A Year In Food

From New York to Costa Rica to Europe to California: 365 Days of Dining Out

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Jun. 22.

Lunch -

Gotham Bar and Grill - 12 E. 12th St., Union Square
Sweet Corn Puree with Braised Leeks and Grilled Shrimps; Roast Skate Wing with Lemon Crushed Potatoes, Pipérade and Saffron-Mussel Jus; Chocolate Cake served warm with Cinnamon Buttermilk Ice Cream; a glass of 2003 Muscadet "Clos de la Sénsigerie," Chables, Loire Valley France

I don’t cook. It’s largely because I spend an infinitesimal amount of time at home, am too interested in the New York dining scene, and don’t own any pots or pans. But it’s also because I don’t think I have the gift chefs have. Even if I round up every ingredient in a recipe and follow every step to the letter, my final product will lack soul, that essential and ecstatic verve that elevates food to art.

When I visited Gotham Bar and Grill, it had the same problem. It’s assembled the ingredients for a fine fine dining experience, but can’t quite combine them into something spectacular. The room, with its very high ceilings and sleek grey design, should be beautiful but it’s also so vast and anonymous that I felt lost in some fashionable cafeteria. Our waiter was friendly enough but he also seemed disappointed when he realized Pat and I would be ordering from the Restaurant Week menu. He also appeared tired and for one stretch, disappeared for too long. Unfortunately, the problem of quality ingredients and average outputs also extended to the lunch.

Pat and I both started with the soup, a course which changes daily here. Today was not a good day. The sweet corn puree was way too strong and tasted like being punched in the face by an ear of corn. The leeks were a welcome addition but the two shrimp sunk to the bottom tasted more of the grill than the shrimp. They also didn’t add much to the soup, more diversion than anything else.

My entrée, the skate, was better but only because it stuck to the basics. The fish was cooked well but still seemed boring. The saffron-mussel jus didn’t help much. The slight tang in the potatoes was a nice touch though, giving the ordinarily mundane mash a surprising twist. All in all, the skate was the definition of average.

Finally came the chocolate cake, the best course of the afternoon. Again not culinary outstanding, here the simple preparation paid off with lots of flavor. The cake was delightfully soft, leaning toward the texture of mousse. The cinnamon ice cream that came with it was an inspired pairing. The dessert was the one thing that hinted at chef Alfred Portale’s reputed genius, that je ne sais quoi that I think I lack in the kitchen. Unfortunately, Gotham’s Restaurant Week menu was largely missing it as well. 5/10


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