The first thing you’ll notice about the re-energized Bambara isn’t the food — it’s what it’s on. Hefty ceramic oblong plates are each all slightly different, handcrafted by local potter Jeremy Ogusky, that caught the eye of executive chef David Bazirgan. “I just love it; to me it looks nicer and it gives it a much more natural feel than fine dining, [which is] all white and sterile,” says chef Baz.” “I’ve been trying to appeal to a younger crowd, and it’s part of that shareable, small-plates concept. And I like using local artists, too, which really took off at Dirty Habit.” His former San Francisco restaurant — called a “food lovers’ bar” was re-launched from the white-napkin Fifth Floor in 2013.
Welcome to the era of millennial dining — it’s one of taking chances with more casual concepts, menus, and price points. For Bazirgan, it’s his own interpretation of what a “New American” menu is, and in the melting pot of Cambridge, Massachusetts, that means prix fixe is out and Middle Eastern spices and herbs shine through in delicious homemade breads.
“Prix-fixe menus seem to exist more in restaurants where the demographic skews older, and when there is a prix-fixe option there is almost always now a quick a la carte menu as well — either in the same dining room or in another, more casual environment,” says Jennifer Baum, founder of hospitality PR firm Bullfrog + Baum.
Chef Barbara Lynch is just one Michelin maven who’s gotten with the times and switched up a Brahmin mainstay with an expanded a la carte menu versus the prix fixe at No. 9 Park; the six-course chef’s tasting menu is still available, but the bar menu has gained just as much traction, where a revamped cocktail list appeals to those in their 20s just as much as the well-heeled from the nearby State House.
“Bars and bar areas are seen as a very legit side of the restaurant business now,” says designer Brian Miller of Washington, D.C. firm Streetsense. “At The Dabney, fully a third of the seating is at the bar area, and tall tables or bar seats offer better flexibility to patrons.”