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Jan 14, 2009 12:49 PM

Garden at the Cellar, really?

My second visit to Garden at the Cellar was for lunch. Dinner the first time a few months ago was fine, even tasty. I left thinking that the portions were too big (either your food cost is super low or you're not making any money), but that was the only thing that bothered me. Until today. I was there for lunch with a friend. We each ordered a pint while we browsed the menu. I decided on the Cuban sandwich with French Fries and she got the Falafel with Tater Tots. And then we waited. And waited. There was one other table sitting when we got there, but they were eating so it's not like they were busy preparing other people's lunches. I finished my beer, which is no small feat... I'm not a beer drinker, and definitely not during the day, but today was different. And maybe different for the Cellar too since they usually gather high marks. Anyway, I ordered a second beer and we speculate if this is how the restaurant makes its money; keep em drinking while they wait for their food. Close to 40 minutes pass from the time we placed our order to the time it arrived in front us. Finally. Except... mine doesn't look right. The menu said: Cuban: pork, cheddar, pickles, ham. It looks like dark chunk tuna salad on toast. I see a pickle and evidence of melted cheese, but the rest looks like cat food. I take one bite and I don't like it, it's like pork rilletes gone wrong, but we've already waited and I didn't feel like waiting for them to make me another sandwich. So I scrape it all off, re-assemble my sandwich with it's meager slice of ham, melted cheese and two pickles. The fries were good, but not special, more parsley then truffle if anything. My friend said her falafel was fine, but not great. The bread-to-falafel ratio was so high that it seemed really dry and she had to ask for more yogurt to get it down. The tater tots that came with her sandwich would be better off if they were called 'fried mashed potato balls' because that's all they were. Service was fine, but there seemed to be only one person waiting tables, seating people and running food. I'd hate to see what happened if the place filled up. There was no management presence whatsoever. Am I silly to expect more from this place? It is bar food, after all, in a college town. But why is everyone gushing over it? I don't get it... it seems the standards for dining in Boston/Cambridge are falling fast.

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  1. Thanks for posting this. I've never been for lunch but now I'm not sure I'd try it. Shame, I have really enjoyed the food when I've eaten at the bar. Has "everyone" been gushing over it, though?

    BTW -- the tater tots are mashed potato and choux pastry rolled in instant potato flakes and fried for crunch. I think they are dreamy, but they are NOT the traditional shredded potato-style tots of our cafeteria days. You can get those further up Mass Ave at the Cambridge Common.

    1 Reply
    1. re: yumyum

      Yikes! I had dinner there a year ago or so -- and the service was painfully slow and unresponsive. I vowed to get it a try and am meeting a friend there for lunch tomorrow! I hope it is better.

    2. That is shame- the couple of times I've been, I have enjoyed the food very much. Unfortunately, I have vowed not to return until they start taking reservations; or if I have cash on hand to go the place downstairs.

      1. how do you say the "service was fine" if you waited 40 minutes for your food? a lunch turn should happen in 45 minutes. neither of your sandwiches take much time to prepare so something bad was happening.

        either your server forgot to place the order right away, or something happened in the back of the house. i would have tagged the server after 15 minutes looking for my food.

        1. It's always possible that someone or some place can have an off day. It does happen. Maybe you were unlucky and got the B team. Maybe you're confusing the chicken and egg here; if business has been slow because of the weather and economy, maybe the management cut back on the people working both in front and in back of house during the lunch hour.

          In my opinion, it's a decent place. It fills a relative culinary void between Harvard and Central Square. For comparison's sake, consider nearby bars like Grafton or Plough and Stars. I think of their menus as more representative of typical bar food. Garden seems to aim a little higher. Looking at the rest of Garden's menu, my expectations for a Cuban or falafel sandwich would probably be lower than at Chez Henri or Fordee's. For that matter, I probably wouldn't expect that much from a buffalo chicken roll-up at Fordee's or order sushi at a Thai restaurant. Maybe it's just me. I do go for dinner at the Garden once in a while, mostly on the early side, before the main dinner rush. Just like you implied, the dinner food and portions seem to be a reasonable value, although this is entirely subjective. My wife loves those tater tots, which are like crispy little clouds.

