Cafe ArtScience

kendall square, cambridge

What is “Sensorial Design”?

Cafe ArtScience tests a new formula

Ok, we have to give props to David Edwards. He’s a modern day renaissance man—an inventor, Harvard professor, novelist, and art patron. But is the man behind Cafe ArtScience a restaurateur? We put his latest experiment to the test.

Located on the first floor of a new six-story life sciences building, the bright lights of the restaurant glow amongst the deserted offices and empty sidewalks on the outer edges of Kendall Square.

cafe art science exterior
High ceilings, bright lighting, and glass facade make for an inviting exterior view.

Immediately inside the Cafe Art Science entrance, the main focus is a retail display filled with products invented by Edwards and others. These include Andrea, a plant-powered air filter; edible food packaging called Wikis; and a flavor inhaler that we didn’t quite understand even after the hostess explained it. We wondered if these devices would be showing up later on our dinner table?

cafe art science product retail display
A strange, sparse display of inventions is the first thing you encounter in the restaurant.

We met friends at the bar, where bartender/co-founder Todd Maul (formerly of Clio concocts lab-worthy drinks that invite explanation and conversation. Despite Maul’s friendly demeanor and craftsmanship, we’d give our mixed drinks mixed reviews. Though some were clearly innovative (think multiple layers, inhalable elements, and flavor-infused cubes) for the most part they weren’t all that special. It was unfortunate that they’d run out of the one that seemed most interesting—Le Whaf vapor drink—early in the evening before we could even try one.

cafe art science wiki drink
Our wiki drink featured high-tech ice cubes designed to flavor the drink when punctured.
cafe art science bar area
The bar area seemed cluttered without any main visual focus.

Clusters of attractive green banquettes and white marble tables fill the high-ceilinged, laboratory-like space of the dining room. The room’s most striking feature is a massive, round partition that separates the private dining area from the rest of the restaurant. Its interior reminded us of a James Bond villain’s lair: stark, imposing, and completely sealed off from the rest of society.

cafe art science outside partition
The honeycomb motif is relevant, but chalk writing feels too casual for the space.
cafe art science inside partition
We expected to see Dr. Evil stroking his hairless cat in there.

As the night progressed, we grew more and more suspicious that the overall experience hadn’t been thought through. Countless details tipped us off. For example, banquettes were covered in green velvet, which is both difficult to slide on and unlikely to withstand night after night of food and drink spills. The scale of the space also seemed awkward. Too-high, oversized tables hinder conversation while nothing delineates the lively bar area from the cavernous dining space, and the restaurant’s outer envelope is completely blank and unconsidered—save for the rather pretentious proclamation that fills one wall. The logo feels amateurish, as does the website, which repeats the phrase “sensorial design” over and over. Bad lighting, however, is by far the worst offense. Glaringly bright lights made us feel like we were part of a science experiment in a lab.

cafe art science mission statement on wall
Cafe ArtScience pursues a lofty goal. One we are clearly NOT to forget. We find both the verbiage and the installation itself more than a little pretentious.
cafe art science bar area
The bar to dining area is one large, undifferentiated space which could be a biotech lab if you remove the furnishings.
cafe art science logo
One word about that typeface, yikes. And what's with those lines?
cafe art science website
The website is a bizarre mash-up of pretentious copy and off-the-shelf design.

Edward’s grandiose claims about the science behind his food were, in our opinion, misleading. Though perfectly fine fare, we were anticipating elements of molecular gastronomy (i.e. vapors, reactions, or anything that would indicate food innovations.) While we hardly expected Cafe ArtScience to rival Ferran Adria’s elBulli, we thought the food lacked a connection to both “art” and “science.” Perhaps the Le Laboratoire gallery next door was to provide the “art” connection but it’s closed at night.

cafe art science food
The Fluke was more bone than fish.
cafe art science Le Laboratoire
The adjacent gallery and innovation space, Le Laboratoire does not remain open during the restaurant’s peak hours. Another missed opportunity for engaging guests in the experience.

The bottom line? Cafe ArtScience has an intriguing premise, but it doesn’t follow through. The entire restaurant felt a little bit like an experiment—and sometimes experiments need to be reengineered to work. We applaud innovation but feel that it needs to be delivered throughout the experience—from the branding through the interior to the food on our plates.

So, if it’s going to live up to the hype and potential, Café ArtScience needs to implement a few more creative protocols. After all, innovation should be in the owner’s DNA.