A pleasantly unpredictable treat sneaks out of the shadows
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  November 16, 2009
3.0 3.0 Stars

Photo: Melissa Ostrow
EAT ME When it is this well-flavored and creamy, who really needs more than this four-bite, triple-shot of tiramisu?

ArtBar | 5 Cambridge parkway (Royal Sonesta Hotel), Cambridge | 617.806.4122 | | Open Sunday-Thursday, 6 AM–3 PM AND 5–10 PM; and Friday-Saturday, 6 AM–3 PM AND 5–11 PM | AE, Di, MC, Vi | Full bar | Street-level access | Valet parking: $16 with validation
How do we find hidden gems? You can't just look under the radar. Sometimes the hiding place is behind a famous name, as is the case with ArtBar, in the shadow of the Sonesta's justly celebrated Dante bar-restaurant. Critics were likely scared off ArtBar by a negative preview in the BostonGlobe — forgetting Nadeau's law that the only restaurants that improve in response to reviews are those in big hotels. (Why? Because they are subsidized to support the hotel's image, and the hotel likely isn't going anywhere.) The current version of ArtBar, with executive chef Ryan Cyr, is an entirely delightful New American bistro, whether you want something as familiar as clam chowder ($8) with a perfect balance of bacon and seafood flavors, or as unusual as barley succotash (really a kind of crunchy risotto) on the innovative vegetarian entrée ($24). Cyr and his team could even start a trend with the four-bite, three-buck desserts they call "small bites, because a little goes a long way." Who really needs more than a triple-shot glass of tiramisu ($3), after all, when it is well-flavored and creamy?

Now about the name. There is art at ArtBar, large modern abstracts and such from the hotel's considerable collection, not to mention curated exhibits in the lobbies. But the TVs are not, alas, tuned into the Art Network or the Sculpture Channel. On our visit they were showing the Celtics and CNN. It says something about our times that you can spend $50 per plate on dinner with TVs, and perhaps even more that you no longer need sound to watch a CNN talk show. The topic is on the crawl, with subtitles identifying the Republican and Democrat talking heads. You don't have to be a lip reader to know what they are saying.

Fortunately, the food is less predictable. You might expect crusty Italian slices and others of Iggy-type cranberry-walnut bread on a Cambridge table; likewise that fine clam chowder, or even the richer pumpkin bisque ($8). But you wouldn't expect really fruity extra-virgin olive oil full of herbs and black pepper as a dip. And there is no predicting something like the pan-seared sea scallops ($14) over risotto with chanterelle mushrooms and braised oxtail (plus enough truffle oil to get through to a writer with the genetic inability to smell musk). It does not read anything like the inspired combination of vivid flavors that it is. Pair it with a Caesar salad ($8) topped with toasts spread with chopped artichoke and anchovies (nice lemony dressing on the side) and you have a light supper.

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Related: Gennaro's 5 North Square Ristorante, Midtown Café, Bruna’s Table, More more >
  Topics: Restaurant Reviews , Ryan Cyr, Ryan Cyr, DANTE,  More more >
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