Dinner at Gargoyles on the Square.

Keith, Melissa and I went to Gargoyles on the Square for dinner not too long ago. It’s funny — Keith and I lived within five minutes walking distance from the restaurant for six or seven years, and we had never made a reservation or even stopped by the bar for a drink. Now that we’ve moved five miles away, we’ve been twice in four months.

We arranged to meet Melissa at the restaurant at the exact time of our reservation, but Keith and I arrived a bit early. I can’t recall exactly how early we were, but it was nothing exorbitant; it was something like ten minutes. I thought perhaps Keith and I could sit down and have a drink while we waited for Melissa, so I gave my name to the maître d’ and told him that we had an eight o’clock reservation. After consulting with his books, he said that he would seat us when our entire party arrived. I have to say, this really rankled me. We had a reservation and were barely early, so shouldn’t our table have been ready and waiting? It isn’t as if Gargoyles is akin to someplace like California Pizza Kitchen, where I think it’s perfectly acceptable to be seated only when the entire group is present.

Happily, Melissa walked in soon after that, so we were able to sit down together. Unhappily, it didn’t change the fact that I was already peeved. When we walked into the dining room, I was surprised to see a handful of empty tables which made me further wonder why the maître d’ hadn’t wanted to seat us.

The appetizer options brightened my mood though; I was really curious about the ceviche, but ended up choosing the Wild Burgundy Escargots ($9.00). Served with a duck egg, chive butter and a slice of toast, it sounded really appealing — not to mention I happen to enjoy escargots very much. Ultimately, though, I was disappointed. The sauce so thoroughly overwhelmed the dish; even after I pierced my yolk, I could barely discern the flavors of any of the other components.

I had higher hopes for my entrée, described on the menu as “Whole-Wheat Gnudies.” ($18.00) Our server clarified for us, explaining that Chef Jason Santos used the dish as a play on gnocchi, but with whole wheat, pink peppercorns, honeyed butter and Mimolette. Now, I love Mimolette, so choosing the “Gnudies” was pretty much a no-brainer. I was a little concerned about the accompanying grilled asparagus salad, but only because I am one of the few people who dislikes asparagus. (I want to like it and often make myself eat it, but I rarely enjoy it.) I shouldn’t have had any worries, as this was fantastic. Obviously the honey lent a sweetness, but the Mimolette and tomatoes tempered it so that it wasn’t overpowered by a cloying essence. Overall, the dish was light and springy, and very flavorful.

For my dessert, I decided to give the Blackberry-Blood Orange Float ($8.00) a try. As was the case with the asparagus, I was a bit hesitant; I had tried an ice cream float exactly once before and had been utterly disgusted by the mix of Coke and vanilla ice cream. I went with the float because I love blood orange, and its complement of white chocolate and marscapone ice cream seemed too good to pass up. I’m thrilled to report that not only did the fruit, chocolate and cheese go beautifully together, but I also was the exact opposite of disgusted. About halfway through, I wanted to ask for more ice cream; after its gone, this dessert loses exactly what makes it so special: the combination of flavors. My biggest complaint about this, however, were the blackberries. I don’t have confirmation on this, but I could swear that they had were frozen and not fresh. The reason I say that is because they tasted only vaguely of blackberry, and oh — because when I bit into one, it was frozen. Since they added nothing to the dish, I didn’t miss the berries at all when I scooped them out with my spoon.

In the end, this meal at Gargoyles was an uneven one, something that made me so sad. I had truly loved my first visit to the dining room, and still I think about the amazing appetizer I had — the punningly-named “Ménage à Foie,” with three vastly different preparations of foie. I know I can’t say the same of any of the dishes I ate this night. Does this mean I won’t be back? Of course not. It does mean, however, that I won’t be in a rush. Its luster has since faded.

Gargoyles on the Square
219 Elm Street
Somerville, Massachusetts 02144

Gargoyles on the Square on Urbanspoon

Hey, I’m on Skull-A-Day!

Skull-A-Day is a ridiculously addictive site that posts a new image of a (you guessed it!) skull each day. Noah Scalin photographs skulls that he’s either created or found, and has been doing so for almost a year now. He encourages readers to send in images of the skulls they’ve made or encountered; this is the second time I’ve gotten a skull posted. Scroll down to see the most recent skull I found, a skull-in-an-apple spotted while I was en route to the dentist a month or so ago.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan.

I had read excerpts of Michael Pollan’s book before, but only now had gotten around to sitting down with the complete work. I feel a little behind the times for taking so long to get to it, considering that it was published in 2006, but the small amount of time that has elapsed since then doesn’t make The Omnivore’s Dilemma any less relevant. As a society we still rely heavily on corn and corn-based products, we still have a dependency on processed foods, we still do not maintain sustainable eating habits, we still have not fixed any of the problems with the agriculture industry.

Not much — if anything — has changed since in the past two years, least of all the sheer readability of Pollan’s writing. Could anyone else describe corn farming in as mesmerizing a manner? Is there a writer out there capable of putting into words the numbing effect experienced after killing so many chickens? What about the excitement of foraging for mushrooms with an expat Italian? Pollan writes with confidence about these topics and more.

My favorite parts of The Omnivore’s Dilemma are those which cover Polyface Farm and the entirety of section four, about gathering entirely from the natural world outside of the Bay Area the foodstuffs required to make a meal. (This may or may not have to do with my absolute love of Steve Rinella’s 2007 book The Scavenger’s Guide to Haute Cuisine, in which Rinella spends a year hunting across America for the ingredients he needs to prepare not just a Thanksgiving Day meal, but a highly ornate multi-course spread taken directly from Escoffier’s Le Guide Culinaire.)

These portions of Pollan’s food tour are similar in the sense that they are about people as much as they are about what people eat. Granted, humanity is present in the corn industry and in farming; in his writing about Polyface’s Joel Salatin and in his depiction of his own experiences in the wilds of San Francisco, The Omnivore’s Dilemma becomes something beyond simply a book following our food. It becomes a book about the lengths we will go to follow the course that we have set out, whether it is to create an entirely sustainable farm with healthy and happy animals or to assemble the components of a meal from boar to berry without once stepping into a supermarket. And it is those lengths exactly which fascinate me the most.