Boston, you old dinosaur, I’ve got a giant bone to pick with you. Enough with the U2-is-religion, vaguely Irish pubs; leave the spinach-artichoke dips to the slow-pitch softball teams dining at Friday’s. Please, just stop listing your starters under the heading “Pregame.” And I say this in my best Gordon Ramsay impression, spewing expletives, gesturing with my hands to indicate “penis”—your crock o’ chili is a crock o’ shit. But salvation is here, in the form of young chef Will Gilson and his revamped menu at Garden at the Cellar.
The menu is composed of locally grown, seasonal ingredients. The offerings walk the high-low tightrope, with epicurean ingredients creatively used with comfort food staples. There are small plates alongside hearty, bistro-portioned meals. In short, the Garden is a lesson in everything that is socio-gastronomically in-vogue at the moment. The foodie equivalent of Marc Jacobs.
Needless to say, I am thrilled to arrive at the Garden among sofa-bound young trendies. I order a lavender cosmopolitan ($7), which is fragrant and dandy. We also order a host of the small plates, a white bean bruschetta first ($4). Bountiful portions of this arrive on a rustic wooden plank,; the puréed white bean mash (earthy and full of zest) has its own pot for dipping the buttery translucent toasts, sliced so thin they melt in your mouth. Next are three seared scallops ($11), succulent and brown at the edges, plated with toasted hazelnuts and Catalonian romesco—a savory sauce made with roasted garlic and peppers, nuts and olive oil. The delicate sea taste of the scallops mingles with the fruity and smoky romesco, a classic recipe that is a comforting reminder of the Mediterranean.
But a special tonight is the ultimate delight: watermelon cubes composed in a salad with feta cheese, mint, gingerbread and onion seeds ($9). Chef Gilson is beaming as he explains the secret ingredient, a special goat’s milk feta from France, “my guilty pleasure,” he says. The salty, tangy cheese is crumbled over the watermelon cubes and made into a foam that’s drizzled all around, marrying the tastes nicely. With the gingerbread bits and onion seeds, the watermelon is a completely new experience.
The menu changes often, but chicken-thyme croquettes ($8) and steak with rosemary-truffle frites ($25) are old standbys on the menu that have loyal followings. With the small plates, the emphasis on high-quality, fresh ingredients and relatively simple presentation allows for good prices overall. Overall, the Garden showcases a menu that is packed with as much adventure and reinvention as Clark Kent in a telephone booth.
I only wish the brew list was as exciting as the dinner menu, but it’s not to stop me from coming back. Leave the nachos to the cavemen (grunt, bowl- shaped chips, grunt); until more like-minded gastropubs spring up in Boston, consider me an urbanite Cellar dweller.