Bambara should be a welcome addition to the neighborhood especially for business travelers and meals to the Kendall Square area. The restaurant was attractive, welcoming, very good and not badly priced for an upscale place. The bar area was central, with small high tables as well as the granite counter, and dining tables at a higher level surrounding the room.