New York v Boston or Boston v Cambridge?

Every so often, when I’m in New York, someone will ask me “how do you like Boston?”. And, every so often, I will hesitate before pulling out my stock answer “it’s fine, you know, its a great student town, but really, it’s nothing like New York.” The reason behind my hesitation is that Boston is actually a great town…err city. It’s clean, it’s incredibly pretty (when not covered with snow and freezing rain), it’s safe and importantly, it’s within easy reach of some wonderful weekend road trips. Despite these and many more merits, Boston’s failure to deliver on the restaurant front has unfortunately landed it squarely in my “nothing like NY” bucket.

It’s not that Boston food is bad, by any means. In fact, the abundance of fresh seafood gives the city a unique advantage and character. However, the more I eat out, the more convinced I am that Boston’s dining experience consists of a few basic cuisines (Italian, Seafood, American), a staid, stuffier ambience and good, but not stellar, food. Underwhelmed by recent trips to Market Jean Georges, Stephanie’s on Newbury and Casa Romero, I decided to spend some more time exploring my own back yard – the small but upscale city of Cambridge, MA. And what a good decision it was…

I just got back from the Cellar, a cute but inconspicuous little place on Mass Av that rightly lives up to its unpretentious name. Much like a Nottinghill gastropub, the Cellar is split into a downstairs bar and a more upscale upstairs restaurant (“Garden at the Cellar”). Neither place takes reservations and the space is small, so you’d do well to get there before 9pm on a weeknight and before 7pm (I’ve been told) on a weekend. Eyeing the line at the restaurant, we decided to head downstairs and quickly found seats at the bar. There’s no waitstaff downstairs and the menu is slightly shorter, but our bartender was very friendly and told us we could order from either place. A quick look at the deliciously-worded list and we decided to order tapas style, choosing a few small plates to share. Our food arrived quickly and was absolutely divine. The Pancetta Wrapped Dates with Goat Cheese and Apple Hash were scrumptiously juicy and bursting with flavour. The Chicken & Thyme Croquettes were crisp, grease-free and perfectly spiced. The Homemade Tater Tots were surprisingly delicate and the Mini Burgers on Brioche with Crispy Potatoes were melt-in-the-mouth delicious. Yum! To top it all off, our bill was less than $15 per person – absolutely incredible when you consider the rip off prices we usually end up paying for dinner. Are you listening Boston?

The Ambience: Dim-lighting, lively vibe, background music at perfect pitch. Crowd is mostly older students and young professionals. Perfect for small groups, drinks and dates.
The Verdict: Cellar – je t’adore! Your terrific menu, delicious food and great prices make you a firm favorite and I look forward to seeing you again soon 🙂