CAMBRIDGE -- On the way down a narrow staircase that leads to a cooler of chilled wines and then the restroom, a framed photo on a small table catches our eye at T.W. Food . It's a candid snapshot of the restaurant's owners, Tim and Bronwyn Wiechmann, and she's giving him a little peck on the cheek. Right beside it is what appears to be a photo album that might show scenes from their wedding day.
Instead, it's a list of the reserve wines, but it's a sweet reminder of just how much time, attention, and care the Wiechmanns have invested in their first restaurant together. That's also spelled out in a rather heartfelt back story relayed on the restaurant's website: "Tim and Bronwyn are a young couple, 33 and 29 years of age. They have put everything on the line for a restaurant with a goal for success that they truly believe in."
That's putting it mildly. The Wiechmanns are taking a serious chance with their cutting-edge fare, counting on diners to understand the subtle artistry of everything from the exquisite amuse-bouche of tiny lobster rolls on miniature house-made eclairs to the luxe tableware.
Bronwyn tends to the front of the house like a doting mother, eager to clear plates and explain the dinner entrees. Meanwhile, Tim, who used to cook at Ten Tables in Jamaica Plain, and his colleagues turn out gorgeous dishes in the small kitchen in the back, chatting with us whenever they can.
Two months ago, this place was Aspasia, the classiest restaurant on an otherwise quiet suburban street a 15-minute walk from Harvard Square . Now T.W. Food holds that distinction, a sliver of a restaurant with just 28 seats and a muted, comfortable decor that can border on Pier One Import chic.
A dish of creme brulee of foie gras appears, with the traditional crackly shell concealing a rich, pate-like mousse. Next up is an oyster "shooter," which comes in a shot glass filled to the brim with a pale green liquid called "asparagus essence" and a Connecticut Blue Point oyster lurking in the middle. Like tequila, it's one shot that packs a punch.
A chilled avocado soup holds an island of complementary flavors in its pile of scallop tartare with a citrusy bite from bits of grapefruit and caviar. All these slurpy appetizers almost make the bread more palatable. Bronwyn tells us they still haven't made up their mind about it, but we have. Clearly, it's fresh -- and custom-made by B&R Artisan Bread in Framingham -- and even though we all love pumpkin seeds and carrots in our loaf, it's just too tough and dense on its own.
It's obvious, as the website also notes, that Wiechmann has spent time cooking in France, honing his skills at Michelin-starred restaurants. His ideas are bold and adventurous, and for the most part, we're hooked.
Until an appetizer of creamy scrambled farm eggs with sea urchin and rosemary oil leads us astray. It's as odd as you might expect, and farm eggs served in a martini glass? They're too wet for our taste, and the chunks of sea urchin are an unexpected (and unwelcome, to one of us) surprise. The dish needs something firm to offset the pudding-like texture.
There's no time to dwell, though, when the entrees arrive. Thin slices of perfectly cooked, pinkish pork loin, spread like a fan, seem ordinary until we slather them with the addictive puree of white beans and red peppers (called a piperade on the menu). In keeping with its penchant for sauces, there's also a shot glass of delicious lavender milk spiced with garlic honey. We wish we could steal the recipe to whip up smoothies for a hot summer day.
The star, however, is a filet of Nova Scotia halibut with chive flower butter. Simply dressed and cooked, it's the perfect match for the accompanying tartlette of porcini mushrooms and a spread of egg p lant caviar that almost tastes like pesto. (Halibut must be a specialty: A colleague later tell us how much she and her hubby loved the halibut chop roasted on the bone, served for two for $50.)
After we polish off the light, poached pear for dessert, the bed-and-breakfast-style attention comes full circle. Bronwyn leans in with a little book and asks if we'd like to sign it to receive restaurant news, but it's also sort of a guest registry. We're tempted to jot down our gushing comments, but we see other diners already have.
"Wonderful! " someone wrote. "Welcome to the neighborhood!!!"
Yes, that's three exclamation points.
T.W. Food , 377 Walden St., Cambridge, 617-864-4745. tw foodrestaurant.com. Starters $3-$15. Entrees $24-$30. Desserts $8. Wines by the glass $9-$13.
James Reed can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Correction: Because of a reporting error, the Sauce column in Friday's Weekend section listed a wrong address for T. W. Food. The restaurant is at 377 Walden St., Cambridge.)