Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A Mystery Meet in Hell

Mystery Meet Boston has previously taken me to the slightly inaccurately named Ten Tables in Cambridge and to a blind dining experience at Hampshire House. Last night, it took me straight to Hell.

Oh, I've been there four times already. You can read about my first experience and my fourth experience, if you'd like.

The Hell that I'm referring to, of course, is East Coast Grill's favorite punch to your stomach, the once-every-few-months Hell Night. Attendance at Hell Night typically requires sitting with a finger on redial for an hour before (hopefully) snagging a reservation for a night of pain. I've done it four times and loved it; might as well make it five! I felt a bit guilty grabbing a ticket for this one; Mystery Meets sell out fast, and I've already been to two Mystery Meets and four Hell Nights. I didn't feel guilty enough to not buy the ticket, though! If you haven't heard of Mystery Meets, by the way, they're monthly dinner events with mystery locations - and sometimes other mysterious elements, like the blind dining one - with clues released in the weeks leading up to the sale of tickets. When you buy a ticket, you may have a good idea of where you'll be eating, but you won't know for sure until the day before the event. The clues for this one were a dead giveaway:
  • If you can’t take the heat, get your ass outta the kitchen. ("I wonder if it's Hell Night," I thought to myself. "That'd be awesome!")
  • No, seriously. It’s going to be hot. You’ve been warned. ("Oh, it's totally Hell Night. Should I go? Should I take a break this time? After all, I was just there last month. But I'm addicted to ghost chili. Yeah, I should probably try to get tickets. My addiction needs feeding.")
  • Adam Richman was here. (After Wikipedia-ing "Man v. Food", Adam Richman's show, I saw that there was only one Boston episode. He visited Eagle's Deli - nope, nothing spicy there, The Barking Crab - nothing spicy that I know of and not a likely Mystery Meet destination, Coast Grill.)
  • Milk = $5/glass. (Yep.)
It's no secret that East Coast Grill is, hands down, my favorite Boston-area restaurant. I've written about it on multiple non-Hell Night occasions as well: Cinco de Mayo, my 25th birthday, and Joel's 27th birthday, which I declared to be "The Best Meal I Have Ever Had".

Since this was a Mystery Meet, it was slightly different than a typical Hell Night. In fact, East Coast Grill is now offering Hell Night for private parties, so this was an example of what that's like. (Spoiler alert: It's not quite as cool as the real thing, but it's still pretty awesome.) First of all, it was lovely to finally meet Bianca (Confessions of a Chocoholic), along with the rest of our table: Tracey (40-Something Life), Frank (The Earnest Life), and Frank's wife Adriana (Today's iPhone). It was also nice to see some fellow bloggers from afar: Amanda (Tales from a Kitchen Misfit), Nicole (I am a honeybee), and Jacki (Just Add Cheese!). (Hope you all had a wonderful time!)

Light-up lava mural!
For regular Hell Nights, my friends and I typically order everything family-style (one appetizer per person, two or three entrees depending on whether we have six or eight people, and plenty of cornbread to go around). For this event, there was a fixed menu: four appetizers to be shared family-style, a choice of one of two entrees, and one dessert. This was priced at $45/person, and drinks and cornbread (yep, we wimped out and ordered some) were extra. For comparison, when I go to a normal Hell Night with 6-8 people and we order in the way I described above, it generally comes out to $45/person including the drinks and cornbread. It's a little bit more cost-effective doing it that way. Onto the meal...

Signing away my life...
East Coast Grill makes killer mojitos.


Russian Roulette Style Spicy Meatball Challenge with Angry Tomato Sauce (2 bombs to 8 bombs): one meatball per person. Some are very mild, some are very hot. Mine had the distinct taste of Scotch bonnet and stayed with me for awhile, but it wasn't quite as insane as the one I got last time. I'd say this was about a 5.5-bomb meatball. Joel also got a pretty spicy one; the rest of the table got mild meatballs.

Smokin' Hot Pork Spare Ribs with Guava Lava Glaze and Inner Beauty Hot Sauce (3 bombs): Delicious. Only hot if you get a saucy piece. (That yellow sauce is the Inner Beauty, East Coast Grill's wonderfully hot condiment that comes with a few items on the non-Hell Night menu as well. Woohoo!

Wings of Mass Destruction "Phuket Style" with Ghost Chile Oil, Aromatic Herbs, and Nuoc Cham (7 bombs): Definitely the hottest dish of the night. Sweet, meaty, and oh-so-good...but then the burn starts. And it doesn't go away. Ten minutes later, your lips will still be tingling. These may have brought a tear to my eye...because they were so delicious. (Right...) (Note: On regular Hell Nigh menus, these are usually called "Wings of Ass Destruction.")

Korean Fried Chicken Thigh with Apple Kim Chi and Super Charged Kojuchang (4 bombs): Not spicy at all, but so good - possibly my favorite dish of the night. The apple kim chi was a sweet variation on the typical cabbage, the chicken was crispy on the outside and tender on the inside, and the "super charged" sauce was tasty (but not hot).

We kind of wimped out and ordered cornbread to provide relief from the wings.

Helpful, but not sufficient. If you plan on taking out contact lenses or touching body parts that are important to you, wash your hands multiple times, preferably with a good dish detergent to get the oils out.

Main Course
There was a spicy pork chop option and a mild mahi-mahi option. Most of us went with the pork.

Jamaican Jerk Grilled Pork Chop with Banana Guava Ketchup, Real Inner Beauty Hot Sauce, Curried Sweet Mashed Potatoes, and Cumin Seared Greens (6 bombs): Only six bombs if you slather it with the hot sauce, which was served on the side. Otherwise, this is actually a mild dish. It had some wonderful flavors - the creepy-looking banana guava glaze tasted great, as did the mashed potatoes. 

Mango-Berry Crisp with Fresh Whipped Cream (0 bombs): A spicy dessert would have been awesome - a dark chocolate/chili combo, perhaps? - but this was light and refreshing, and the ice cream provides sweet relief after all the heat.
One person at my table had a cinnamon allergy, and East Coast Grill apparently takes allergies very seriously. A card arrived with her entree that notified the chef of the allergy, and it was also prominently marked on the bill. (I'm assuming they leave the card with the entree as a reassurance to the customer; I've read Yelp reviews that described the same occurrence.)

Overall, this was a fun experience; it's always interesting to sit down to an adventurous meal with total strangers. Compared to regular Hell Nights, though, this seemed a bit watered down. First of all, you're missing out on the energy of the whole restaurant being decorated for the occasion, packed full of excited people, with chili pepper-laced smoke wafting out of the kitchen and Dr. Pepper making his rounds. Also, for the Mystery Meet, the famous Pasta from Hell was not available, and the pace was more relaxed - one appetizer at a time - whereas during a regular Hell Night, everything arrives at a frenetic pace. The bombs on the Mystery Meet menu seemed to be overestimates; the only really spicy dish was the wings.

I think it's awesome that East Coast Grill is making this modified Hell Night available for private parties...and I kinda want to do it for my next birthday...but I would highly recommend partaking of the real experience if possible. No dates have been announced for the next Hell Night yet, but the last one was in December, so keep an eye out in February/March.

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