Thursday, June 10, 2010

Garden at the Cellar

I ordered steak rare for the first time ever last night. Man, I've really been missing out. I generally go with medium rare, a pretty safe bet, but I always regret not going all the way to rare. Joel, on the other hand, always gets rare, and it always tastes amazing. We celebrated our anniversary at Garden at the Cellar last night, a place I figured would do a great job barely cooking high quality steak (and not poisoning me). Joel made an interesting point on that note: if you're at a restaurant where you wouldn't feel comfortable ordering a steak rare, why would you want to order steak there at all?

We've been meaning to go to Garden at the Cellar for awhile. I dragged Joel along to the Eat, Drink & Be Fair event back in October where we witnessed Chef Will Gilson using an unconventional method to smoke meat, one that he probably learned in the dorm rather than the classroom.
Materials: a pitcher, a soda bottle, and other accessories that can be found at your
neighborhood head shop. For tobacco use only, of course.
We were intrigued by his creativity, and his food tasted great as well, so Garden at the Cellar has been on our must-try list since then. Joel had previously been there for bar food, and I'd had drinks downstairs, but we were excited to try out the entrees.

Thanks to Julia Rappaport's advice via Twitter that the Island Creek oyster appetizer "is pretty much bliss on a plate," we started out with that and an order of the famous tater tots. The oysters were served with a Meyer lemon mignonette and grains of paradise, a peppery spice from the ginger family. The three oysters came out sitting atop salt mountains on a wooden plank, and yes, they tasted like bliss. The texture of the perfectly spherical tater tots reminded me very much of the homefries at Lucky's Lounge in Fort Point and of smiley fries minus the smiley: mushy and smooth, like mashed potatoes fried into a ball shape. Tasty, but I prefer my tater tots greasy and crispy, high school cafeteria-style.

I should also mention the bread. We had to dig through the folded napkin a bit to find the bread tucked in the bottom of the basket, and this actually pleased us: finally, a restaurant that gives you just enough bread to start out the meal nicely instead of stuffing you full of carbs before the appetizers even come out. It came with herbed butter - very nice! The restaurant, by the way, is decorated with tons of potted herbs, all from Chef Gilson's family's The Herb Lyceum in Groton. We had something prickly on our table that we couldn't identify, and it smelled great.

I ordered the grilled steak frites (prime bavette steak) with garlic spinach, parsnip puree, and rosemary-truffle fries. If you're looking for a potato side, definitely go for the fries over the tots. They were fantastic, especially with the fresh rosemary. Rare was the right choice: the steak was tender and juicy with plenty of flavor. I never get excited when I hear "parsnip" - they seem so nondescript - but the puree tasted fine. (Joel is actually very enthusiastic about parsnips. He told me about how his mom puts them in matzoh ball soup, and he used to think they were strange little carrots that tasted good.) A garden's worth of garlic spinach was hidden under the meat. Between this and the amazing wilted chili spinach I had at East Coast Grill recently, I'm really getting into spinach!

Joel got the pan roasted duck breast with honey-roasted radish, green tomato jam, pistachios, and duck jus. I feel the same way about radishes as I do about parsnips (and turnips, for that matter), but the honey brought a subtle sweetness to the bitter veggie. I rarely order duck since it's so rich, but I do enjoy a couple bites now and then. Two bites of this were more than satisfying. Crispy fat and tender meat...I think Joel won the entree game this time. The green tomato jam was also great (and much more interesting than my parsnip puree).

Garden at the Cellar doesn't have a dessert menu, but they give everyone some complimentary Taza chocolates at the end of the meal. I like that the portion sizes of the less important courses are small, allowing the entrees to come through. Service was great. When we arrived, the hostess told us it'd be 20-30 and that if we wanted to wait at the bar downstairs, she'd come find us. The bartender was very friendly, and our server was amusing (and had an awesome mustache). It's the little things that make us smile. While Garden at the Cellar's dining room is very small and can get loud, it never feels cramped. I felt like we were hiding out in our own little herb garden. And for some reason, I was very amused by the "To the Lifeboats" sign that pointed towards the bathroom.

Garden at the Cellar on Urbanspoon

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