If there is something that I am guilty of, it’s falling into a rut. Whether that means always ordering the same (or similar) item at a restaurant or even only wanting to go to a small handful of places over and over, I tend to plummet head over heels and bum over bosom into a drab old routine. Luckily I live with someone who’s been known on more than one occasion to grab me by the lapels and drop me out of my comfort zone. Our dinner at Garden at the Cellar was a perfect example of that, since it’s a place we’ve been meaning to try for a while; left to my own devices, I probably would have put it off indefinitely… and I would have missed out on some really fabulous food.
As usual, Keith and I ordered far too much food, opting to select a trio of starters and sides to get our appetites going. We immediately agreed upon the rosemary-truffle fries ($5.00), which shouldn’t come as a shock since I adore potatoes in all forms and pretty much revere the fry. These were everything a girl looks for in a pile of fries, though I will say that I know from years of experience that a garlic-mayo dip makes every potato stick that much better.
The second appetizer we chose was the burrata with speck, and arugula ($11.00), since cheese has a gravitational pull I am incapable of resisting. In this case, as much as I hate to admit it, I should have put up more of a fight as this was a poor choice. The burrata was appropriately buttery and mild, but overall this plate leaned towards the underwhelming.
The last of our trio was by far the best: chicken and thyme croquettes with a smoked paprika aïoli sauce that may have just been the brightest shade orange I’ve seen in a long time ($8.00). Our bowl held three croquettes each the size of a golf ball, and you know what? It wasn’t enough. I wanted more. I would have canceled my dinner order and gladly eaten another troika of breadcrumb-rolled globes. Each bite of ground chicken, thyme and cheese was so deeply and richly flavored that I craved another taste even as I chewed.
Garden at the Cellar describes itself as a gastropub; for this reason, I decided to stick as much as possible to the bar menu when it came time to choose my entrée which is why I kept it simple with the restaurant’s “Cellar Burger” ($10.00). Shaped with locally-raised and grass-fed beef, it was thoroughly succulent — though I wish it had been cooked to medium-rare, as opposed to medium-well. I had asked to swap out the accompanying fries with house-made tater tots, which were by far the stand-out of the dish. Soft, fluffy and encased in a crispy shell, these were the epitome of comfort.
In contrast to the warm and fuzzies I felt from the food, I got the exact opposite sensation from both the décor and the waitstaff. Aesthetically, Garden at the Cellar’s space is very modern — from a 1980s perspective. It is not a cozy interior at all, and on top of that, the waitstaff was flat-out indifferent to our presence at the bar. Only when Keith and I began raving about our food did the hostess make a perfunctory inquiry about how we were enjoying our meal. Before that: nothing. Afterwards: even less.
In the end, how important is service? I don’t want to be coddled, but neither do I want to be neglected. What I truly desire is a series of stunning dishes delivered politely to my table. Were we insulted by the staff? Of course not. Was our food at the proper temperature? Without question. At the same time, did we spend a lot of money? No… but should a diner have to pay No. 9 prices in order to be the recipient of fine service?
I don’t have an answer to any of these questions, since they address something far greater than my food at Garden at the Cellar, which — with the exception of the burrata — was startlingly luscious. If anyone has some thoughts on the service matter, I’m curious to hear them.
Garden at the Cellar
991 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138