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Service is a little shaky, though. Bob and I had a veteran waitress, the lovely Leah, on that first visit. She was a total pro. The server at the second meal was a completely different story, but I'm getting ahead of myself.
Some of chef Djilali's culinary inspirations were a little odd for me, like the bread basket's rustic cinnamon-raisin nut bread (along with slices of a terrific French loaf) that would have been great with morning coffee but not so fabulous with a salad of mixed greens. And the butter whipped with balsamic vinegar was a creative idea and a beautiful color, but after spreading it on bread, I lost interest after taking one bite.
As his starter, Bob had excellent crab cakes with a firm, crunchy crust. I was impressed that the Caesar salad was served in a chilled bowl, but I was thrown by the addition of papery shards of oven-dried Parma ham on the greens. Some classics really don't need reinventing.
Those fish and chips were wonderful, encased in a feather-light, tempura-style breading and sided by a sassy rémoulade passing as "English tartar sauce." Bob decided to create his own entrée by requesting a double order of one of Djilali's starters: oversized scallops, beautifully pan-seared and neatly arranged on a bed of sweet corn mousse.
Bob was so pleased with this idea of doubling an appetizer for an entrée (it wasn't as economical as he pretended it was), he tried it again when he joined Kaite, Kimberly and me on a second visit to the Gaslight Grill. Before some of us had even opened the menu, he had decided to double up on the lemon-and-rosemary marinated chicken skewers.
But first, the salad course. Our server, a smart and attentive young man, would have been excellent if someone had shown him how to serve soup and salad bowls without putting his fingers all over the rims of those bowls. The secret? A napkin, although it's not especially easy to serve anything at a banquette.
Kaite loved that night's potage du jour, a creamy squash concoction delicately spiced with fennel. I had the signature soup, one of the Gaslight's typically generous servings of a robust beef and lentil.
Not so generous was the pathetic little bird impersonating a meal of "blackened chicken." It was blackened all right — and overcooked. The pieces were so tiny that I was convinced it was a quail or a parakeet lolling in that puddle of delicious Cajun butter sauce.
My dining companions were much happier than I was, even though Bob's chicken skewers were more than a shade dry. Kimberly, though a fussy eater, thought the pistachio-crusted salmon was top-drawer — juicy, just a bit oily, coated in a delectable jade pistachio. Kaite had ordered fat ravioli pillows stuffed with chopped spinach and Gorgonzola and was on cloud nine for the first few bites. "It's wonderful," she said, "but so rich." She had the rest boxed up to take home so she could request dessert without feeling guilty.
And desserts at Gaslight Grill are works of art — fantastic creations bedecked with spun-sugar adornments, architecturally inspired cookies and fresh fruit. Kaite's wonderful vanilla bean crème brûlée was scattered with berries and a wedge of almond brittle. Bob's "Chambord Chocolate Torte" was less torte and more Salvadore Dali: a dark-chocolate cookie arch penetrated by arrows of amber sugar tipped with raspberries, resting on a mound of moist cake artfully iced with chocolate mousse. It's the kind of culinary conceit that's almost too lovely to eat but vanishes in five bites.
These elegant desserts were among the many surprises I discovered at the Gaslight Grill.