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CORRECTION TO THIS ARTICLE:
This article provided incomplete times of service for Garden at the Cellar, which is also open for lunch Monday through Friday 11:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m. and for brunch on Saturdays and Sundays the same hours.

COURTESY OF GARDEN AT THE CELLAR

Located between Central and Harvard Square, Garden at the Cellar brings a satisfactory variety of meals for reasonable prices.

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★★★★✩

Garden at the Cellar

991 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge

Sunday – Wednesday: 5:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.

Thursday – Saturday: 5:00 p.m. – 11:00 p.m.

Tucked away between Central Square and Harvard Square, Garden at The Cellar is one of those casual places that you can regularly count on to find great food at reasonable prices. Since they don’t take reservations, we repeatedly postponed the visit, but this time we decided to check it out anyway.

As we walked from campus toward Harvard Square on a Saturday night, we called in and were told there would be a twenty-minute wait for a table at the Garden, but upon arrival were pleasantly surprised to find a place for us at the Cellar. Both Garden and Cellar serve the same menu, but the Cellar is even more casual than the Garden, with minimal décor, orders placed at the bar, and no wait service. But what it lacks in atmosphere and design, it more than makes up for with delicious food.

For starters we shared bacon wrapped dates stuffed with goat cheese and a pork belly bun ($5 each). Served atop an apple hash, the dates were delightful though not beyond expectation; they were sizable and perfectly roasted, but the bacon wrap was a tad too salty and thick to bring about a perfect balance of sweet and savory. The pork belly bun was similar — the belly was crispy and smoky, but had more fat than desired.

The real highlights of the night were the small plates that we tried instead of entrées to better sample the restaurant’s fare. For those that crave full sized portions instead of small plates, Garden at the Cellar also has a wide and creative selection. We first shared the grilled octopus ($15), mixed with cauliflower pickle, curly endive, and a splendid hazelnut romesco with toasted garlic. The octopus was hearty and only lightly charred, and the rich romesco (a nut and red pepper-based sauce from Tarragona, Spain) brought an authentic Catalonian feel to the dish. We really appreciated the inventiveness of mixing in pickled cauliflower, but weren’t quite sure if the combination worked perfectly in the end.

Our second small plate was a beet salad ($13), made with apple, walnuts, gorgonzola, and celery, which truly put all other beet salads that we’ve tasted to shame. There was no shortage of beets or cheese in this salad — the portion was truly substantial. The abundant beets were extremely well-prepared and fresh, and their rich taste was appropriately balanced by the gorgonzola and celery dressing. After such refreshing yet light fare, we looked forward to an exciting and filling creation for our last dish.

In came the butter-poached lobster ($15), served with brioche croutons, wild Burgundy truffles, and a duck egg. This was indeed a superb concoction: the runny egg yolk and the truffles functioned as a perfect sauce to the tasty warm lobster, and the crisp croutons nicely balanced out the creamier texture and salty flavor of the butter and egg yolk. The perfect integration of complementary ingredients and the outstanding execution made this dish our favorite of the night, and warrant a prompt return to the premises in the near future.

Garden at The Cellar definitely lived up to its reputation of a neighborhood gem. Its atmosphere is at a sweet spot, serving fresh, quality and innovative dishes while keeping the feel of a humble and comfortable hangout. Only two years into the tenure of current chef and owner Brandon Arms, it has already become a staple of the restaurant scene in Cambridge, a haven for those seeking fun and creative, yet nurturing food surprises.