June 2nd, 2009

Garden at the Cellar, Cambridge

It was last Tuesday night and vacation had officially started. R and I went to Garden at the Cellar. It seems appropriate that the year is half over and I have managed to hit 6 out of the 12 restaurants I listed in my 1/1/09 entry to try this year. Although it was 8:45, there was still a 20 minute wait for a table, so we opted to sit at the bar instead. This allowed us to order off both the dinner menu and the bar menu.

We ordered some plates to share:


  1. Homemade “Tater Tots” - These were unbelievably good, elevating the humble tater tot to a sublime potato custard encapsulated in perfectly crispy shell.

  2. Chickpea Fries – These were pretty good, however after the tater tots, they seemed like a sad runner-up.

  3. Bacon Wrapped Dates with goat cheese and curried apple hash – It was the failure of the night. There was too much rich goat cheese (I just kept chewing and chewing and not getting anywhere) and the curried apple hash was something that sounded good in the chef's head and but did not work on the plate.

  4. Seared Foie Gras & Doughnuts with rhubarb – They did the unthinkable, they overcooked the foie gras. The doughnuts and pickled rhubarb was nice.

  5. Glazed Short Rib with sunchokes, ramps and fiddleheads – The short rib was great, but there was only one piece, which was not nearly enough for us.

  6. Berkshire Pork Schnitzel with poached farm egg, artichokes barigoule, lemon brown butter – a breaded pork cutlet that is well executed is still a breaded pork cutlet, that said, the artichokes were great.


The service at the bar was good and Garden at the Cellar considers itself a “gastropub”, so the prices are quite reasonable. I think the menu has a good variety of standard fare and interesting and creative eats for a crowd. I will definitely return, if only for those tater tots. R said, “remember when I said that if the Local was local, I would go to it? Not anymore, I would just go here instead.”



LA, Part I

Day 1 – In-n-Out, Santa Monica Farmer’s Market and Lawry’s Prime Rib


Although the clock said 10:30am when we arrived in LA, our grumbling stomachs said it was lunchtime. Our first stop was at an In-n-Out burger. We had 2 double-doubles (basically a double cheeseburger) with fries and a chocolate shake. I know it’s a fast food joint, but we really liked In-n-Out. This is what McDonald’s should aspire to be.


We stopped by the farmer’s market in Santa Monica. http://www01.smgov.net/farmers_market/wednesday.htm

I’m so jealous; even at the peak of the season, the farmer’s markets here do not reach the level of variety and abundance. If I lived in LA, I would be there every week to pick up produce.


For dinner, we went to Lawry’s Prime Rib. Part of me hated wasting a meal on somewhere that I’ve been before (multiple times). After all, there is so much in LA to try, 2 week vacation couldn’t cover everything, much less 5 days. But that said, I love their prime rib so much, I could not leave without having some. It was as good as I remembered it to be and that is all the needs to be said.


Day 2 – Pizzeria Mozza and The Bazaar.


When we were on our cruise, R was desperate for beach shoes. He won’t wear the thong-style flip-flops (the man hates the feeling between his toes, I guess). That left Crocs, which would have been fine, but the only color they had in his size was orange. He says that the Crocs are super comfortable and wears them all the time. Everywhere.


We arrived early for our lunch reservation at Pizzeria Mozza, Mario Batali’s pizzeria in LA. In case you did not know, Mario is infamous for his trademark orange Crocs. It’s all he ever wears. Crocs even came out with a special Mario Batali edition.



So there we are, seating outside, R is wearing the Crocs and this conversation ensues with the two guys behind us.


Guy 1: (Noticing the Crocs) Oh my God! Are you wearing those because you are coming here for lunch?!


G: No, it’s just happenstance.


Guy 2: Really? (Incredulously)


I proceed to explain about the cruise and how he wears them all the time. I see the pity in their eyes.


Another guy in line saw the shoes, pointed at them and informed us that Mario had been there the day before.


Anyways, off the footwear and back to the food.


We started with a chicken liver, caper, parsley and guanciale bruschetta. I loved it, but I love all things liver. R did not enjoy it as much as I did. I was not impressed with the ricotta filled fried squash blossoms he ordered, so I guess that makes us even.


We had two pizzas: a fennel sausage and an egg and guanciale. I thought both pizzas were excellent. I loved the crust. It was crispy, tender and flavorful.


The desserts were the surprise of the meal. I didn’t expect them to be so delectable. R’s vanilla panna cotta was the perfect texture and the berries were ripe and sweet. I had the butterscotch budino, which was essentially a smooth, rich pudding.


Pizzeria Mozza is a must try if you are in the LA area.