          Extrapolating a bad eating experience to "standards for dining in Boston/Cambridge are falling fast" seems a little excessive to me. Next time, go down the street to Rendezvous, or even further to Salts or Craigie, for dinner. You should expect more (and to pay more, as well) from these places.

          8 Replies
          1. re: youngho

            add in central kitchen which rarely gets mentioned on these boards.

            1. re: youngho

              You're right, after re-reading that last statement does seem harsh and sure any restaurant can have an off day (and I was probably having an off day that day too). I'll be sure to give it another shot. Can someone recommend a few favorites from the lunch menu?

              1. re: aperitif

                So, my lunch beat my long-ago dinner experience. The chicken orzo soup is fantastic! (I seldom like chicken soup but the cold inspired me to try it and I can't stop thinking about it!) The bartender also said it was his favorite thing on the menu...

                1. re: RoseWethersfield

                  So, I tempted fate and lost. After a good lunch earlier in the week, my partner and I were joined by a friend for drinks and food at the bar tonight. "Not so much" and "not again" was what we all said.

                  So, service was slow -- it appeared as if they might have been short staffed and the bartender was also covering tables. But instead of discretion and a smile -- we heard a lot of the plans being made and there was a general lack of enthusiasm for serving patrons. I felt like an unexpected/unwelcome guest.

                  We started with some apps -- rosemary fries, croquettes, and the special short ribs. Fries were outstanding. Croquettes were meh. Our friend reported that short ribs seemed drenched in a ketchup-y sauce. The special wasn't special.

                  My friend continued with a burger (good but not as good as gargoyles -- heavy on cold brioche). My partner and I split the pear/arugula skillet salad -- better than average.

                  I think the whole night is summarized by my partner asking for more ketchup and being given a plastic squeeze bottle. (My partner was also upset that a "green" restaurant took wine glasses rather than refilling the same glass with the same wine. Less of an issue for me.)

                  So, not again. We are fans (and regulars) at Highland Kitchen, Oleana, Hungry Mother and Rendezvous -- all area competitors (although admittedly different price points and menus) with better food and service.

                  I'd still grab a soup at lunch but have (appropriately) low expectations. It's too bad they can't execute on their strong concept...

                  1. re: RoseWethersfield

                    This thread bums me out! Haven't been there for a few months, but this is one of my favorite places in Boston for a not-too-expensive dinner on a Friday or Saturday night (except for the long waits/no reservations - I try to get there on the early side.) Love the local/seasonal take on bar food and thankful for the many vegetarian options. (It's still surprising to me how many nice places give me exactly one option for dinner.) Always feels so cozy and welcoming. Chef Gilson usually delivers one course to the table and asks how the meal is going. Hope the food and/or service is not suffering as a result of the economy. I'll have to get there soon to give my support, hope I'm not disappointed too!

                    1. re: edamame

                      I decided I may have been too critical of my recent lunch and went back to Garden at the Cellar to give it a second and third chance. I'm glad I did because it was a million times better. On one visit we just popped in for an appetizer and shared the bacon wrapped dates stuffed with some kind of cheese (I think) which were tasty, but my favorite part of the dish was the apple hash that came under it. I think I ate all of it. The combination of flavors was perfect: sweet, salty, creamy, crunchy, curry. Yum.

                      At lunch a different day, my friend loved her beet salad (It looked awesome, but I didn't have any) and my Chicken Panini was delicious. I was expecting chicken breast and got what seemed like roasted chicken pulled from a whole bird. It was the most tender and flavorful chicken I've ever had, a pleasant surprise. Maybe I just ordered wrong the first time? Service was fine again, there was a moment where we needed water, but the glasses are small and I was drinking it fast. I'm curious to try more of the menu, I like the beer list and think the space is cute and comfortable. I'm glad I gave it another chance and I'm glad they were able to change my mind.

                      1. re: aperitif

                        Congrats for giving it a second shot. CH has prompted me to do the same on a few occasions, and more often than not, I'm glad I did. While I've never tried GATC for lunch, it is one of my favorite dinner places for all the reasons edamame states.

                        1. re: aperitif

                          I have many off days, but fortunately, my wife always gives me another chance. I hope that others will do so, as well.

                          I'm a little concerned about what seems to be happening to the commercial spaces in the neighborhood. I hope that Garden at the Cellar and Il Panino Express stick around.