Taste Test: Butternut Squash Bisque at Garden at the Cellar

Butternut Squash

Butternut squash bisque from Garden at the Cellar (photo by Fiona Coxe)

Garden at the Cellar in Cambridge has long been a leader in the seasonal movement, known for its literal interpretation of the phrase “farm-to-table.” Late last spring, original chef/owner Will Gilson decided to break ties with the restaurant, allowing his former sous-chef Brandon Arms to buy him out and take over at the helm of the kitchen. I decided to stop by and see how Arms stacked up to his predecessor.

I selected the butternut squash bisque ($9) listed in the “From the Garden” section of the menu. Placed before me was a bowl containing a small collection of pepitas, chopped apples, a dollop of goat cheese, and a single leaf of fried sage. The server then poured thick soup over these out of a small terrine. I dipped my spoon into what seemed like a no-brainer fall classic, and anticipated a mouthful of fall spices, a touch of sweetness, cream and a good base of earthiness from the squash.

Instead, my tongue puckered, overpowered by what seemed like an intense dose of lemon juice. Rather than mitigating the tartness, the rest of the dish’s components sent it into further disrepair. The goat cheese, also tangy by nature, didn’t add the creaminess I hoped it would. And rather than imparting sweetness, the apples seemed saturated in the offending flavor. There wasn’t a hint of cream, something we consider to be a requisite element of a bisque. The pepitas were the only savior, and they brought a nice nutty flavor.

Perhaps a touch of cream, or a stronger element of cinnamon or nutmeg could have taken this soup to the next level. Instead, it was more like a sour bowl of squash purée, as the result of a heavy hand with the acid. I left disappointed, though the smart presentation of the soup and the warm and friendly staff might just require a second visit.

(Garden at the Cellar, 991 Mass. Ave., Cambridge, 617-230-5880, gardenatthecellar.com)

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