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“Gotham Bar & Grill”

  Occasion: Cuisine: Area: Cost: Rating:
  Night Out New American East Village Break the Bank Good

A long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I was a summer associate at Chadbourne & Park, a law firm in Rock Center. That was the summer I discovered fine dining. Every night we were taken out for drinks and dinner at some impossible to get into restaurant. I was basically enrolled in a playground for twenty-somethings who happened to be in law school. One afternoon, the partner I was working for took a small group of us out to lunch. He didn’t tell us where we were headed but when the town cars hit 12th Street, I knew. He was taking us to Gotham.

It was the summer 1992 and Alfred Portale was known as a chef with some serious chops, already acclaimed for his avant-garde architectural style and his respectful seasonal approach to ingredients. His dining room was a stage for foodies and power brokers. The room buzzed with handsome men in suits holding martinis. I felt so adult. I felt like I was going to be important, like I already was important. But mostly, truth be told, I felt like I was sort of a fraud, living a life I was not really sure I wanted. But that life was taking me to Gotham Bar & Grill, and I was happy. I should have realized then that the restaurant thrilled me more than the law. But I was not ready to see that then. Sitting underneath the cloaked lighting fixtures, eating tall food, all I felt was thrilled.

When I went back last week with Katy, my mind went back to that day, so long ago. But what struck me more than the distance I have traveled from being a young law student to a struggling food writer, was the difference in my perspective. I was so in awe of Gotham then, and now, I was not. Now, I had a critical eye. And that eye, was, well, perplexed.

My experience at Gotham was middling, and it left me pondering what fine dining in New York City is really all about. To me, it is the product of several elements. There is of course, the food. While I love a plate to look nice, I am less interested in showy presentations than I am in proper seasoning (salt and a lemon are items I should keep in my purse alongside my Nano, cellphone, and lip gloss), impeccable technique, thoughtful creativity, and some discernable jolt of passion. You need to taste the chef’s heart in the food. Because when it is not there, its absence is present.

There is also the matter of atmosphere. I am happiest in a room where I don’t have to scream to be heard, where the lighting is flattering (especially ... [more, click below]

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