"I have the simplest tastes. I am simply satisfied with the best." - Oscar Wilde

"I came, I saw, I ate." - Au Gourmand

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Gotham Bar and Grill - December 9, 2010

Dining at Gotham is like slipping on a suit of silk satin pajamas: Smooth, luxurious and beseeching for relaxation. There will be no nerves, no worries and no premonitions that something unpredictable, unavoidable and totally unsavory will materialize to ruin your night, well, perhaps except for their appalling tap water for it thoroughly shamed the claim New York had enjoyed on having the best tap water of all the fifty states (not that I believed it for a minute).

LOBSTER FETTUCINI in a light Tomato Cream

According to our jovial waiter, this last-minute change in the menu due to the sudden appearance of once-unavailable lobster was insanely good. Insane, you say, my right eye brow arched. Fine then, insane it is. Just as my heart sketched it out, the fettunici came wrapping around chucks of lobster meat in a pretty pink tomato sauce; just as my palate expected, it was rightfully delicious. I must confess that I have acquired a weakness for seafood in creamy sauces these days, despite my younger stoic disdain toward such sacrilegious marriage under the Italian tradition (of course, there are exceptions even in Italy, which only confirms the prohibition otherwise, as Cicero would have argued). Regardless of my predisposition, it was a well-done dish, although (there seems to be always the “although” in life), if I may be a tiny bit exact, the pasta was 30 seconds over-cooked – an oversight, but it did not negatively affect the creamy lobster sauce; on the contrary, an over-eager al dente would have done precisely that.

COLD SMOKED TASMANIAN SEA TROUT, baby fennel, celery hearts and meyer lemon, pumpernickel croutons

Having long adored the smoked brook trout at Gotham’s sister restaurant in spirit (Telepan), my mischievous curiosity was intrigued - every relationship needs a sprinkle of spice now and then; without an element of surprise, how utterly unbearably boring we will be - notwithstanding the fact that it did not grace the waiter’s list of recommendations. In speaking to self-respecting waiter, meaning who is not only smiling to count the tips, I dust off all the psycho-analysis bric-a-brac accumulated over the course of years. What do I mean? I mean, you need to read him: Is his smile genuine? Has he really tasted the dish? What are his predilections – meat or fish? Therefore, the fact that the trout did not make it to the finalist list was not a concern for me as my analysis returned a data that placed the waiter toward a more traditional, solid, comfort food arena. Comfort, I do not need from food.

The trout had the delicate jelly-like consistency, which was salted just enough to bring out the sweetness and the flavor of the beautiful cinnabar flesh. The use of pumpernickel croutons was an unanticipated delight, which danced off in its crunchy glory on the smooth fish. The garnishment of dollops of mayonnaise and fennel and celery collaborated to make the whole seven pieces varied and balanced.

TRUFFLE CRUSTED ATLANTIC HALIBUT, romanesco cauliflower, baby leek and mushroom fricasseé, marcona almond vermouth sauce

Gotham is one of the very few restaurants where I can order fish and not feel adventurous in an ulcer-causing way. I have almost forgot, in my long toil of ill-executed fish dishes that when you go to a reputable establishment, you are not supposed to fidget in your seat, worry about the food. Being surrounded by water has not taught New York much, I regret. I have come to realize that being geographically close to the source of a resource does not guarantee, or even stimulate, the growth of culinary skills; furthermore, in this age and time, a skillful chef can cook good fish on a mountain top. Take the bovine nation of Argentina; I had excellent seafood dishes there despite the highest per-capital consumption of beef. While freshness is key; culinary technique is absolutely critical. When you can cook, you can cook anything. When you cannot, well, please do not open a restaurant.

Contrary to its thick and meaty appearance, the halibut was cooked decidedly soft and flaky. The dust of truffles was interesting for its flavor and texture, which were perfect accompaniment for the neat alabaster fish. The medley of cauliflower, leek, mushroom and almonds, again, provided contrasts and tones to the mildness of the halibut. The skill of Gotham lies in the way that a good dish is not simply a good dish; it also manages to be both entertaining and intellectual. After all, restaurant is a performance art, is it not?

ROASTED MUSCOVY DUCK, coco blanc cassoulet, duck saucisson d'ail, acorn squash and quince quatre épices

This was another dish which escaped the waiter’s recommendation for its bold and assertive flavors, but it did not escape from my notice. Bold, pushy, strong are all welcome on my palate, especially when it is done is a cassoulet style, a quintessential winter dish. Although not exactly in cassoulet, you have to give it credits for having risen above the ubiquitous orange or red wine sauces.

The plate presented three styles of duck for enjoyment. The tender duck breast was perfectly roasted to a satisfying chewiness, while attaining a pleasing crunch on the skin. On the other hand, the leg confit was gamey with strings of dark flesh falling off the bone. Small, but not neglected, the garlicy duck sausage was firm and stimulating. To tie all parts of duck, the sauce was bold, strong and yet velvety, in which the sweetness of the quince melded all flavors most charmingly.

APPLE QUINCE TARTE TATIN, dulce de leche and sumac evan's farms crème fraîche

My recent tarte tatin experience had been rather wanting, but Gotham produced a beautiful specimen which should be on every cooking textbook (which should be purchased by quite a few chefs in New York). A perfectly crispy pie crust, on which sits decadently caramelized fruits. Please understand the importance of the contrasting textures: The apples cannot fall apart but need to retain its texture and shape. And, the innocuous roll of crème fraîche on the side… How should I say? It was sinfully rich and it had a seductive sweet undertone, which only the best dairy products could have.

A minor misstep, although easily avoidable, was the dulce de leche. While only a dollop was provided, it tilted the scale of sweetness from the precarious balance of saturation to saccharine indigestion. Therefore, if duce de leche were to play a role more significant than a wall flower, the tarte tatin itself needed to be toned down in its sweetness.

WHITE TRUFFLE HONEY CHEESECAKE, poached pears and hickory nuts, armagnac ice cream

I had often wondered about the possibility of truffles in dessert: For example, white chocolate truffle truffle (no typos), what do you think? Gotham seemed to have read my mind and dutifully placed its answer in front of me. The smooth, velvety cheese cake was truly infused with the flavor of white truffles; the devilishly subtle aroma sneaked into my heart with each bite – one second here, the other second gone – with an agonizing playfulness that would produce a life-long addiction. Well-calculated, well-thought-out, and well-executed. Could I just make one tiny request, though? Please redo the Armagnac ice cream because it was watery (hint: any leftovers from that crème fraîche?).


Due to the presence of two strong candidates, I had to hold my tears and forgo my long-time love: Gotham’s flourless chocolate cake. Therefore, when my dining companion most graciously offered to share, my hesitation was only for the propriety’s sake and not even quite successful. Not your typical flourless cake, this cake is airy, fluffy and as light as angel wings; it miraculously disappears in your mouth, leaving a faint residue of bitter-sweet chocolate. If you have not had it, you have seen nothing yet.

Gotham Bar and Grill
Address:  12 East 12th Street, New York, NY 10003
Phone:  212-620-4020

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