There’s no debating that Caesars Atlantic City won the 2022 casino-dining sweepstakes in the seaside gambling capital. In addition to the opening of Asian-Peruvian powerhouse Nobu, the midtown gaming hall also rolled out Gordon Ramsay Hell’s Kitchen, a high-end eatery inspired by the Fox network’s perennially popular cooking-competition series hosted by the perpetually cranky British celebrity-chef.
The bi-level restaurant, which is housed in the space formerly occupied by the long- gone Planet Hollywood and the Dusk dance club, opened last September. According to General Manager Chris Conger, it has been an unqualified success from Day One. That apparently isn’t just an idle boast: On a recent cool and rainy Monday evening, the eatery was bustling at a mid-summer pace.
That, Conger suggested, can be attributed to Hell’s Kitchen being more than just a standard food dispensary.
“Our goal here is to be an experience-driven restaurant and to bring the TV show to life,” he offered.
Indeed, there’s no mistaking the connection between the restaurant and the series: The open kitchen’s design is lifted whole from the TV show’s set: Looking at it from the main dining room, the left half is bathed in red lighting while the right half is illuminated in blue.
But the concept goes beyond mere aesthetics: The red portion, explained Conger, is where hot appetizers and side dishes are prepared, with the blue area dedicated to the creation of entrees and desserts.
Another nod to the TV series is the pitchfork motif of the chandelier that dominates the main dining room, which is accentuated by indirect lighting and an unobtrusive sound system through which contemporary tunes are pumped. Nine plush booths add to the room’s posh—but-unstuffy—atmosphere.
Hell’s Kitchen is not an intimate boite. Counting the second-level bar and a private room that looks out over the Boardwalk, beach and ocean, the seating capacity is an impressive 233.
The kitchen touches all the required bases and its fare includes several dishes with which Ramsay is closely identified.
“We have two signature appetizers, the lobster risotto and pan-seared scallops,” said Conger. “The risotto is butternut squash; the scallops are over a celery root puree.”
Leading the entree roster is Ramsay’s signature offering, beef Wellington with potato puree and root vegetables. Another available Ramsay mainstay is crispy-skin salmon served with beluga lentils, shaved fennel salad and citrus herb beurre blancuh (a creamy sauce made with butter, onions or shallots, and vinegar or lemon juice).
It’s probably not surprising that price points are on the premium side (e.g. entrees range from $38.99 for the brick- pressed chicken to $69.99 for the beef Wellington). However, the offerings go well beyond standard casino-steakhouse menus, portions are generous and the service is top-shelf.
The second-level bar, which overlooks the kitchen and dining room, prides itself on somewhat adventurous concoctions with names like “Notes from Gordon” and “Fear & Loathing.” A perfect example is the “Smoke On the Boardwalk,” which consists of Knob
Creek rye, Aperol (an Italian bitter apertif, Amaro Averna (an Italian bitter liqueur), Dolin sweet vermouth, and smoked cherry wood. It arrives in a glass chamber from which smoke bellows as if it were created in a mad scientist’s laboratory.
Hell’s Kitchen is Ramsay’s second installation at Caesars; his Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill is located in the casino-hotel’s Temple lobby. So what’s the difference between the two?
“There’s a different elevation of dining,” noted Conger. “At the Pub, you have sandwiches and more casual kind of fare.
“Here, you have a more-elevated fine dining, or gourmet, experience.”
As noted above, Ramsay—whom Conger advised will be at the restaurant a few times a year–has built a culinary/media empire on the foundation of his flinty—some might say downright nasty—persona. But that’s not the boss Conger knows.
Ramsay, he conceded is “a large figure.”
But, he added, “He is such a friendly person and so welcoming. He was a pleasure to talk to on his last visit here. He’s just so knowledgeable and he’s really a person you want to be around, because you can absorb so much from him.”
Change of venue
For some three decades, Betty McHugh was the Hostess with the Mostess in her role as maitre’d at Nero’s Italian Steakhouse at Caesars Atlantic City.
McHugh’s perpetual smile and vivacious personality earned her a loyal following among the room’s customers, and she is as much an AyCee casino institution as any person in the town’s gaming industry has ever been.
But when Caesars introduced Hell’s Kitchen and Nobu, Nero’s was odd-room-out, and
McHugh lost her fiefdom when the decades-old eatery closed forever last September.
But Caesars’ loss turned out to be Hard Rock’s gain: McHugh, who was Atlantic City’s first-ever female maitre’d, now serves as The Rock’s “property maitre’d.”
That means instead of working at one restaurant, she’s meeting and greeting guests and performing various other duties at the high-end dining rooms – Council Oak Steaks & Seafood, Kuro and Sandpiper Coastal Bar & Grill – owned and operated by Hard Rock.
She can also be found at Plum, the casino’s private players’ retreat.
“I am the face of these restaurants, so when [patrons] come in, they see me,”
McHugh told Scott Cronick of Shore Local Newsmagazine. “I want them to all feel like
they are at home.”
Considering that has always been her modus operandi, it’s probably safe to say that is
probably an everyday occurrence.