Review: Hell’s Kitchen offers a unique and tasty dining experience at Harrah’s Resort SoCal

If you’re looking for an intimate, quiet, and inexpensive dining experience, Gordon Ramsay’s new Hell’s Kitchen restaurant at Harrah’s Resort Southern California isn’t for you.

But if you’re a super fan of the long-running Fox TV cooking series of the same name, from the feisty British chef, stepping into Hell’s Kitchen is like stepping into his TV universe. In fact, just inside the lobby doors, a life-size Ramsay appears in continuous videos where he faces the screen and speaks some of his signature lines at customer eye level, like “What are you -you ? Silly sandwich!”

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The entrance to Hell’s Kitchen restaurant at Harrah’s Resort Southern California.

(Pam Kragen/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The nearly 400-seat restaurant kitchen was designed to look like the show’s television set. Chefs wear competition uniforms. Framed photos of Ramsay and past “Hell’s Kitchen” season winners hang on the lobby walls. Excerpts from the television program are broadcast continuously on the bar. There’s “Hell’s Kitchen” merchandise for sale (a “Putting the Sin in Cuisine” t-shirt costs $52). And Ramsay’s signature dishes — the same ones TV contestants try to cook properly on the 17-year-old show — are on the menu.

Seared scallops at Hell's Kitchen Restaurant at Harra's Resort Southern California in Valley Center.

Seared scallops at Hell’s Kitchen Restaurant at Harra’s Resort Southern California in Valley Center.

(Pam Kragen/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Luckily, unlike the TV series, Hell’s Kitchen’s scallops aren’t served raw, the beef Wellington isn’t cold, and the risotto doesn’t taste like what Ramsay once called “Glue!” Glue! Glue!” The prices are high, but the food is actually quite tasty with a few exceptions, and dining there is definitely an experience.

Located at the edge of the casino, Hell’s Kitchen opened last month with a two-month waiting list for tables. Managers say they are capping nightly dining room reservations at 200, with walk-ins accepted except at the bar, until cooks and servers are fully trained. But after some renovations to expand the dining room of the buffet restaurant’s former location, Hell’s Kitchen could serve up to 600 to 800 diners a night.

The dining room of Hell's Kitchen restaurant at Harrah's Resort Southern California in Valley Center.

The dining room of Hell’s Kitchen restaurant at Harrah’s Resort Southern California in Valley Center.

(Pam Kragen/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Besides the main dining room, there is a large bar and two chef’s tables, one with eight seats and one with 11, for an omakase-style meal. There’s also a glass-walled 2,000-bottle wine cellar chilled at 53 degrees, which diners can ask to be taken inside for a few quick selfies. Thanks to the restaurant’s tiled floor and cavernous size, the noise level isn’t much quieter than the slot machine floor outside. But Ramsay told the Union-Tribune in August that he thought that auditory buzz added to the excitement of the meal.

When I visited, two of the servers enthusiastically asked me if I had watched “Hell’s Kitchen” and said that most of the first few weeks diners had said yes. Many of the guests around me were couples on date nights spending big on $19 cocktails and multiple courses. Appetizers, soups, and salads range from $17 to $31, and entrees are $40 to $80 each. The best bet is a three-course, $99 prix-fixe menu of Ramsay’s most famous dishes, with optional wine pairings for an extra $50.

Sticky Caramel Pudding at Hell's Kitchen restaurant at Harrah's Resort Southern California in Valley Center.

Sticky Caramel Pudding at Hell’s Kitchen restaurant at Harrah’s Resort Southern California in Valley Center.

(Pam Kragen/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

I opted for the fixed price and was not disappointed. The seared scallops were thin but well cooked and seasoned to perfection, served with a deliciously crunchy and tart salad of celeriac and green apples. Beef Wellington would have made Ramsay smile. A tender, undercooked filet was wrapped in mushroom and prosciutto duxelles, baked in a crispy pastry shell and served with a rich red wine demi-glace and mashed potatoes. And the sticky caramel pudding, a warm and tender date cake topped with dulce de leche ice cream and served in a pool of caramel sauce was one of the best desserts I’ve had all year. I also ordered the lobster risotto appetizer, which was creamy and flavorful, but the extra large lobster tail was slightly overcooked.

Lobster risotto at Hell's Kitchen restaurant at Harrah's Resort Southern California in Valley Center.

Lobster risotto at Hell’s Kitchen restaurant at Harrah’s Resort Southern California in Valley Center.

(Pam Kragen/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

As with many casino restaurants, the servers are trained to get food to you fast enough that you can get in and out of the casino in less than an hour. But luckily there is no pressure to hurry. Hell’s Kitchen is definitely worth a visit. Whether fans and non-fans will turn it into a regular dining destination remains to be seen. Maybe the proof will be in the sticky caramel pudding.

Hell’s Kitchen Restaurant

Hours: 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. from Sunday to Thursday. 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays

Where: Harrah’s Resort Southern California, 777 S. Resort Drive, Valley Center

Call: (760) 751-3100

On line: harrahssocal.com/dining/hells-kitchen

The Hell's Kitchen restaurant bar at Harrah's Resort Southern California in Valley Center.

The Hell’s Kitchen restaurant bar at Harrah’s Resort Southern California in Valley Center.

(Pam Kragen/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

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