The Bazaar is by Jose Andres, disciple of Ferran Adria of El Bulli in Spain. He also has a series on PBS, as well as a million cookbooks. The restaurant is situated at the SLS hotel in Beverly Hills and is filled with beautiful, trendy people. Luckily, I convinced R not to wear the aforementioned Crocs.


The menu is composed of traditional Spanish tapas and “modern tapas” which is to say small plates of molecular gastronomy whimsy. We opted for the Chef’s tasting ($65 each). They brought out a mix of the traditional and modern.


1.      King crab, fresh raspberries, raspberry vinegar – good, but uninteresting

2.      Jamón Ibérico de bellota Acorn-fed, free-range Ibérico ham, there’s been so much hoopla about this ham that I was really excited about trying it. It was good, but it did not live up to the hype.

3.      Pa'amb tomaquet Catalan Style toasted bread, Manchego, tomato- Toast with tomato. Uniteresting.

4.      Papas Canarias salty wrinkled potatoes, mojo verde- I really liked these simple potatoes. They were boiled in heavily salted water, resulting in a tender interior and a crispy salt crust.

5.      Norwegian lobster seaweed salad, lobster essence- I loved the miniature tea cup of lobster broth. I could have had a large bowl of the broth and been happy.

6.      Braised veal cheeks California oranges, natural jus­- this was R’s favorite of the night. You just can’t go wrong with cheeks.

7.      Boneless chicken wings green olive purée, iceplant- Delicious, if only they offered these at JH.

8.      Soy marinated salmon roe cone – I loved it (but I love all roe), R hated it.

9.      Cotton candy foie gras – It was a skewer with a perfectly cooked piece of foie wrapped in pink cotton candy. Weird, but good.

10.  Olives Modern and traditional – The modern olive was olive puree encapsulated in a skin. It was neat, but not any better than the plain olive right next to it. 

11.  Not your everyday Caprese Cherry tomatoes, liquid mozzarella - Same technique with the mozzarella as the olive above. I think it worked better with this dish.

12.  Sautéed cauliflower “couscous” Cauliflower purée, harissa, lemon- This dish exemplifies what is wrong with molecular gastronomy for me. The “couscous” was impressive as I could not tell that I was eating cauliflower. It looked, smell and tasted just like real couscous. But what’s the point, why not just have a bowl of real couscous at a fraction of the cost?

13.  “Philly cheesesteak” Air bread, cheddar, Wagyu beef- Good, but silly.


There was also a special drink trolley going around making frozen caprihinas with liquid nitrogen. It was a frozen slushy that had the smoothiest texture ever. I really liked it.


When it was time for dessert, they asked if we would like to move to the patisserie and we agreed. The patisserie area is fun and whimsical, like Alice in Wonderland on acid. The desserts followed this theme.


1.      Hot Chocolate Mousse with pear sorbet and salty hazelnut praline- Really delicious, the combination of the warm mousse and the cool pear sorbet was excellent. 

2.      Greek Yogurt Panna Cotta with apricots and muscat gelatin – It was ok, too tart as a dessert for me.

3.      White chocolate lollipop with black olive and sea salt – Weird. Just plain weird.

4.      Chocolate covered pop rocks – This was so much fun. I wonder if I could make these at home.



The service was impeccable, and it was a fun experience, but not a culinary revelation.




More to follow. . .

LA, Part II

Day 3 – Philippe’s and The Crab Cooker


It may seem wrong to most people to have a lamb sandwich for breakfast, but I wanted to fit Philippe’s in somewhere and it was 11am (and really, it was 2pm in Boston). They claim to have invented the French dip sandwich (you can read the story on the website).

R had a lamb and blue cheese, double dipped (the top half of the bread is dunked in the jus on both sides) and I had the beef, double dipped.


The sandwiches were delicious. I watched as she carved the lamb off of a roasted shank. It is generous to say the space has “personality,” they have been there since 1951 and I imagine not much has changed, including the sawdust covered floors. That’s okay, it’s part of the restaurant’s charm.




The wedding festivities did not begin till 6pm, so we decided to venture down the coast. We stopped in Newport Beach and ate at the Crab Cooker for lunch. They are known to have great clam chowder, but imagine our dismay when we discovered it was Manhattan clam chowder. We have much disdain for the tomato based soup. If it was called minestrone with clams, it would be fine, but to call it a clam chowder is just wrong. Additionally, we had a small loaf of freshly bread (warm bread is always great), fried calamari (too bready), smoked albacore (nothing special) and Dungeness crab (I love crab; I could eat crab all day).


The service was friendly and the restaurant was near the beach and the pier. It’s not a bad option for lunch if you are in the area.