GATO last night
A celebrity chef with lots of FoodTV coverage in a vast downtown location with a vibe that one critic compared to that of the Meatpacking district does not promise an excellent meal, at least to me. So I was prepared to be disappointed but what I was, instead, was quite impressed with my dinner last night at Bobby Flay's new Lafayette Street restaurant.
The room is large, but quite handsome, with brick walls and a vaulted ceiling hung with clusters of mercury glass cloches. Tables are bare wood, and the floor wears Andalucian-inspired tiles. Despite the lack of obvious soundproofing, the handsome space was not uncomfortably loud, although our waiter told us that it would become so later in the evening. (We left close to 8pm)
Dinner begins with two breads from Hudson Bread, served with fragrant olive oil from Sicily's Frantoia. (Breads were on the soft side). Servers were generous with bread.
Service on the whole was notably attentive, with our waiter, Luciano, frequently checking with us, and servers refilling water, cleaning table between courses. Staff seemed actually happy to be working there, as far as we could tell.
Two of us shared the White Chicory Salad, a tangle of frisee and endive shot with fontina and dotted with lardons of chorizo and topped with an egg cooked to perfection (I think the waiter told us 6 minutes).The "apricot almond" dressing completed a salad that tied with Estela's recent fava bean confection as the most memorable I've had this year.
Luciano told us that many diners forego salads. That would be a mistake, judging from the one I had last night.
I was equally wowed by the Soft Shell Crab and Ramp Crostini, two halves of a small-ish crab set atop two toasts sitting in a pool of Harissa-inflected goodness that had me wiping up every last smear with the bread.
The Roasted and Seared Octopus was almost as delicious, with an interplay of salt, savory, sour and sweet flavors that I found impressive, and delicious.
The kitchen draws from all over the Mediterranean, from various points in Spain across to Moroccoo and Tunisia and back again to Calabria, whose spicy chili peppers showed up on a number of dishes. The wines by the glass offered several intrguing selections and prices seemed moderate although I've no idea of markups. With the crab and octupus I drank a lovely Godello, from Galicia's Vinos Godeval ($12) that I hope to find in a NYC retail shop.
My partner was very content with a pork chop (I found this to be a tad dry at the edges) set stop of a pool of polenta swirled with Romesco.
The tiny charred carrots were excellent as well…wrinkled and sweet under a blanket of crispy parsnip shards.
Dessert was a decadent Chocolate Crema Catalana. After dinner we were treated to biscotti with glasses of cream sherry from Bodegas Lustau.
The menu offers many other tempting choices that I hope to return soon to sample. The price for the dinner described above, before tip, was $117.
Everyone that I know (including my 3 meals here so far) has liked it except for Sutton.
But I don't find it vast, nor do I think it's "downtown."
We found the spreads fine, the shrimp appetizer good, the crispy potatoes wildly over-seasoned and inedible (the staff didn't comment on the full plate as they took it away), the cauliflower tasty, and the pasta okay. The overpowering and unpleasant smell from the paella on the next table kept us from ordering it. I guess they use TV levels of spices or something (it wasn't a mushroom or a kale smell). Deserts I can't remember. For us this was a no return.
That experience does not sound good at all!
The paella has been lauded in a few of the reports I'd read, but I was surprised at the use of the kale and mushrooms in late May. I did question the server, who assured me that it did have a substantial crust (socarrat) a critical component that eluded me on my attempt to find the "perfect" paella in Valencia. So maybe warm weather will bring a different paella, and the adjacent tables can continue their meal undisturbed by the aromas!
The restaurant is not what I would consider "vast" although quite large in comparison to many places that I visit often.
Upon reading a few reviews, I envisioned a much larger, more shrieking, restaurant. Happily for me, this was not the case, although surely the sound level rises substantially as the evening progresses.
They certainly deserve the two-stars accorded by Pete Wells. But why is the order of soft-shell crostini in the Times photo twice the size of the one I had two weeks ago? The photo shows two crabs while I had one small crab, split in half. Shouldn't the photo in the review depict the actual composition of the dish?
I went last night (Thursday) for the second time. We had an 8:30 reservation and arrived 5 minutes early. The hostess told us they were running 20 minutes behind. The space around the bar on either side is minimal as it's really just an aisle for servers to pass. With the combination of people seated at the bar and the tables behind, there's really not enough room for one to stand comfortably and allow a server to pass by. It is not the type of bar where you could stand 2-3 people deep. Every single bar seat and bar table was taken when we waiting and no one appeared ready to leave for a while. If I were seated at the tables right next to the bar, I would not be happy about it.
Aside from our table not being ready when we arrived, everything else was pretty good. We had 3 bar snacks - tiny, which I knew already, but good: Chorizo, eggplant and burrata. We also had the lamb sausage pizza which was better than I expected it to be - sweet/spicy red sauce, good sausage. We also had the eggs which were as good as they were on my first trip. The shrimp appetizer is skippable. The halibut was pretty darn good, and the paella was good (better the first time), but not AWESOME. The wait between the first few dishes and the mains was too long as well.
Mr. Flay was in the kitchen and Anne Burrell, Michael Simon and Chris Santos were dining in the restaurant.
I returned for my second visit last night, and remain as thrilled as I was the first time.
Again ordered the soft shell crostini, now prepared with chopped tomatoes and basil shot with pimenton. Lovely.
White chicory salad remains among my favorite NYC salads.
I now understand all the accolades heaped upon innocuous-sounding scrambled egg dish! Presented in a cazuela and bound with creme fraiche, young goat cheese, and almond romesco, this is THE best egg dish I've had in the US. Eggs are accompanied by Flay's take on pa amb tomaquet, made here with confited tomatoes instead of the grated fresh tomatoes of the Catalan original, were marvels in their own right.
Goat Cheese Pizza spiked with black olives and capers was good; crust seemed to be a cross of foccacia and traditional pizza dough.
Chocolate Crema Catalana, with its bruleed top crust, was another "wow." Excellent biscotti and a glass of Lustau creme sherry closed another excellent dinner at Gato.
With a glass of Ischia bianco from the island's premier estate, this light dinner for two cost a very reasonable $89. before tip.