Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Good Food Can Be Found In "The Cellar"

Review #2 of 3.

Garden At The Cellar

Two words. Rosemary fries. This place has them and they are delicious. They are almost like McDonald's addictive fries but glammed up with some rosemary and sea salt. It's a deadly combination, but how can you fault it? Rosemary and the fry are so good together. In fact, when I think of them I'm reminded of the Jack Johnson song, "Better Together." I imagine a sprig of rosemary skipping through the park with a fry and the melody playing in the background:

"Mmmm, It's always better when we're together
Yeah we'll look at the stars and we're together
Well, it's always better when we're together
Yeah it's always better when we're together."

Or maybe that's me singing as I eat the rosemary fries. Either way, it's good. And at The Cellar you can either get a basket to share as an appetizer or enjoy them as a side to your sandwich.

Fries aside, this place has many other fine options for hungry diners. The restaurant itself is two floors. The top floor is an upscale, casual dining room, albeit kind of narrow. An open kitchen sits at the back of the room and along one side of the room is a large wooden bar. A few tables grace the other side but seating is very limited - hence the two-hour wait for 5 people on a Saturday night. The downstairs, or cellar area, is a bit bigger and much more rustic. It's darker, danker, well like a cellar, and more like a bar. You can eat down there at the high top tables, but it's louder and much less of a relaxed dining experience. It just depends on what you're looking for.

Our group ordered the rosemary fries, like you couldn't have figured that one out, along with the mini burgers and flatbread pizza to share. The mini burgers were served on brioche bread and topped with cheddar. I didn't partake in these, as I ordered the larger size for my meal, but they looked juicy and were served with some crunchy roasted potatoes. The flatbread was crispy and topped with just the right amount of cheese, roasted mushrooms and spicy arugula.

For dinner, as I said, I got the burger. Now I'm very picky about my burgers. Ever since I discovered the best burger of all time at a restaurant near my house (how fortuitous right?) I've been hesitant to order a burger elsewhere. The Cellar burger fortunately had no problem measuring up to my old standby. It was cooked just as I'd ordered, medium, which somehow always seems to be hard to come by. The meat was top quality, juicy but not overly fatty. It was topped with garlic aioli, arugula and Vermont sharp cheddar and served on a brioche bun. Basically a larger version of the minis.

One of my other dining companions got the Cuban sandwich. I personally never know what to expect with a Cuban. Sometimes it's too many pickles or not enough pickles, too much mustard or not enough mustard and so on. I think the jury is still out also on whether or not I really like ham. Hmmm..Anyway. There's a good balance to strike in a Cuban and some places get it and some don't. The Cellar's Cuban looked as pretty as a picture. Shredded braised pork poking out the sides, melted cheese oozing, briny pickles, bright yellow mustard and thin slices of ham all pressed together and mellowing under the bread's dark grill marks. I'm told it tasted as good as it looked too. The food at the Cellar is a sure crowd-pleaser. They have a dinner menu and bar menu so even the picky people in your group will leave satisfied.

I also have to mention that I washed this meal down with a margarita. Like burgers, I'm picky about my margaritas. I hardly ever order a margarita at a bar since most of the time it involves rail tequila (gag me), sour mix and Rose's lime juice. I'm pretty sure that's as unauthentic as you can get. But I spotted a woman sipping on one at the end of the bar and it just looked so enticing so I bit the bullet and ordered one. To my surprise, it was surprisingly good for a bar margarita. I think the bartender used actual margarita mix instead of the aforementioned ingredients, which makes all the difference. So if you do go to The Cellar (as the locals call it), don't be afraid to order the margarita. It's a refreshing change from your standard bar drink. The food is also a refreshing change from standard bar fare - it's classic bar flavors made with fresh ingredients and prepared with a little creativity than usual.

Service: B+ (We sat at the bar and the barmaid was fairly busy but still managed to be attentive and bring drinks and food in a timely manner)
Atmosphere: B (It's nothing special, but it's clean, bright and has a cozy feel. The cellar also provides a much more Gothic experience if you're feeling it.)
Food: A (Everything was just really good.)
Overall Value: B (Portions were huge, no one finished anything on their plate, and prices were reasonable. You can go big or go small here and still be satisfied.)

Vinoteca Di Monica, an Italian wine bar and restaurant in Boston's North End that specializes in homemade pasta and a dizzying wine list of Italian selections.

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