Garden at the Cellar is having an identity crisis. The food is original, delicious, and well-presented – thanks to Will Gilson who was a semi-finalist for the James Beard Rising Star Chef award. Unfortunately, the atmosphere and service are part airport bar and grill, part college town watering hole. That is to say, the only decoration is an electronic beer sign and the service, though friendly, is inattentive and absent-minded. It feels as though an excellent chef was just plopped into a nondescript local bar and the two haven’t totally adjusted to each other yet. Though there were several employees milling about, and only 6 diners in the restaurant when we arrived at 5:30pm, it took them a few minutes to acknowledge our conspicuous presence and ask if we wanted dinner. We did, and we were told we could choose any table.
The menu at Garden at the Cellar is enticing: chickpea fries and pork belly and foie gras with donuts! The only disappointment was the wine list. It was very reasonably priced, but also very limited in selection. There were fewer than 20 wines, none of which were particularly interesting, to choose from, which was surprising since the name of the restaurant is derived from The Cellar, the wine store it is connected to. The variety is irrelevant though if you order wine and it never comes, which is what happened to us. We ordered the cheapest bottle on the list ($24), a Primitivo, after quite a bit of discussion and thought. But our waitress never brought it. She did remember it about 3/4 into the meal but, at that point, we didn’t want it. Carlo did get the cocktail he ordered, a basil lemon drop. It tasted metallic and took a long time to arrive because, our waitress informed us in a very friendly way, they couldn’t find the simple sugar.
Onto the food. We decided to get two small plates, four appetizers, and to share an entree because the former two lists just looked so good. For small plates, we got chickpea fries with lemon zest and parmesan and other various toppings I can’t quite remember. Wow, they were delicious. Chickpea flour is really underused. A beautiful golden color, creamy, unique, best dish of the night. We also got White Bean Puree, which was very good, but not as original.
We each ordered two appetizers, with the hope that they would come out two at a time. We should have said that, and we didn’t, and they all came out at once, and it was annoying. If you’re in a bar and your buffalo wings come out with your burger, who really cares? But if you’re in a place that serves interesting, delicious food, then having to shovel it all in before it gets cold really undermines the chef’s efforts. We ordered Cod Fritters with chives, remoulade and citrus, Handmade Burratta with spiced date purée, Za’atar, lemon oil, Seared Foie Gras & Doughnuts with various forms of rhubarb, and Pork Belly with spicy beans. The cod fritters tasted fresh and were hot and crispy on the outside and the seared foie gras and rhubarb and donut combination was original and delicious–tart, sweet, and fatty all at once. The Burrata was a little too sweet and though the pork belly was great, the beans were so spicy that they contrasted in a weird way with the rest of the sweet-ish food. But overall, we were impressed.
And finally, we split the Pork Weiner Schnitzel with poached egg and artichokes and lima beans. Our shared entree was just as good as the appetizers. Deliciously well-seasoned schnitzel, though the artichokes and lima beans were a little salty as was the sauce they were sitting in. And our poached egg came out in a bowl after we were half-way through the dish because someone had forgotten to put it on the plate. We would not have remembered this had they not brought it out, but they did, and it just reminded us of their sloppy service.
So despite the strange ambiance, the meal was great. Though again, we were in a restaurant that does not take reservations and thus does not offer dessert. I will also point out that we had arrived at the door of the restaurant, consumed a cocktail and seven different plates of food, paid and left the restaurant, in an astounding 58 minutes. There will be no lingering in Garden at the Cellar, they want you out of there ASAP, yet another thing that undercuts the quality of the food. The Garden’s only saving grace was that they give diners a little bit of chocolate at the end of the meal. Enough to not make me hate them, but certainly not enough to satiate one’s need for dessert.
So at this point, it was 6:28pm and we decided to set out for Sweet, a cupcake bakery in the Back Bay that we had heard has phenomenal cupcakes. Being a lover of the bus, I thought this was a great opportunity to hop on the #1 that heads straight down Mass. Ave. We walked over to the stop in Central Square and began patiently waiting for the bus. Which didn’t come. And the crowd got thicker and thicker. I do recommend the Central Square bus stop if you’re looking for a bit of post-dinner theater on a Saturday night. After a 15 minute wait and the third time a seemingly drunk man who kept engaging me in conversation about his best friend’s girl yelled angrily at me to stop looking at him with my “deer eyes” we decided to walk into Boston, which is really not that far.
It wasn’t worth the walk. We paid $7 for two semi-dry overly frosted, though pretty, cupcakes. The place is also trying too hard to be cool. It’s all white and they have a big flat screen that was playing American in Paris. Odd. To be fair, we got there at the end of the evening and they were out of nearly every kind of cupcake they have, so maybe there are better options. We got the dark chocolate with chocolate frosting and the vanilla with chocolate frosting. Just not worth it; better value for your money with Duncan Hines.