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Jul 27, 2008 10:47 PM

GARDEN IN THE CELLAR 7/08: Tasty Tapas Indeed

I was surprised and delighted that on a Friday night at 8:30, there were a few open tables, enabling us to dine here for the first time.

Cutting to the chase, we had excellent food, O.K. experience with ambience and service. I was a bit disappointed at the room. I guess I just thought, from the name, that it would be ‘gardeny’. Green, lush,comfy. Instead the room had a pretty basic, nondescript look. All banquettes, which is great, but no cushions. The chef, who was seating that night (“because I don’t have a GM right now”) explained later that the bar is owned and run by an unrelated entity. Too bad, because it is really sub par compared to the food.. It was a nasty hot night and I wanted a margherita, but they only use Rose’s lime juice, so that was a no-go. And they don’t serve iced tea (don’t have any tea in the house.)

From our experience that night, the chef and kitchen are very accomplished. I had all small plates and many fried items.They definitely excel at fried.Favorites: Fried green tomatoes in cornmeal crust, salt cod fritters, arancini, beet salad, caesar salad, watermelon gazpacho. Only the chicken croquettes were disappointing; well fried and creamy, but all beschamel and no chicken. Lovely presentation of all the dishes; robust flavorful sauces/aiolis/dressings. Generous portions; reasonable pricing.

The place really is a bit of an anomoly; the food preparation and presentation are definitely
high quality and elegant. But the room and the servers are what you'd experience in a local bar. I’m hoping that comfort and atractiveness and server appearance and proficiency will grow as the restaurant succeeds .

Look forward to our next visit.

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  1. We also ate there this weekend and had a great experience. Share your disappointment with the room, but I was very happy with the food and value. Clams appetizer was stunningly good: pefect steamed clams in a rich creamy bacon and thyme broth. Holy crap, I could have sopped up every last bit of the broth. We also enjoyed the arancini, although I slightly prefer the version at Sorellina (but the price difference is probably not worth it). For entree, I had the roasted chicken, which was excellent, if not quite Hamersely's superb. Wonderful crisp skin, though the white meat was a bit dry in parts. Excellent little gnocchi, potatoes, and veggies surrounded in a homemade gravy, which gave the sides a "pot pie" kind of flavor which I enjoyed. The truffle fries we ordered as an extra site are outstanding. As you said, they clearly know how to handle a fry job.

    Dinner for two with wine, one appetizer, one tapas, and two entrees, and an extra side came to $79 before tip. A nice bargain.

      1. re: peregrine

        It's on Mass Ave about halfway between Harvard and Central Square. Just look for the sign that says The Cellar, which is the bar downstairs. I agree with the OP. Yummy food, reasonable prices. The venue could be more interesting, but I actually kind of like the gastropub theme taken more literally. I'm disappointed to hear the bar isn't up to the level of the food, we didn't have drinks when I was there because a quality bar would really make this place. As is, certainly worthwhile.

        I greatly enjoyed the chicken croquettes, the clams with yogurt (gosh, they could have described that better, it's as described above, a creamy broth with just a bit of tanginess from the yogurt). Also great are the little fried "tater tots," which are basically breaded and deep fried lumps of mashed potatoes.

      2. I was here a few weeks ago and had a very positive experience. Mr and I sat at the bar (the bar in the restaurant not the unrelated bar downstairs) so I can't really comment on the wait staff as previous posters have.
        We started with the small plate of the day which were oysters (3 for $7). They had freshly chopped herbs on them and some kind of broth. Really delicious. I know oysters have to be cold but sometime restaurants go overboard and they are so chilly that you can't even taste them. These were just the right temperature and had a great flavor. Mr. had the cubano (I think $10?) served with those yummy rosemary truffle oil fries. He said the filling were great but the bread was too hard and kind of cut up the roof of his mouth (Cap'n crunch mouth, he called it). I had the appetizer of the day which was a grill skirt steak on a bed of creamed corn and served with a green tomato chutney. ($15) It was really delicious and the perfect amount for food when coupled with the beet, goat cheese, and arugala salad that Mr and I picked at together. Mr had to Leffe's (which they have on tap!) and I had a glass of rose. The check was $60 at the end of the night.

        I'm certainly adding this place to my regular rotation. I can't wait to go on a colder day and have a bowl of soup and a grilled cheese sandwich there.

        1 Reply
        1. re: heypielady

          The bar downstairs is related. There is one owner that owns everything (including the building).

          You can order anything on the menu or the bar menu downstairs - I find it a good idea to try for seats down there when the upstairs is really full.

          Both the bar and restaurant could get a lift if they scrapped some of the beer advertising stuff on the walls.

        2. While I agree that the food perhaps trumps both decor and certain drink offerings, I'm personally hoping that the room and the servers REMAIN what I'd experience in a local bar as the restaurant succeeds!

          1. I visited here several times, It's sort of a funky place, and you don't feel very welcomed by the staff. The food can be excellent, worth more than what they are charging. But the service just stinks. Literally, in the case of one server who often has body odor. I feel like I am being waited on by people who have no interest in being there or providing real service and accomodating their customers. I won't return.