One of my friends and I have been making a point of trying different restaurants in the Kendall Square/East Cambridge area together (as it's near her work and on my way home from work). We've been to EVOO, Dante, Bambara, and Catalyst, and last week we finally made it to ArtBar.
ArtBar, like Dante, is located in the Royal Sonesta Hotel. The menu features seasonal American cuisine, and the atmosphere is perfect for grabbing dinner or after-work cocktails with friends.
When my friend and I arrived at ArtBar, we were shown to a table by the window. Even though it was a dark, rainy evening and we couldn't see much outside, we did get to gaze upon a lovely Christmas tree adorned with white lights.
We settled in, shed our raincoats, and looked over the wine list. We each ordered a glass of the Tamari Malbec (from Argentina). Malbec has been my go-to wine lately. This one was medium-bodied with notes of plum, caramel, and toffee and was perfect for helping us unwind from the work day and forget about the gross weather outside.
Shortly after we got our wine, the chef sent out an amuse-bouche of a scallop set on top of crispy pork belly with a maple glaze. Those of you who know me know I despise scallops. But I desperately want to like them because everyone else seems to enjoy them so much, so whenever I am presented with one I try it. I took a small bite of this scallop along with some of the pork belly, and then I took another bite and another bite, and suddenly the scallop was gone. Now, I didn't love it. But this was the best scallop of any I have ever tried. I thought it was cooked perfectly and I loved the browned edges. And let's be honest, pairing it with pork belly is what truly encouraged me to try it.
For appetizers, we might have gone a little crazy. When I tweeted that I was planning to have dinner at ArtBar, several people recommended the sweet potato tots, so I knew we had to get them. The sweet potato tots actually come with sea salt and black peppered French fries, and both are served in adorable miniature fryer baskets. (I seriously wanted to take one home.) Along with the fries and tots, we had three dipping sauces to choose from. The Parmesan aioli was my favorite and complemented the fries and tots equally well. One of the dipping sauces was banana flavored, and while it sounded interesting, it just didn't work for my tastes.
To balance out the tots and fries, we ordered the Boston Bibb salad with sugared pecans, goat cheese, Asian pears, and maple balsamic vinaigrette. This was an awesome lighter option with sweet, salty, creamy, and crunchy components.
We also had to try the mussels with roasted fennel cream. Our waitress noticed we were scrutinizing the strips of meat among the mussels, so she came over and filled us in on what it was: tasso, a spicy smoked pork. We were even more eager to dig in with that information. The mussels were well flavored and definitely my favorite of the appetizers we tried. (Please excuse the terrible picture. There were people sitting nearby, and I didn't want to disturb them by using my flash.)
For our entree, we decided to split the surf and turf special the waitress told us about. And I'm so glad we shared. This picture below is just my half -- the chef kindly split the dish among two plates for us. The dish consisted of sirloin steak, corn-battered shrimp, green beans, mushrooms, and creamy polenta. All of it was so good, and the meat was cooked just right. My friend said the shrimp reminded her of a corn dog, and it was definitely reminiscent of a corn dog but clearly much better since it's shrimp and not greasy like most corn dogs tend to be.
We were stuffed at this point, but the chef sent over a couple of desserts for us, and we couldn't refuse (this was the only part of the meal we didn't pay for). To go with our desserts, we ordered a cocktail called Perfect Bubbles, which consisted of Death's Door gin, clove syrup, fresh lemon, and prosecco. To me it was a sort of fall spin on a French 75, one of my favorite cocktails.
The first dessert was a chocolate fudge cake with brandied cranberries. Brandied cranberries = way to my heart. Usually I am a little hesitant about ordering chocolate layer cakes at restaurants because I fear that they'll be dry and disappointing; this one was neither. The cake was fudgy and had rich chocolate flavor. And as you know from a recent dessert I created, I am really into the chocolate-cranberry combo.
The second dessert had a tough time competing with the first one just on the basis of fruit versus chocolate. (Chocolate wins every time for me.) But the apple Tarte Tatin was elevated from basic fruit dessert to something more with the addition of creme fraiche ice cream and salted caramel sauce.
I was pleased with everything we tried and was so impressed with the great service we received. The restaurant is a cozy spot to be on a cold evening, but I've already checked out the brunch menu and imagine it would be a great spot to be in daylight too, with views of the Charles River and the Boston Skyline.
Have you ever been to ArtBar?