I first discovered Garden at the Cellar back in college when I was trying to find restaurants in the Boston area that sourced ingredients locally but was also affordable. The one place I found that fit the bill was Garden at the Cellar. It was exactly the kind of place I had been hoping to find. The restaurant is stylish, with copper table tops and dim lighting, but laid back and friendly. Pots of fresh herbs on each table echo the Cellar’s commitment to sourcing locally. Chef Will Gilson’s father, David Gilson, heads the The Herb Lyceum in Groton, which sells at several Boston farmers’ markets come springtime and is one of Garden at the Cellar’s suppliers.
Garden at the Cellar is undoubtedly one of my favorite restaurants in Boston/Cambridge and I was thrilled when I received an invitation to attend a dinner sponsored by Muir Glen tomatoes. As part of their Vine Dining Tour, Muir Glen teamed up with five chefs, Will being one of them, to create recipes using Muir Glen’s limited-edition reserve tomatoes. I will say I was skeptical at first. I wondered how exciting a dinner could be that centered around canned tomatoes. I’m not even a big fan of preserved tomatoes. Leave it to Garden at the Cellar to completely change my mind about that.
The evening was executed beautifully. It started out with casual mingling at the bar where we had the choice of a white or red wine. I enjoyed the white Naia Verdejo and caught up with fellow bloggers Brian, Meghan, Megan, Jen and later on Katie and Rachel. One of my favorite parts of the Cellar menu are the many small plate and appetizer options. Whenever I go, I always end up creating a meal out of several of these plates. Our meal started out with four of these appetizers set along the bar. An entire section of the GATC menu is devoted to flatbread pizzas. I was excited to see that Will created one of these specially for the event: a flatbread pizza with smoked tomatoes and roasted cauliflower. Large chunks of tender roasted cauliflower, smoky tomatoes and cheese mingled atop a thin, chewy flatbread. I love roasted cauliflower and this dish took it to another level. This was by far my favorite appetizer of the evening and I sincerely hope Will puts this flatbread on the regular menu.
The grilled bruschetta with tomato, eggplant and smoked feta was salty and tangy, with a layer of thick, rich tomato-eggplant spread. The toasts were dotted with chunks of smoke feta, which is smoother and creamier than fresh feta. The textures of the three components, chewy bread, rich tomato spread and creamy feta, complemented each other beautifully.
And the grand finale of the appetizers: a smaller version of GATC’s renowned tomato soup and grilled cheese, which Will joked helps to pay his mortgage. I can attest to its popularity. I have ordered the soup and grilled cheese, among other dishes, every time I have eaten at GATC. On a given evening, bowls of the soup emerge from the kitchen in a constant stream.
The rich orange of the soup echoes the copper accents of the restaurant. The grilled cheese, crispy and browned on the outside, soft and gooey inside, begs to be dunked in the thick and tangy soup. It may seem silly to order grilled cheese and tomato soup at a restaurant that offers such enticing dishes as chickpea fries with brown butter aioli and gremolata or bacon wrapped dates stuffed with goat cheese atop curried apple hash. Grilled cheese and tomato soup is something you can whip up at home. But one bite of this rendition and you realize that your at home creation might not compare.
A very sincere thank you to Muir Glen for sponsoring this evening and hosting us, and to Will Gilson and the staff of Garden at the Cellar for delighting my palate and reminding me yet again why it is one of my favorite restaurants in Cambridge.