Saturday, August 14, 2010

A Night in Hell's Kitchen

A modified version of this post appears on the Somerville Local First website, where I am a community blogger.

No doubt about it: Hell’s Kitchen is trashy TV. Half the words are bleeped out, the plot follows the same predictable formula season after season, the female chefs are occasionally shown changing clothes for no apparent reason, and the personalities are larger than life (and often unlikable). I’ve gotten sucked into watching a few previous seasons, and I always tell myself it’s the last time I’ll watch hours of Gordon Ramsey’s incessant shouting. This season, however, two of the contestants were local: Jason Santos of Somerville’s own Gargoyles on the Square, along with Benjamin Knack of Sel de la Terre. Both chefs made it to the final four; Santos continued on to Tuesday night’s finale, where he ended up losing to Chef Holli Ugalde.

Gargoyles on the Square hosted viewing parties throughout the season.
The previous week, I was able to snag a dinner reservation at Gargoyles on the Square to watch the second-to-last episode and try out some of Santos’ signature dishes. Joel ordered from the special Hell’s Kitchen tasting menu, and my parents and I tried out the regular menu. Our meal had moments that perhaps appropriately resembled an authentic night in Hell’s Kitchen: some long waits and bad service but mostly delicious food. On a normal night without overcrowding and a blaring television, service is likely much better than what we experienced, based on what I’ve heard from friends who have eaten there in the past.

Some highlights: the sheer coolness of watching Santos compete on the show while he was right there in the dining room with us; Santos’ signature dish, the duck confit; a nice bottle of Bordeaux, once it finally arrived. The lowlights: having our entrees thrust onto the table before we were done with our appetizers, then waiting endlessly for dessert; waiting at least 45 minutes for our bottle of wine, which arrived after our entrees were already cleared (and receiving poor excuses from the servers we were able to grab during that long wait). We did receive a free dessert as an apology, but we were hoping to drink a bottle of wine with dinner, not with dessert.

Chef Jason Santos watches himself compete in the penultimate episode of Hell’s Kitchen (Season 7).
Sloppy service aside, the food was strong enough to merit a return trip on a non-event night. Santos’ artistry is evident in his dishes, and aside from the pork, which was a bit dry, we really enjoyed the food.

First Course
Heirloom tomato & wild arugula salad with marinated olives, goat’s milk feta, Greek vinaigrette (from the regular menu)
Simple house salad with baby greens, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, and red onion vinaigrette (from the regular menu)
Tuna tartare with avocado cream, crispy wonton strips, and mizuna (from the Hell’s Kitchen tasting menu)
Second Course
Signature hoisin & honey-glazed duck confit with sweet sticky rice, mango, cashews, and young coconut milk (from the regular menu)
Pan-roasted Statler chicken, potato puree, wilted spinach, marsala jus, shaved pancetta, and “caprese” garnish (from the regular menu)
BBQ-rubbed pork porterhouse with black truffle creamed corn, asparagus, fried onions, and goat cheese cream (from the Hell’s Kitchen tasting menu)

Third Course
Vanilla cheesecake with fresh strawberries, caramel sauce, and powdered sugar (from the Hell’s Kitchen tasting menu)
Passion fruit tart with orange-buttermilk sorbet, mangoes, and coconut anglaise (from the Hell’s Kitchen tasting menu)
Personal feelings about Hell’s Kitchen’s trashiness aside, it was a good deal of fun to cheer on a local chef in his own restaurant with a bunch of fans. While it’s sad that he didn’t win the competition, at least Somerville will get to keep Chef Santos!

And reason #91873217 why Somerville is awesome: while walking home, we passed a couple of crazy bikes, likely part of SCUL, the Somerville bike gang that you've probably seen around town, often led by a guy with a disco ball on his super-tall handlebars.

Gargoyles on the Square on Urbanspoon

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