Cambridge and Somerville are the loci of a certain beloved kind of restaurant in our dining scene: chef-owned, scrupulous about sourcing, artful without being too arty. They form the left bank of the Charles in few ways: more bohemian, less slick than the Boston side of the river, with a determined informality. During the past couple of years, prominent indies like Craigie on Main, Oleana and Journeyman have done second-act openings (Kirkland, Sarma and Ames Street/Study) that skew even more casual. You can add Inman Square’s new BISq to this set of tandems: It’s the funkier twin to Somerville’s 5-year-old indie hit Bergamot, from the team of chef Keith Pooler and wine director Kai Gagnon, with former Bergamot sous-chef Dan Bazzinotti helming the kitchen.
The menu opens with a useful focus on small plates. Ceviche ($7) of hake in the traditional Peruvian lime/chili marinade called tiger’s milk packs a subtle yet insistent heat and adds the welcome crunch of cancha, giant kernels of parched corn. Salmon tiradito ($12) is the first of many dishes with truly lovely platings and ringing, clear flavors, again showing Peruvian influence with aji Amarillo, purple potato and crunchy quinoa. Lemon and herb focaccia ($5) could hardly be simpler, with squares of soft bread atop a pool of confit shallots, but it’s smashing. Green gazpacho ($8) of grapes and cucumbers with smoked almonds, crème fraiche and a crunchy cornbread crumble deftly balances subtle, sweet flavors and gentle textures with bracing acidity. Herb-marinated beets with raita and crunchy squares of sunflower-seed granola ($7) surprises as an original, delectable reinvention of the trite beets-and-tangy-dairy combo. Heirloom tomato salad ($12) combines fine California tomatoes with housemade burrata dressed with a vegetarian XO sauce and tomato molasses, again elevating elemental flavors with high-craft touches.
The chef is rightly proud of his meat and charcuterie chops, evident in pork belly/honey butter ($5) and cracklins with diced pickled mango, served with crackers. Whipped lardo ($6) is another superb spread for shortbread, scoring big with the witty counterpoint of lightly pickled strawberries. Betty’s mazzafegati ($7) is a terrific grilled pork-liver sausage with orange rind, a distant Italian cousin to loucanico. The austerity of a generous slice of paprika-dusted, EVOO-kissed manchego artesano ($10) is wonderfully offset with wee savory/sweet buñuelos.
Cooked dishes feature additional standouts like corn and prosciutto “bisq” ($14), its novel cob-based broth supporting a complex stew of sherried chambrelle mushrooms, lentils and cabbage crowned with a fried oyster: salty and creamy and sweet, marvelous. Substantial, satisfying tomato-braised summer squashes ($8) with egg and parmesan could be mistaken for a rich Southern Italian pasta dish. Roasted bone marrow ($12) yields a generous portion of “God’s butter” but unnecessarily gilds the lily with pickled kumquats, sweetish kabayaki sauce and shredded crispy short rib, a rare bit of kitchen overkill. Cherry-glazed lamb ribs ($16) are better balanced, a generous stack of crisp, meaty ribs ably complemented by fierce green-garlic chermoula. The San Agustín sliders ($10) are near-perfect little sandwiches of pork belly, creamy avocado and zingy pickled-onion-based salsa criolla.
The two desserts are both fabulous. A liquid cheesecake trifle ($9) evokes a gourmand’s dream of a brownie sundae, and the dazzling dessert charcuterie for two ($12) arrays novel treats like a thick slice of chocolate “salami,” white chocolate-dipped biscotti and Chex-and-chocolate “muddy buddies” on a serving board.
Gagnon’s wine program features a useful 17-deep selection of food-friendly wines by the glass ($10-$16), many from lesser-known regions of France and Central Europe. Especially intriguing were the 2014 Renardat-Fache Cerdon du Bugey rosé ($12), a slightly sweet, floral pink sparkler from Eastern France, and the 2012 Maurice Schoech Vieille Vigne Pinot Auxerrois ($13), an off-dry Alsatian white. For more deep-pocketed oenophiles, there’s a lengthy, serious bottle list with a mid-point north of $100. Among the too-few options under $60, the 2012 Clos de La Roilette Fleurie Beaujolais ($53) delighted us with its juicy crispness and light body.
The long, narrow room has barely 50 seats, including a few dining-bar seats entertainingly overlooking the open kitchen’s charcuterie station, giving way to a cozily small, dimly lit bar in the rear. Wooden tables and floors, charcoal-toned walls, exposed brick, wine-bottle accents and a rotating selection of local art contribute to the space’s rustic, homey feel. Service is informal and on-point, but ask for Gagnon or one of his lieutenants for help with wine pairings. At first blush, BISq can seem pricey for a casual wine bar. By the end of the meal, though, the tiny, exquisite details, sheer craft, sophisticated conceptions and balanced flavors in Bazzinotti’s cooking make the check seem like a good value. It’s another in a line of gifted Camberville kids that should rightly make their elder siblings proud.
-Heirloom tomato salad
-Tomato-braised summer squashes
-Cherry-glazed lamb ribs
Hours: Daily, 5:30-10 pm, bar till midnight
Parking: Metered street spaces
Liquor: Wine and beer
BISq 1071 Cambridge St., Cambridge (617-714-3693) bisqcambridge.com