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Dec 22, 2006 12:23 PM

Gargoyles save me from Ken's Steakhouse nightmares

This is an open letter of thanks to Jason Santos and the terrific staff at Gargoyles for saving me from what surely would have been chronic nightmares about my company holiday luncheon at Ken's Steakhouse.

Those nightmares would have begun with my arrival at what surely was a timewarp through the same 50's wormhole through which one would find the Hilltop. Blue haired old ladies would fill the dining room while the Elks club members checked their blood-sugar levels in the bar. I would make my way down the creepy "hallway of dressings" to find my coworkers assembled for lunch.

Then the real nightmare would begin. On naturally selecting the sliced tenderloin over the scrod or the chicken, I would notice that the waiter is not asking how the beef should be cooked. How could that be? This place may be dated, but it's still a steakhouse, right? So, on placing my order I'd ask, "Is the beef cooked to order?" (Don't get me started on what that phrase actually means) The waiter would reply, "No, it's all cooked medium." Medium! I would try to run, but in true nightmare fashion, I would be trapped, no way to escape.

So, I would grin and bear it, and hope for the best. But what would haunt me forever more would be the food itself. To say I'd have had better meals on airplanes would not be an exaggeration. My plain limp salad would be served without choice of dressing. Clearly the hall of dressings was a maniacal twist to this bad dream. My thinly sliced tenderloin (we're talking roast beef style slices) would be drowned in dark brown congealed gravy that could only have come from either a can or a packet. It would be served with the classic "mixed vegetables" side that could only have come from the freezer and been either nuked, boiled, or steamed, and served without seasoning, sauce or care. The only remotely tasty food to pass my lips would be the mashed potatoes, but even they couldn't save me from this nightmare meal.

Gargoyles, however, did. Abandoning my groceries and my plans to cook at home, my wife and I would head to the bar in Davis for salvation. Cocktails were terrific, including something with an Asian name (Enter the Dragon?) for me and a pomegranate martini for the wife. The reuben fritters did not disappoint. Hot, crispy, creamy, light and delicious, without a hint of greasiness and yet packed with reuben flavor. The rosemary mayo was tasty but unnecessary, and the steak sauce didn't seem to have any flavor, but these little guys didn't need any help.

The burger truly is one of if not the best that I've had. Perfectly cooked and seasoned, with nicely melted cheddar and meaty, smoky bacon, terrific homemade ketchup, and crispy steak fries, that burger alone almost made me forget about Ken's.

And the special "Kobe beef hot dogs" were similarly delicious, with a crispy snap, topped with carmelized onions and grainy mustard, all on a toasted bun, served with homemade barbecue potato chips.

Top the food off with excellent service in a cozy little bar, and not only will memories of Ken's fade away into the distance, but I'll be headed back to the bar at Gargoyles for another one of those amazing burgers and some tasty cocktails.

Next time I'm trying the pick plate.


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    1. I've lurked on this board for a while, but BJK's ode to Gargoyles demands a enthusiastic second - my DC and I had a fanstastic meal in the dining room at Gargoyles last night.

      Started with a gem lettuce salad with a piece of crunchy pumpkin waffle; I had escolar with lobster mashed potato (not much lobster taste, but with spuds so rich I wasn't complaining), roasted fennel, and snails. The escolar was fantastic - meaty yet creamy - yum. My DC had 2 apps - poke and the shrimp zushi - and we left stuffed and glowing.

      Great recs from past posters, and a great meal. Thanks!

      1. Seriously, can we just start a separate "All Gargoyle's All the Time" appreciation sub-board, or official fanclub, or something? Nothing against the place, and nothing against this particular post personally, but reading this board has become somewhat less of a joy with all the hyperbolic overabundance of praise.

        5 Replies
        1. re: dntbfwe

          Maybe it's just the contrast: after holding your hands in ice water, lukewarm water feels very hot. I don't remember Ken's being that awful, but the OP does a fine job of evoking a Lynchian horror of a meal.

          My feeling is that Santos is one of our few local chefs who's having a good time playing with his food; we don't have too many wild experimenters anymore. I frankly miss that adventure and creativity that folks like Lydia Shire and Susan Regis brought to Biba, and Pino Maffeo to his early days at L.

          The bottom line is that Santos' arty technique never seems too cute for its own good: he never loses sight of deliciousness. I'd be very happy to see more like him in this town.

