Food for Naught
A Canton eatery doesn't live up to its own hype
Gutmans (2324 Boston St.,  982-0088) is a lonely spot. Its location in Canton Arts and Entertainment does the restaurant no favors; the severe concrete façade and smoked glass windows of the building, which used to be Hucka's, warn off customers who could easily mistake the multi-business venue for a men's social club or an arcade. Inside the un-peopled, unwelcoming lobby, a flurry of signs point confusingly to different enterprises within the building--an oyster bar, a potential live-music venue, another bar. It is quiet enough to hear the trickle of the miniature faux marble fountain that sits incongruously between the pool table and the lumpy leather couches in My Generation, the watering hole to the right of the lobby, and the sense of vacancy is so palpable, one wonders if the front door was left unlocked by mistake. A dearth of customers midweek is no real surprise in this economy, but the absence of staff sends up the first of many red flags at this thoroughly bewildering restaurant.
Nearly everything about Gutmans is marred by miscalculation. The dining room is comfortable enough with its exposed-brick walls hung with bright oils and black-and-white prints, but why sandwich it between two bars, particularly when customers will need to walk through the restaurant to reach the Black Pearl, a casual, wood-paneled oyster bar reminiscent of a Baltimore club basement? Why offer a menu that attempts fine dining with some entrées hovering near $30 in a venue that seems designed to draw a bar crowd? Gutmans is obviously thinking big--a server presents a sad platter, steakhouse-style, featuring the night's beef and fish offerings, shiny and flattened under a bandage of plastic wrap, and the dining room already boasts a chef's table, an odd, elongated arrangement with a podium in the middle where the chef can hold court after he emerges, TV chef-like, from the door behind--but I can't even begin to imagine who the restaurant's intended audience is. It's clearly not folks looking for fresh, imaginative dining.
Based on the night of our visit, dinner at Gutmans can take several hours, even if you are one of only two tables being served. This gives you ample time to peruse the menu which reflects a jumble of global-fusion influences. Dishes are garnished with wontons, Thai curry, sweet peppadews, and a mysterious "lemon sweet wine reduction." Boursin cheese appears in several dishes, like the unremarkable roasted red-pepper roulade appetizer ($8) that arrives in a puddle of blackish sauce that turns out to be pesto. Trinidad sweet-fire sauce is also a house favorite, though it overpowered the other ingredients, including chicken, in a watery sweet-fire chicken stew ($4 cup).
Seafood on the menu is listed with enough sobriquets to draw comparisons to pro wrestlers. Crab and shrimp are colossal (shrimp are also designated as U-12, or under 12 per pound) and make up a lime-sodden "seviche" ($10) that bears an odd resemblance to canned-fruit cocktail despite being served in a martini glass. In comparison, the big eye tartar ($11)--chopped raw tuna--was refreshingly straightforward, even if the "Caribbean" coleslaw (does using red cabbage make it Caribbean?) and mound of yellow curried rice distracted from it.
The presentation and execution of the entrées were marginally better than the appetizers, but again raised questions about the kitchen's goals. Why douse a perfectly nice piece of grilled salmon ($23) in the red-pepper-based sweet-fire sauce and then garnish the plate with more red--a half dozen soggy grilled plum tomatoes? Or take a filet of "Guinness seasoned" beef ($24), top it with more Boursin, and drown it in a plate of oily spaetzel and a vegetable mélange? And as one diner remarked, there was no need to deep fry a lobster tail blanketed in a wonton wrapper ($28) unless the goal was to make the delicate shellfish tough and tasteless. Served with surprisingly bland seaweed salad, the dish might have gained a little flair from an additional vegetable garnish or a homemade mustard or sweet-and-sour dipping sauce, but only a dish of melted butter shared the plate. Gutmans chicken ($15), a simple seared breast served with an abundant sauté of mushrooms and spinach and napped with the aforementioned lemon sweet wine reduction was a little too sweet, but basically harmless. The same preparation, oddly enough, is used for liver.
It should be noted that at the time of this review, Gutmans had been opened just over a month, "a soft opening," a very well-meaning server explained. The restaurant has no web site and what little publicity the spot has garnered is due to some misguided attempts at public relations as chronicled on the Sun's Dining@Large and Midnight Sun blogs. (City Paper also received a telephone call suggesting a review of the restaurant.) Whether Gutmans makes it to or beyond a grand opening is anyone's guess. Beyond the perpetually cheerful server, I can think of no real reason to return. The menu states, "Gutmans is not just about having a meal; Gutmans is an experience." Which is most certainly true.