29 December 2008

Sunday brunch at Hell’s Kitchen, Minneapolis

I like Hell’s Kitchen. I really do. But after my most recent visit, I’m concerned that it’s focusing so much on the schtick and losing sight of the food.

Hell’s Kitchen moved to a new location not too long ago. The new venue is great! It’s a basement/cellar space that used to be a jazz club and steakhouse. It lends itself wonderfully to the ambiance that Hell’s Kitchen cultivates. And they’ve done a fantastic job with the lighting and décor.

But here’s the thing – when you look at the menu and the web site, they milk every pun and double entendre that you can imagine. “Damn good food.” “Spicy (food)? Hell no.” Gift cards labeled “Ticket to Hell.” You get the idea. It’s all very clever, though they have overdone it a little. But it only works if the food really shines. Otherwise, it’s just a gimmick.

Much of the food is very good. I had the corned beef hash and really enjoyed it. The menu says the beef is house-cured. The potatoes, onions, and celery in the hash are cooked crisp tender. The eggs were fried rather than poached. But they were cooked very well with runny yolks that richly coated the hash. Other highlights are the homemade peanut butter and homemade blackberry jam and orange marmalade.

But my wife had the vegetable frittata, and she had two complaints. One – Hell’s Kitchen has a strict policy of no substitutions or no deletions. She really didn’t want to have the carrots in the frittata, but, too bad. Her other complaint – there was nothing wrong with the frittata (other than the offending carrots), but there wasn’t anything special about it either, and for $8.75, she felt it should have been exceptional. Really, she would have preferred to see an omelet on the menu.

One of our friends who joined us for brunch really wanted to have the roasted vegetable Panini. But since they wouldn’t serve it without the fontina cheese, she got a pancake instead. It was just a pancake.

Another thing. The servers are famous for their attitude. But there’s a fine line between good-natured sarcasm or complaining and annoying excuses for slow or inattentive service. I feel on this recent visit, the line was crossed, and the attitude of the server and hostess was more annoying than good-natured.

(I’ve written about the attitude at Al’s Breakfast, and I suppose there are people who don’t appreciate it there either. But, Al’s really is a dive, and, you’re not paying $9 or more for your eggs.)

So here’s what it boils down to for me: I like Hell’s Kitchen, and I’ll eat there again sometime. But I’ll stick with their specialty breakfasts like the hash and skip the everyday fare (which is just ordinary).

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