          1. re: dntbfwe

            Feel free to post on any other restaurants that you enjoy.

            Sorry if the other posters aren't providing enough joy to meet your needs.

            1. re: dntbfwe

              Reading your post, a few thoughts occurred to me:

              1) In Davis Square, unlike other chowish hot spots in metro Boston, there is no other restaurant of this style and price point. It's not so much that Gargoyles stands out from the pack; more to the point, there isn't a pack in the first place. I love going to Gargoyles, but I think of it as my [only] high end neighborhood destination. I wouldn't drive to it, but I feel very lucky I can walk there.

              2) Competing on an all-metro-Boston scale, considering the quality, I find Gargoyles to be very reasonably priced.

              3) Have you been to Gargoyles? Or are you just upset that people are so complimentary?

              4) Hmm...your first post ever? If you're going to complain that people are too complimentary, at least have the backbone to post using your usual handle.

              1. re: finlero

                Oy - I've been lurking a bit lately, to be sure. Used to post on the old board a fair bit, just resigned up today for the revamped board after a few months off (my addiction to Chowhound was something lethal).

                Look, I live just outside of Davis, been to Gargoyle's a few times, and really, I've never been all that overimpressed. I mean, it's decent enough, but hardly seems to warrant all the slavish fawning done on this board, especially of late. It's more the ubiquity of posts that I take umbrage with, not diners' devotion to it - you like what you like, yeah?

                Personally, although it's apples and oranges, I think Namaskar is the gold standard in Davis. There's another member of the "pack".

                So, is that enough backbone for you finlero? Or maybe you can open my eyes to the sundry delights of Gargoyle's over a friendly debate filled dinner at said restaurant of contention? Your treat, you say?!?! Hot damn! (heh heh)

                1. re: dntbfwe


                  If you haven't been to Gargoyles since Jason Santos took over, I'd say it definitely merits another try. I had been a few times prior and actually rather actively disliked the place, thinking it a near-total waste of money. Since Jason took over, my opinion of the place has changed quite a bit, doing at least a 140 if not a full 180. As MC Slim JB points out, it's one of the few truly playful places in town. And if you have been since the Santos regime took power, then like you said, you like what you like.

                  FWIW, totally with you on Namaskar. Now that's a place I actually *would* drive to.

                  Still not treating for dinner though. :)

            2. seems a bit low to write a "fantasy" horrible review on a meal that never happened with all made up horrors. Whats the point of that? I thought this forum was about REAL experiences. Why not just the good report on what you did have at gargoyles and save us from the fiction? I have not been to Kens in probally 20 years and was never a fan but still....

              3 Replies
              1. re: hargau

                I think it was the poster's *real* company holiday lunch. With a few creative flourishes thrown in, just for fun.

                1. re: nfo

                  I dunno its confusing to me.. Its all written as if it was hypothetical. The way I read it is he went to gargoyles instead of having this bad dream.

                2. re: hargau

                  ?? The OP posted it was his company's holiday luncheon at Ken's Steakhouse.

                3. Aw shucks... c'mon finlero!

                  Anyway, I'm always willing to give a place a second (or third or fourth or &c.) shot, so who knows? - Maybe all this effusive praise is dead on, and maybe I'm just playing the contrarian for the sheer devilish joy of it. Heh heh!

                  Plus, you know, it is Festivus season - Airing of the Grievances and all that

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: dntbfwe

                    I've gotta say that I was not a fan of Gargoyle's in its previous incarnations after a couple of actively poor meals at high prices. We went back about six months ago, at the urging of many here, and it was fabulous. Night and day from before. Do give it another try.

                    Does anyone know when the turnaround happened (i.e. when was Santos hired and fully up to speed)?

                    1. re: DavisSquare

                      Jason's been there for almost two years, I think. He did a big private 40th birthday party for my best friend in August 2005, and I'm pretty sure he had been there for at least 6 months before that.

                      1. re: LindaWhit

                        As I recall, he moved to Gargoyles in the summer of 2005, after a stint of a few months at Dedo just before it closed. I know he as still at Dedo as recently as April 2005, as I wrote about him in my first-ever food article, ("Five Reasons to Dine at the Bar", for Stuff@Night).

                        1. re: MC Slim JB

                          I knew Jason was at Dedo beforehand; just couldn't remember when he moved over to Gargoyles. I just knew it was in 2005 - and definitely before August. :-)