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Posted by aaron at 12:01AM, Sunday, December 04th, 2005

Gargoyles on the Square (restaurant review)

219 Elm Street, Somerville, Massachusetts

We've been going to Gargoyles for quite a while now. It's a convenient spot to get a relaxing weeknight drink, or to drop in at the last minute for some nice food.

Over the years, we've noticed a few things about the place: like a lot of the local restaurants I really like (for example, Kaya in Porter Square), there's a high variability in terms of your experience at Gargoyles. We've had nights where things have been okay -- some standard wine choices, solid but by no means amazing food, and fine service. Then we've gone on other nights when things have been spectacular: a spark in the air that gives the restaurant a buzz, servers who are interactive and entertaining, and food that's been sublime, and plentiful moments where the planets come together to make your food just utterly, unthinkably perfect. I recall one particular meal we had a couple of years ago, with crazy ostrich steaks and these au gratin potatoes unlike anything I'd ever had, and a great, cheap pinot of some sort. That was a two-foodgasm meal, which is unheard-of in this price range. (Entrees are generally between 15 and 25, and there's a bar menu most weeknights, too.)

One of the bartenders spins respectable R&B, soul, and disco. The mixed drinks are variable: great martinis, but the Manhattans aren't the equal of, for instance, those at Upstairs on the Square. The wine list usually has a small selection of solid and reasonable reds and whites, but there's occasionally a nice surprise on the reserve list: last night we split a half bottle of a Lynmar Russian River Valley pinot while meeting a friend for drinks, and it was spectacular, and a great value. The selection of beers is a little more limited than it might be.

Service is usually really good, but, as I said, can vary a bit. We've never yet had bad service, by any means; considering the number of times we've dropped in, that's pretty amazing.

The food itself has been more exciting over the last few months: it seems like they've been attempting to add a little more variety, and more specials, and it's worked pretty well. Last night, to go with our wine, I had sliced duck pastrami, topped with "micro-celery" (tiny delicate greens without much flavor), with a clear, tomato-based "crazy drink" designed to help "dissolve the duck enzymes," and a dark tomato sauce. It was otherworldly, unusually well-balanced, prepared with care and with great presentation, and priced far less than places serving comparable dishes in Cambridge and Boston. A friend had spicy duck drumettes, served with a sort of upscale, natural onion dip, which are always tasty; Brian had a cubano. This is what Gargoyle's is great for: drop in, have a couple of light knock-your-socks-off dishes and some wine for less than $25 a person total, and walk out happy, without the bloat or stagger (or wallet-sucking) that seems to accompany most other high end dining around here. I've had most of my Boston foodgasms here, which is amazing at a place with none of the pretension and formality of the high-priced competition.

Of course, we should really be telling everyone that this place sucks. Brian has this theory that the bartender's write-up in Boston Magazine is what's made the place busy with a rather new crowd over the past few months. It's tended to be packed most weeknights after about 8 O'Clock. So, stay away; you'll hate it. Leave Gargoyles to us locals.
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