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Culture / Restaurants

New York’s Best Restaurant?

A Return to This Stalwart Shows It’s Still Very Much a Contender

BY // 11.11.16

There are those restaurants to which one longs to return year after year, or week after week even. The list of such places in my head would cover a postcard, if I wrote in small script, and it’s a roster of excellence. Arzak, Can Fabes (sadly closed), Babbo, Le Comptoir du Relais, Tony’s, Bandito Burrito … to name but a few.

Gotham Bar and Grill is also on that list. I walked through its doors for the first time in 1994, 10 years after it opened, and was struck immediately by its restrained and graceful ambiance. One grows calmer within minutes of stepping off of East 12th Street. Then you are seated and given the menu, and the magic really begins. The confident wine list offers something for everyone’s palate and budget, the service is impeccable, and the food… the food has been on my mind since that first visit 22 years ago.

I returned to Gotham Bar and Grill several weeks ago, for lunch, and that food… it was, as always, full of technique and tradition and flavor. Starting with a bowl of kabocha squash soup was right, because it was wet and cold out. There were roasted honeycrisp apples and toasted pecans, plus cinnamon-tinged mascarpone. The hearty squash purée was nothing but smooth (except warm and rich). No component of this dish was out of place, nothing superfluous. Alfred Portale is no upstart.

We also ordered pâté and beets, a beautiful composition on a plate that gave pleasure in many ways: to the eyes, the mind, and the palate. Texture here was paramount, as was the richness — almost sinfully so — of the meats. Duck does it for me, always, and this was no exception.

Beets and pâté
Beets and pâté

My final savory course was miso-marinated black cod. I’ve had this dish at Nobu on a number of occasions, but I prefer this one. I don’t need flash, but I do insist on flavor and a steady and assured (read “skilled”) hand. All of those went into this, to great success. The cod was cooked as it should have been, with an interior soft and slightly salty, and a slightly crisp exterior. Bok choy, lemongrass, shiitake, soy, and sticky rice. Each bite was right. I spooned every last drop of the broth as well. You would, too.

Our wine, a Pinot Grigio from Alto Adige, was offered for $38. I can struggle to find a good wine for that price on many lists in Houston, and we did not overlook that fact. The bottle was much more than adequate for our lunch; in fact, it was exactly what we wanted.

My list is intact, and Gotham Bar and Grill has not lost its place on it. I shall return.

Home, chic home.

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