There are two types of great restaurants: the type that serves extravagant, expensive, and mind-blowing meals that you have once every two years; and the type that serves great food on a regular basis, and you could go to every two days.
Garden at the Cellar right outside Harvard Square belongs to this latter group. While relatively not too far from where I live, I would kill to have it be one of those places that is a stone's throw away, where you can stumble over late on a Tuesday night for a glass of wine and some casual nibbles at the bar. It has that great neighborhood feel, from the casually dressed wait staff to the convivial atmosphere of a place filled with locals.
The restaurant doesn’t have much décor going on, or any sort of “designed” atmosphere, but instead the energy comes from the food and from the people. It was crowded when we stopped in last Thursday at around 8:15 pm, and we grabbed a glass of wine from the tattooed bartender and stood waiting for a table. We finally sat around 20 minutes later, and as soon as my eyes met that menu, I was hooked. So many things to choose from! We decided to, per usual, split a few things.
First came the sea scallops on a sweet potato puree (around $10? I can’t recall). They were light and very tasty; however, as always, I wondered why I ordered them since I’m not even a fan of scallops…I don’t know why I always forget! Then the waiter brought our salad, which was a special that night: a warm spinach salad with duck confit and goat cheese… it was delicious, the type of meal that you’d want to be able to make yourself. Then we waited for our next course…and waited…and waited. At this point, I was already realizing I was quite full! (Apparently that old dieting adage of waiting 20 minutes to realize you are full is true…damnit.)
Finally, our last part of the meal arrived: a flatbread pizza with mushrooms and herbed ricotta cheese ($11), and the restaurant’s “famous” tater tots ($5)! The pizza was delicious, and again was the sort of yummy, everyday-yet- interesting meal that I know I’ll be craving soon. The tater tots were sumptuous and very rich. They had that familiar crunch on the outside, but the inside was dense and creamy. We couldn’t bear to even think about dessert, but with the check came pieces of dark chocolate lined up on a square white plate; these sorts of small gestures in my book really elevate a restaurant from good to great. The total bill was just $36 for the two of us—a bargain considering I took most of the pizza and tater tots home with me and had them for lunch the next day.
Mostly I loved Garden at the Cellar because it’s exactly what I look for in a restaurant—somewhere that is atmospheric but unpretentious, filled with delicious food at reasonable prices, and somewhere the minute you leave you are plotting your return.