How do you resurrect a restaurant as iconic as Gotham Bar & Grill? A change of the kitchen’s head is probably a good start, as Victoria Blamey, formerly of another iconic tavern Chumley’s, replaced the long-standing chef Alfred Portale last year (Mr. Portale subsequently opened his own eponymous restaurant Portale, which I have yet to visit). Having a younger chef was most likely a move to bring fresher perspectives on Gotham’s seminal New American cooking. Sometimes, though, just changing the leader at the kitchen is not always the answer. When I recently stepped into the restaurant with my wife Jun (the restaurant has since been trying to rename itself as just “Gotham”), I couldn’t help but notice the same dining room still stuck in the past. If the restaurant was looking to appeal to younger crowds, why not give a makeover to the décor of the dining room as well? While the food at Gotham was still generally good, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the restaurant is undergoing a serious identity crisis.
With a new chef in town, the menu has undergone some changes but not dramatic enough for me to feel that Gotham is now a different place. Let me first start with dishes that Jun and I really liked. I don’t understand why the crab galette is not on the dining room menu (it’s only on the bar menu but you can still get it upon request), as it deserves to be one of the signature dishes for chef Blamey. With the generous portion of Dungeness crab inside puffy pastry, it was quite an outstanding dish that Jun and I immensely enjoyed. Our second favorite dish of the night was spaghetti neri that smartly used octopus ragu to great effect and tasted better than most of the spaghettis we had tried elsewhere in New York City. For all the great dishes we ate, though, there were some inconsistencies too. The charred Japanese eggplant with Sea Island pea looked beautiful in plating, but the smokiness of the dish was a bit too much, making us feel it was slightly overcooked. Jun always has very standards for duck dishes, and the smoked duck with beet kimchi, while capably grilled, did not feel like the best ingredient used by the kitchen, with some tough pieces here and there. The passion fruit soufflé with coconut tarragon sorbet was delicious, but we both wondered whether it would’ve been even better had the texture of the soufflé had a bit more firmness instead of the eggier mush.
Getting a reservation at Gotham, despite all the fanfare behind the kitchen makeover, is not very difficult and we couldn’t help but notice several open tables on a Saturday night. And the tables that were occupied still had relatively high proportions of more mature diners, which in and of itself I make no judgment but felt weird in light of the restaurant’s attempt to transform itself into a more dynamic dining destination. The extensive wine list at Gotham, and a surprisingly large number of good value options, is still a strength, though, and we thoroughly enjoyed a 1999 Burgundy Volnay that initially felt tasteless but beautifully opened up over time. It’s hard to define what Gotham 2.0 is at the moment, and as I am writing this belated review, the restaurant announced that it is permanently closing (implying that the business was already struggling even before the coronavirus outbreak). It’s sad to see an iconic institution like Gotham go, but I guess New York City now needs fresher voices, especially as the city recovers over time from COVID-19.
KenScale: 8.0/10 (Jun’s Score: 8.0/10)
- Creativity: 8.0/10
- Execution: 8.0/10
- Ingredients: 8.0/10
- Flavor: 8.5/10
- Texture: 7.5/10
- Value: 7.5/10
Address: 12 East 12th Street, New York, NY 10003
Telephone: (212) 620-4020