Mediterranean Throwdown with Bobby Flay at Gato

There’s no question that Bobby Flay knows how to cook. You don’t get to be Iron Chef or have several TV shows under your belt by being just ok. But I wonder if all those Throw Down challenges maybe impacted his palate a bit. Maybe he developed a propensity for really strong flavors after years of competing to make the best jerk chicken or cheesesteak or whatnot, all of which are not shy with flavors.

That was my issue with the food at Gato. The food at this Mediterranean Noho restaurant (France, Italy, Spain were all represented here) was very uneven. Either Flay hit it out of the park, or he put too much seasoning in something. You could tell that all the technique was there, but the flavors in the majority of the dishes needed to be scaled back.

scrambled eggs with almond romesco, boucheron cheese and tomato confit toast
scrambled eggs with almond romesco, boucheron cheese and tomato confit toast

The famous scrambled eggs, for instance, was one of the biggest offenders of overseasoning. I loved the texture of the eggs, which were the silkiest and creamiest scrambled eggs that I’ve ever had, and the hint of heat from the chili oil was a nice touch. But the flavors of the goat cheese were just so overwhelmingly dominant in each bite, so much so that I felt like they should have renamed this “goat cheese with scrambled eggs”. The small pieces of crunchy, golden toasts were great, but there weren’t enough of them to sop up the eggs, and they did nothing to offset the goat cheese.

burrata with black olive oil and beets
burrata with black olive oil and beets
eggplant with manchego, oregano, and balsamic
eggplant with manchego, oregano, and balsamic
mussel and razor clam salad with saffron pickled shallots
mussel and razor clam salad with saffron pickled shallots

Our trio of bar snacks suffered from the opposite problem–they didn’t leave enough of an impression. Which was interesting, because they were also a little overseasoned, yet I totally forgot about them the next day, unlike those eggs. The eggplants were warm and meaty, but the balsamic on them was a tad too sweet. The mussel and razor clam salad was light and refreshing, but the citrus notes were very strong. My favorite was probably the burrata, which was creamy and luscious as good burrata should be, but I’ve had better renditions of this cheese elsewhere.

At the end of the day, I didn’t really crave second servings of these small snacks. Maybe that’s the point–the bar snacks shouldn’t overshadow the appetizers and entrees, and they should just quickly whet your appetite with apertifs? But I think they play a pivotal role in serving as teasers for the good food to come, and based on the previews of these snacks alone, I would have probably skipped the movie.

Flay did make a comeback by throwing down an amazing kale and wild mushroom paella, as well as an excellent crab risotto. This man really knows how to work it with rice. I noticed on Wikipedia that he lost to some guy on an arroz con pollo challenge, but that must have been some bullsh*t, because there’s no way he’d lose. This is his thing, this is his jam. It’s like saying Morimoto lost a sushi throwdown challenge. I think he probably needs to “lose” some episodes so that he doesn’t alienate viewers and appears humble and likeable or some nonsense like that.

kale and wild mushroom paella with crispy artichokes and egg
kale and wild mushroom paella with crispy artichokes and egg

I would come back just for the kale paella. The crunchy, slightly charred bottom layer of rice, also known as socarrat, was glorious. The rice had this extremely satisfying, chewy texture, and the way the grains had locked in the flavors of the golden, pan-seared scraps was just incredible. The artichoke, which was indeed extra crispy, and the kale were both moderately seasoned, a nice counterbalance to all the excitement going on with the rice. There was also a delicious runny egg in the middle of it, which was meant for mixing and mingling all the comforting, hearty flavors together, a la bibimbap style.

crab risotto with garlic bread crumbs and calabrian red chile
crab risotto with garlic bread crumbs and calabrian red chile

While the paella was crispy and crunchy, the risotto was soft and creamy, as it should be. What struck me about the crab risotto was how strong and “crabby” it tasted. I’d definitely expect this from like a Singaporean street hawker, but not from a Western restaurant. I loved how briney each spoonful was, because it meant that there was real crab meat in there, and that the kitchen was being generous with it. It also reminded me of the awesome Korean crab soup jigage that my mother used to make for me as a child. If you don’t mind intense crab flavors, then this is definitely the dish for you.

