Just a couple of blocks away from and a few feet of elevation above the not-too-long-ago-submerged Gumbo Flats floodplain in the Chesterfield Valley, Bond has staked out a corner of a new faux-small-town-Main Street business and retail complex, quaintly dubbed the Walnut Grove Business Park, for his Bond's of Chesterfield. Inside, a dimly lit main dining room borders two private tables that can be closed off by pocket doors, with additional tables -- the smoking area -- around the corner, clustered near a big stone fireplace that's adjacent to the bar. If you happen to notice lights on and people eating upstairs, there's a banquet in the house that night.
We visited while the fall menu was still in force, although it's likely that Bond and executive chef Chris Cochran will have dropped all the remaining leaves and morphed into the winter menu by the time you read this. Nonetheless, if their version of autumn flavors is any indication of their creativity, Bond's is going to be around for many seasons to come.
An early indicator was the pumpkin-lavender consommé we chose for one of our appetizer courses: Weird-sounding, yes. But also intoxicating, especially on one of the first north-wind-chilled evenings of the late fall -- a mouthful of warm with vague undercurrents of sweetness, ethereal slicks of earthy truffle oil floating at the surface and spines of rosemary and three sweet-potato-dumpling islands also swirling in the currents created by my soup spoon, and of course a harvest-time perfume rising up with the steam.
Not all of the appetizers (or entrees) we tried were quite that out-there, but each illustrated a clear attempt at innovation. Flash-fried calamari and rock shrimp, sizable in portion, featured delicate breading, a piquant herbed aioli for dipping and a visually amusing presentation that included stacks of both rings and strings of fried red onion on top and spidery greens down below. A goat-cheese appetizer was an unusual but well-balanced conglomeration of flavors -- a lightly breaded, herbed scallop of full-bodied, creamy cheese whose flavor and texture were both softened by warming. Added to the mix were fruity flavors from a Cabernet sauce supplemented with currants, and the soft and occasionally bitter tones of a bed of mixed greens.
The "hearty fall flavors" theme was pres-ent in several of the entree choices, including a couple of rich meat dishes that we tried, one of lamb shank and the other of short ribs. The ribs were fittingly fall-off-the-bone tender, topped with shredded onions and underlined with truly garlicky garlic mashed potatoes and a substitution of Swiss chard for what might have been expected to be spinach. The lamb shank -- a cut that's been showing up with increasing frequency on local menus -- was again a thoughtful melange of flavors; the dense, hearty meat was supplemented by cubes of butternut squash with the added sweetness of currants and apple, all served on top of and around a creamy Parmesan polenta with the consistency of whipped potatoes.
On the seafood side, chef Cochran concocted a marvelous use of monkfish, whose lobster-tail-like flesh originally made it popular as a substitute for the much more expensive crustacean. At Bond's, it was served in a bouillabaise/cioppino/paella type of seafood stew, with about a half-dozen clams and several halved Finnish potatoes filling out a rich orange-brown bay-infused tomato broth. In this case, the secret ingredient was dozens of dots of chorizo sausage, adding both texture and a spicy overtone. The grilled salmon was much more straightforward, although also very well prepared, served with Yukon Gold potatoes -- the name is Bond ... Dennis Bond -- and spinach gratin. Although not as combinatorial as many of the other selections, the salmon was indicative that those in search of mainstream dishes can also find excellent choices at Bond's.
Given the full-bodied nature of the entrees we sampled, we only waded through a couple of the desserts, but here again we noted a clear tendency toward multiple flavors. A traditional apple crisp was augmented with cranberries and served with a large scoop of cinnamon ice cream, and the Southern banana cake was similar to a banana bread or nut bread but much fluffier in texture and intensely flavored with banana.
The wine list is in the $20-$40 range, with seasonal specials by the glass, and Bond's embraces the beer-and-food pairing trend by sometimes recommending one of the 10 draught offerings with specials -- on our visit, a Pilsner Urquell with fried strip steak. Service was prompt and knowledgeable, only once falling victim to one of our "stump the expert" questions on ingredients. Perhaps my only complaint was that the dining area was just too dim; each table was lit by a single low-watt flame bulb from above and a candle on the tabletop. The presentation of many of the dishes was well worth a better spotlight.
As well-thought-out as many of the combinations on the fall menu were, I'm betting that the shift to winter will bring even more culinary cleverocity to Bond's.
BOND'S OF CHESTERFIELD, 280 Long Rd.,
728-1414. Hours: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Mon.-Sat,
10 a.m.-9 p.m. Sun. Entrees: $13.95-$19.95.
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