5/24/2007

Gotham Bar and Grill

A friend and I were discussing the Strip House the other day when he said, "If I wanted to have a nice steak in the neighborhood, I would much rather go across the street to Gotham Bar and Grill."

I'm a fan of the Strip House, but I could see his point. Gotham Bar and Grill, once famous as the instigator of the towering-food trend, has once again become a favorite in the Village, thanks to Alfred Portale's critical acclaim and the efforts of sociable sommelier Michael Greenly, who has recruited a wealthy young clientele to the place. The still-chic restaurant has a pedigree on par with Union Square Cafe and Gramercy Tavern, but because it is less well known in the hinterlands, it's still a neighborhood place.

On a packed Sunday night a couple of weeks ago, I gave Gotham Bar and Grill another try after nearly ten years. (I once met Greenly, and he reprimanded me for not going there earlier. He has since left Gotham for a job in Napa, but the standout wine list remains.) The grand Tihany lamp shades are still there. At the bar, we ordered this 2000 Grands Echezeaux Mongeard Mugneret. The bartendress was ecstatic.



My dining companions, let's call them "Mom and Dad," since they are, talked about the wine list. Dad pointed out an excellent 1998 Domaine Leroy Rochebourg for $1,100. (We didn't get that one.) He put a buy on 2005 burgundies, which he called the best in 25 years.

"I hope you're not buying them," Mom said.

"I am." Dad's wine cellar is slowly taking over the entire basement.

Not very many places in the neighborhood could qualify as purveyors of haute cuisine, but Gotham can. Alfred Portale won the James Beard award for Most Outstanding Chef in the Nation in 2006. A winning combination of delicate white asparagus, fresh morels, and a perfectly poached egg was a fabulous seasonal appetizer - get it while it lasts. The citrusy black bass ceviche was also startlingly good. Jicama, pineapple, and red pepper created a sort of firecracker effect of many bright flavors going off simultaneously.







Local Pine Island oysters, a traditional New York offering, mixed East Coast size with West Coast sweetness. Subtle and light, they were best eaten plain.






"That's some serious cholesterol," Dad said, as a server put a rack of lamb in front of him. He meant it as a compliment.

On that night, I noticed something I've been noticing a lot recently - the appetizers were a lot more dazzling than the entrees. It's as if, with the first impression over with, someone in the kitchen is saying, "Phew - now I can relax." Granted, that person might not have been Alfred Portale himself, particularly since it was a Sunday night, usually a chef's night off, so it might not be fair to judge everything on this.

In the entrees, the quality of the ingredients was still there, but not as much attention had been paid to them. The lamb, though it looks elaborate and towering, couldn't have been cooked more plainly. It was crying out for garlic, salt, pepper - anything. The lobster was covered in a butter foam, but this and the squab might have been a little overcooked - they lacked the tenderness I was expecting.

There were still plenty of haute cuisine touches. The black beer sauce in the squab dish gave it a nice contrasting bitterness to the sweetness of the choucroute and rich foie gras sausage. It was creative and original, and it made perfect sense.

We lingered over some after dinner drinks - the Madeira Boal D'Oliveros was my favorite - and surveyed the scene. Why had it taken me so long to get back here? I don't know, but I'm not going to wait another ten years to return to Gotham Bar and Grill.

Besides, I still haven't tried the steak.


Gotham Bar and Grill
12 East 12th Street, between University Place and Fifth Avenue
212-620-4020

Click here for the menu and wine list. To their credit, the staff at Gotham Bar and Grill is so attentive that I was unable to steal either.

1 comments:

joy said...

I think this calls for a party in "dad"'s garage soonest...I'd go with you to try the steak sometime, but I can't get the $1,100 bottle of wine either, alas.