Saturday, July 07, 2007

Gotham Bar and Grill & Union Square's Greenmarket

So, in all the time I lived in New York, I never really took advantage of the Union Square farmers' market. Seasonal wasn't in my vocabulary before I moved to California, and vegetables weren't (and still aren't quite) my thing anyway, but now I appreciate so much more the things you can find.

Now that I pay a lot more attention to my food and where it comes from, to the incredible variety of things out there, I find myself in love with the idea that when I walk through an East Coast market I can be surprised by things I haven't seen in West Coast markets. Like these garlic scapes--they look great, smell fabulous, never seen 'em before. What would I make with those? Hmmmm...

The sour cherries -- I had forgotten all about sour cherries because I never see them in SF, even when it's the right season. Maybe no one out there grows them, but they are fantastically succulent and tangy. Suddenly I wish I had a few more days to come up with some menus...

On this particular day however, I met up with Ms. Food Snoot, who moved last year to Pennsylvania. She took a train in though and we planned ourselves an elegant little lunch at Gotham Bar and Grill.

The Gotham has been there for years, and I've walked past it ever since it first opened in 1984, because it's right next to one of my favorite little movie theaters, where my Dad and I used go to watch offbeat foreign films and old revivals. It used to be an antique store, and when it was redone to house Alfred Portale's uber-trendy "Nice Height, Good Color" cuisine, we avoided it, because the crowd that frequented it was a little too hip for us.

Now, of course, I scan that menu and think "Seared Foie Gras with Kumquats and Candied Fennel in a Blood Orange-Lavender Reduction... mmmm, nice...." After all these years, have I become one of those tiresome uber-trenders? I refrain from asking Ms. Food Snoot, because I fear the answer will be, "Well, of course you're a food snob."

We had already made the reservations when I saw Portale guest-judging on my favorite guilty pleasure, "Top Chef: Miami." He seemed pretty straightforward and sensible, but then there was that lurking architectural, "stack-em-high" reputation too, so I was curious as to exactly what kind of food he'd put out.

When I go into high end New York restaurants these days, I notice much more of that fine-dining stuffiness, probably because we tend to hang out in more relaxed places in San Francisco. Cafe des Artistes, for instance, is an extremely beautiful setting and very Old World elegant, but as nice as the food is, I don't feel that it warrants prices. When I took my Dad there for his birthday we spent a good $200 for two people after wine, tax and tip. It was okay, scallops maybe a bit overdone, maybe a little pedestrian, though solid. But for that much, we could get a phenomenal meal at Quince in San Francisco that would be adventurous and yet refined--gorgeously executed, and yet totally satisfying. Plus, I don't feel like I'm paying a Pretension Fee.

Gotham however, is much more in the mold of the relaxed, unpretentious, warmly hospitable vein. It was one of the most impressive and genuinely enjoyable meals at that level that I've had in recent years in NY.

My starter of marinated shiitake mushrooms under that cloud of frisee (dressed beautifully with I don't know what) was melt in your mouth--I've never had shiitakes so tender. Ms. Food Snoot, for her part, was in heaven with her seared foie gras (pictured above).

For my next course, I had a toothsome Maine Lobster risotto, with beautiful broth and vegetables that I wondered if he picked up at the Union Square market.

I think I've finally found my favorite restaurant in New York...

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