Much like his show, Bobby Flay wins some and loses some at Gato. Unfortunately, I think the losses edged out the wins, and I’m really in no hurry to come back to the restaurant. That also played a factor in why I declined to order dessert. I wanted to leave on a high note with memories of the paella, instead of a potentially disappointing and overseasoned dessert. I’m going to tune out from the Throw Downs at Gato going forward, but I might be open to some reruns involving paella.


Gato
324 Lafayette St (between E. Houston and Bleecker St)
New York, NY 10012
(212) 334-6400

Lafayette – Andrew Carmellini’s New Noho French Brasserie

lafayette interior 2There’s been a lot of hype surrounding the opening of Andrew Carmellini’s new French restaurant Lafayette. The foodie PR machine has gone a little overboard in its love for Carmellini, dedicating monthly posts over the past year obsessively monitoring the progress of the restaurant. The long wait is finally over, as Lafayette officially opened for dinner service this week. I dropped by for a meal last night to see whether the restaurant lived up to all the massive hype, and the answer is no.

Don’t get me wrong, the food here is good, and I would definitely come back for another visit. But I wouldn’t rate my meal a 9 out of a 10, it was more like a 7+. Everything was well executed, but the flavors weren’t perfect. To give Carmellini credit, his style of cooking is certainly very distinctive, and if you had to pick out a Lafayette steak frites out of a line up, you definitely could. I just wish originality and taste could have been a little more balanced.

While the cuisine at Lafayette is mostly French, hints of Spanish, Italian and American influences also make their way on the menu. My personal favorite was the linguine noir with seafood and chorizo. I quite enjoyed the delicious, brine-y flavors of the squid-ink pasta, and I thought the bread crumbs and chorizo gave the noodles some nice, salty texture. On a future visit, I would love to try the spaghetti niçoise with tuna and spring mushroom risotto. The grilled Mediterranean octopus appetizer was less successful. I wish the octopus were crispier, and I thought the flavors weren’t very sharp. The smoky eggplant gave the dish too much of a muddied taste, and while the peppers from the pipérade provided some nice acidity, they weren’t enough to compensate for the overall disappointing effect.

grilled mediterranean octopus
grilled mediterranean octopus
linguine noir with seafood and chorizo
linguine noir with seafood and chorizo

The most classically French dish we tried was the steak frites. We ordered this medium rare, but there were certain parts that were definitely overcooked. I also wasn’t a fan of the bernaise sauce, as the herbs were overly prominent in the butter. The fries were fantastic though. The side of broccoli that we ordered was very underwhelming and irrelevant to the meal. A neighboring table ordered a duck au poivre, which looked delicious, as well as a wood-fired dorade, which they graded a C-.

steak frites
steak frites
broccoli
broccoli

For dessert, we decided to grab a few treats from Lafayette’s in-house bakery. An enticing spread of macarons, cakes and breads made it hard to choose, but ultimately we decided upon the butterscotch eclair and the birthday cake macaron. The desserts had unique, refined flavors and were visually stunning, but I wouldn’t go back for seconds, which is crazy for someone like me who has a sweet tooth.

macarons
macarons
beautiful cakes
beautiful cakes on display!

The space inside Lafayette is beautiful and massive, and you certainly feel as if you’ve been transported to a gorgeous, modern-day Parisian brasserie. The diners are as beautiful as the surroundings, enhancing the elegant aesthetic with their vibrant presence. Come here dressed to kill for a special occasion so that you can blend in with the socialites and power brokers who seem to frequent this place. Lafayette’s stock is a clear buy, although I personally think it’s a bit overvalued and will wait for the hype to die down before getting back in.