Sunday, July 13, 2008

Onion ring towers and frozen nutella at Gotham Bar & Grill

Last Friday, W and the bro took me to Gotham Bar & Grill for my last-- I promise-- official birthday dinner. Gotham is one of my quintessential "List" restaurants-- definite top three of places I've always wanted to go. So I was quite, quite excited for this dinner.

As soon as I walked into Gotham, I was struck by the intense feeling that I was in a very nice restaurant. You know that feeling I'm talking about? The one that screams that the purpose of the room you're in is to bring happiness and pleasure to everybody in it? If you haven't had that feeling, just walk into Gotham or Eleven Madison Park-- just walk in-- and you'll know what I'm talking about. Gotham is a beautiful, large dining room with enormous sunflower arrangements and draped light fixtures hanging from the high ceilings. The tables are large and well spaced, and there are several dining "tiers" (some tables were on various elevated or sunken areas of the dining room). We were led to a table in the back corner of the room, on a slightly elevated platform, with a great view of all the action.

A view of the gorgeous dining room from our elevated table

One of the flower arrangements in the background

While the bro and I waited for W to arrive, he examined the wine list and chose a bottle for W and himself (I wasn't in the mood for wine at the moment). The wine list was incredibly extensive-- more of a wine book than a wine list-- and, not surprisingly, skewed on the pricey side. The one drawback I found was that the list of wines by the glass was fairly small.

The table of contents. Of the wine list. Obvi.

W joined us shortly thereafter, and our waiter brought us the menus. Gotham doesn't have too many vegetarian selections, but fortunately one was very appealing, so I was all set. W and the bro both settled on their selection, and after a leisurely amount of time, we placed our orders.

Then came one of the best moments of any meal: the arrival of the Bread Man. Like One If By Land, Gotham had a dedicated bread man who wandered around the dining room with a platter of different kinds of breads. After watching him visit other tables, I was thrilled when he finally rolled up to our table and showcased his wares. We each chose two selections: W got the green olive roll and the hazelnut-raisin focaccia; the bro got the dinner roll and the focaccia; and I got the currant-multigrain roll and the focaccia. The focaccia was delicious, with the sweet flavor of hazelnuts offset but the crunch of rock salt sprinkled across the top crust. The currant-muligrain was tasty and flaky but a tiny bit dry. The bread was accompanied by a generous plate of butter, attractively presented with a ridged top. It looked very soft but when I dipped into it with my knife, it was actually on the harder side.

For the bro: Dinner roll and focaccia

For me: currant-multigrain and focaccia

For W: Green olive and...focaccia

Deceptively non-soft butter

Inside the currant roll

None of us had ordered appetizers, so we chowed on the bread to tide us over until our entrees came. After a suitable time lapse (this WAS a nice restaurant, after all), the plates all swooped down on our table at once. W had ordered the snapper, which came beautifully and interestingly plated on a bed of brocollini and exotic mushrooms. I tried a taste of these veggies, which were very tasty, and W said her fish was very good. She also examined the pile of clover on top of the fish for a four-leaf, but alas, none appeared.


The bro ordered the steak. It came with the best kind of baby carrots-- the ones that are like tiny adult carrots, if that makes sense--which were tender but still firm. There was also a very interesting mustard flan-- it tasted like dijon mustard but had the texture of panna cotta. It was a very interesting condiment to spread atop the steak. The best part of this dish (at least for me...) was the stack of onion rings. I had two of them, and they were like onion donuts, with a substantial tempura-like batter gripping the soft onion inside, and an addictive crunchy exterior. Ooooooh man. Oh yeah, and the bro enjoyed the steak as well, although he said it came cooked a bit nearer to medium than the requested medium-rare.

A very orderly plate

Note how the onion stays well within the batter. Genius.

I had ordered the roasted beet and jumbo asparagus salad. There were golden and ruby beets, huge chunks of thick asparagus, a bit of frisee, caramelized walnuts, and shavings of really flavorful tangy cheese. There was a creamy dressing streaking the bottom of the plate. Overall, this dish was a very interesting combination of flavors and textures. But as I think back on the salad, it was more like a combination of different yummy elements rather than a coherent mixture-- that is, there didn't seem to be a particular reason the different ingredients were all thrown together. Don't get me wrong, it was delicious, but just a bit puzzling, I guess.

So many different elements! And frisee hair for extra craziness!

And with that, we were done-- extra props to the bro for an admirable push to finish the enormous steak. It was time, then, for the moment we all (read: me) were waiting for: dessert. We examined the somewhat lengthy dessert menu with delight; the bro was too full to get his own, and W and I debated over what we truly wanted. When it came down to it, we both wanted the same thing, so that's what we got: the Frozen Nutella.

But first, when the desserts arrived, a complimentary plate of petit fours joined W's and my desserts. Clockwise from top right in the picture below, we had: a pineapple gelee (the bro hated this, calling it a pineapple gusher, but I thought it was good); a bittersweet chocolate truffle with an almost molten interior; a flourless chocolate mousse/cake bite with chocolate ganache on top (VERY good); a brownie bite with some sort of mysterious spice that appeared faintly on the aftertaste (I liked it but the bro didn't); some sort of strawberry or other red-fruit gel (meh); and a very, very puzzling small tart with some sort of sweet mousse, maybe strawberry, and mysterious orbs on top (also known as the "frosting quiche," according to the bro). Quite the assortment.

Fruit on top, chocolate on the bottom

But the star of this whole meal was the frozen nutella. It's hard to describe how awesome this dessert was-- it was truly incredible. It was a beautifully presented petite cake covered in foam and a scoop of ice cream (don't remember what the actual flavor of the ice cream was; it wasn't vanilla, it was something a bit nuttier), with a dark chocolate skewer under the ice cream and cake crumbs and chocolate sauce dots rounding out the plate. The garnishes were all well and good, but the frozen nutella itself (the cake) was just something else. It was liquidy inside with little bits of solid chocolate/nutella, sort of like the texture of heath bar crunch ice cream. I'm really having trouble describing this dessert-- it was unlike anything I've ever had, and I could eat that every day of my life with great, great pleasure. Please, go to Gotham and order this dessert. Just--please--do it.

Frozen nutella, under foam and garnishes.

At that point, we had to pay the bill and run to make it to my birthday party on time (hooray!). We had a wonderful time at Gotham B&G, and just the experience of being in the restaurant itself can make a night lovely. And, of course, the food was top-notch, especially the dessert (did I mention the dessert? It was good). I'd love to go back to Gotham again, if I ever get the chance, and if you have the opportunity to go DEFINITELY carpe that shit. I hesitate, however, to give Gotham five OSes-- I can't quite pinpoint why, but it wasn't quite up to the level of One If By Land or the Elm Court. Here's where a half-spatula would come in, but without that I settle for giving Gotham an enthusiastic four Offset Spatulas.

Gotham Bar & Grill
12 E. 12th St, between 5th Ave and University Place

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