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Hannah & Mason's, Cranbury, NJ: Kitchen Nightmares Comes To Town

cranrob | Feb 19, 2008 06:44 AM

So Gordon Ramsay was in Cranbury, NJ filming an episode of "Kitchen Nightmares" at Hannah & Mason's. For those that don't know, Hannah & Mason's is a high-end french-influenced new American place. They have been only open a couple of nights a week for dinner, and I believe business has been a little slow for them. We have dined here a few times, and have had the impression that the place was nice, with decent food, but not worth the prices they charge. Our dinner this time was different, to say the least.

We had a reservation for Friday Night which turned out to be the night before the restaurant relaunch. I ordered Chicken Saltimbocca and my wife ordered a Pork Medallion dish (a special). My chicken was awful. It was a huge breast, and it wasn't pounded thin, so the meat itself was a little dry and rather tasteless. Two shrimp were perched on top along with some Tarragon (!!!) prosciutto, and cheese, and it was dressed in a tangy lemon sauce. I don't know if was a mistake or what, but the tarragon fought with the other flavors to the point that the dish was barely edible. Classic Saltimbocca is made with sage... tarragon just doesn't work.

On the other hand, the pork dish was divine. The medallions were very tender, and dressed with a simple mellow mustard sauce. It was served with extremely buttery mashed potatoes and crisp green beans. This dish was harmonious and delicious, and, as it turns out, was Gordon Ramsay's special that night.

I won't go into details on the starter & dessert, but they were nothing special.

H&M's used to charge high-end fine-dining prices, but the service and food really didn't warrant it. When our main courses came, there was a "plate auction" (Who ordered the pork?), silverware wasn't replaced, etc.

On Saturday, they threw a "Farmer's Market" on Main St. to relaunch the newly-redecorated restaurant with a new, simplified menu with a "Farm-Fresh" concept. The new menu's most expensive item is the same price as the cheapest main dish on the old menu. The new menu is divided into sections such as Lighter Plates (Fontina, Asparagus & Green Onion Quiche, Ribeye Roast Beef Sandwich, Cured Salmon Platter, etc.), Soups (Roasted Carrot & Ginger, others), Salads (Caesar, Harvest, Cobb, Greek), and Entrees (Free Range Chicken Stew, Lamb Burger, Braised Short Ribs, Salmon and Crab Cakes, etc.)

I spoke with one of the owners that day, and he said they would now be open every night. However, when we came by on Monday for dinner, they were closed. (Maybe they needed a day off after the filming?) I hope they keep up with the changes... The changes make sense and will attract people to come to this restaurant regularly, not just for special occasions.

As for the experience of dining on camera for the TV show, it was interesting. When each course was served to us, a camera, sound man, and producer came over to our table. The camera was only a foot or so away from our faces, and the producer asked us questions, "How's the sauce?", "What do you think of dish?". My wife (a chef) was quite eloquent, while all I could get out was a few words. It was definitely a fun experience. I was very impressed when Ramsay made a few passes through the dining room to check on things, even though the cameras were not around when he did it. He seemed genuinely interested in what was going on and how people were enjoying their meals... it was definitely not a "show". We did get to talk to him a bit on Saturday, and he seems to be a very nice guy, despite his on-screen persona.

The Farmer's Market they did was a blast. Most of the town was out for it, and it featured some local purveyors like Terhune's Orchards, Hendrick's Farms & Dairy, a Pickle Maker, and others. Everyone was happily nibbling and enjoying the nice weather.

I hope H&M's does very well as a result of this. They are very nice people, and their heart is definitely in it.

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