The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum has reopened with a new wing and updated restaurant. Cafe G doesn’t serve afternoon tea, but it offers tea, small dishes, and desserts. It was also the perfect venue for our book club get-together because we were reading The Family Fortune by Laurie Horowitz, and the protagonist’s fictional ancestor was a rival of Isabella Stewart Gardner, Boston patroness of art.
I have only one quibble with Cafe G, and that would be the tiny portions. The “small plates” were truly just that, and some of the main dishes didn’t look filling either.
The trout with blood oranges and mache Rebecca ordered might have left me hungry. That said, everything I tasted was wonderful, service was prompt and polite, and the restaurant looked modern but still comfortably casual and had lots of natural light.
I ordered the Hannahbell Cheese and Shrimp with Potato Gnocchi off the small plates menu. I considered a third plate, but thought they couldn’t possibly be that small. Wrong. The cheese was good, but Marianne and I were laughing about the “three thimbles” we were each given. I’m not sure what the crisp/chip on the plate was, but I wish the plate included crackers and I ended up using the delicious, crusty bread on the table. The pear mostarda was slightly sweet and like a jam, and might have been the best thing on that slab plate. The shrimp were good but I was nervous about just how much butter or cream must have gone into the sauce. The gnocchi were creamy and light, and I wanted a lot more.
The English breakfast tea was standard, but to its credit brewed loose leaf. I’m not usually a fan of metal teapots, but the small size and shape made it forgivably cute. Everyone else’s dishes looked beautiful and there were no complaints about the food.
Grilled comté sandwiches, braised beef sandwiches, chicken sausage with spaghetti squash, and ham terrine were among the other dishes ordered.
My dessert was impossibly good. Gardner served Champagne and doughnuts at the museum opening in 1903, so this dish was a tribute to that history. These were not like the heavier doughnuts you might find at Dunkin’. They were airier and served warm with a slightly sweet Champagne crème anglaise. My runner-up choice was the banana bread pudding that Kirk ordered.
I was surprised to see the meringues that Rebecca and Isabelle chose looked creamy, expecting the hard, dry things sold in plastic tubs at supermarkets.
The total of food, drink, tax, and tip ranged from $25 to $50 per person. Some of us had multiple cocktails, but I’m not naming names! Prices were fair and quality was good, though I maintain portions were too small.
When you’re done tasting, check out the new greenhouse with gorgeous orchids and amaryllis (it feels like there’s not much more to the new wing than offices), the famed courtyard with exotic plants blooming in the midst of winter, the John Singer Sargents, and all three floors of paintings, tapestries, letters, furniture, and those famous canvases sitting empty from the famed art heist . It’s a uniquely Boston experience.