Back in the Cellar

With thoughtful service and approachable eats the new version of the old Cellar Wine Bar & Grill is still your classic family restaurant

The Cellar’s jambalaya is money well-spent.
The Cellar’s jambalaya is money well-spent.

There is an odd sense of walking through the 1990s when you hit that part of Clyde Street where it intersects Brenton. Le Bistro and the Cellar sit across from one another, seemingly built on a foundation of nostalgia; in the wake of all of the changes in the neighbourhood over the years—gelato and second-hand clothing, parking lots and condos, libertines and fiascos—there they sit, new and old at the same time.

The Cellar still seems, for all of its relative newness, like an old restaurant. The decor is simple and clean, but reads as a bit dated. The menu is easy and approachable, with no super-modern notes. Everything about it says "I'm your mom's favourite restaurant." There's nothing wrong with that approach: a classic family restaurant done right is a wonderful thing. Not every Caesar salad needs to be deconstructed. Not every restaurant is, or should be, noma.

I go for an early dinner with a couple of friends. One of them used to work in the kitchen of the Cellar in Bedford years and years ago; she's keen to see if the food is as good as it once was in the old location.

Our server is very friendly, offering water immediately and bringing our glasses of Prosecco ($10) and Bulwark ($5.95) quickly, thoughtfully offering a glass with or without ice for the latter.

We start off with shared Caesar salad ($9.95) and calamari ($8.95). The salad, though crisp and fresh, is essentially unremarkable. The calamari, on the other hand, is quite good, each ribbon of squid a delicate bite. The tomato sauce the fried rings have been tossed in has a light touch of chili heat.

For our entrees, my friends order from the pasta menu—butternut squash ravioli ($16.95) and penne with prosciutto ($17.95)—while I settle on the jambalaya ($22.95).

The ravioli is filled with a silky squash puree, a slightly sweet contrast to the rich, creamy sherry sauce. A crumble of walnuts gives a nice crunch, while a dusting of parmesan provides an earthier nuttiness that adds more depth to the dish. The penne seems content to just hit one salty note amidst the cream sauce: it's a humdrum dish that could use a fresh, brightness to fight the ordinariness of the composition. My friend notes that when she worked at the restaurant, she remembers peas in the mix.

The jambalaya seems the most worth the money spent. A bed of mussels runs the perimetre of the dish, surrounding a pile of rice that is teeming with chicken and sausage. A fat scallop sits on top, with two shrimp curving around it. The scallop could use a better sear, but the seafood is all cooked well, and the chicken is still tender. While there's not an incredible amount of heat in the dish, the Cajun sausage has enough to titillate. A slice of grilled cornbread, sweet and crumbly, finishes the plate nicely.

We end our meals with sticky toffee pudding ($6.95) and a chocolate fudge brownie ($6.95) for dessert. The middle of the brownie is almost blisteringly hot. It's topped with an overly sweet ganache. It's not great. The pudding is light and spongy, with a deeply sweet caramel sauce, a nicer end to the meal.

It's a classic, for sure, and nothing is really wrong with it, per se, but the Cellar is, ultimately, a pretty average restaurant. Probably still your mom's favourite, though.

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