Upon opening in 1984 Gotham Bar & Grill was a flop—not because it wasn’t one of most stunning new restaurants in the city, with its vast size and ceilings, long bar and a down-sized Statue of Liberty but because the food was full of the clichés of the so-called New American Cuisine movement.
After a shake-up, however, chef Alfred Portale took over the kitchen with his own wholly imaginative, bold cooking and Gotham B&G remained among the top fine non-French-or-Italian dining establishments in New York. When, after four decades, Portale left to open his own restaurant, Gotham again foundered under a chef whose ideas ran counter to all that the restaurant’s faithful clientele cherished.
The came Covid, and Gotham B&G’s door were shut; many feared they would never re-open. Then, in November of 2021, Gotham reopened with new owners under the simpler name Gotham, with a fresh look by architect James Biber that built upon the space’s best elements, carefully modulating the lighting and hanging the walls with rotating exhibits of contemporary artists’ work. Sadly, Lady Liberty has been mothballed.
Managing partner Bret Csencsitz, once an actor and director, had been at Gotham since 2007, so he knows his clientele. He took an admitted leap in elevating pastry chef Ron Paprocki to the role of executive chef after ten years at Gotham, with Sebastián Cacho as chef de cuisine. Together they have fashioned a menu that epitomizes fine dining à la New York that avoids current clichés and distinguishes Gotham’s menu from its direct competitors.
It was also good to see the affable Daniel Salon as general manager, formerly at The Four Seasons until it closed in 2020. (Had that restaurant had a menu anywhere near as interesting as Gotham’s it might still be open today.) The room itself allows for easy conversation, and, rather than have intrusive canned music, the Dal Segño Trio plays smooth New Yor jazz on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
The housemade bread ($6) and cultured butter make for a good start, and for something simple and straightforward, the Island Creek oysters ($26 for six) with a rice wine vinaigrette and cocktail sauce does the trick. Velvety and cool is the kampachi crudo($28) with a tangy aji dulce gremolata, lush avocado mousse and cucumber that shows the balance of Paprocki’s technique. It is wonderful to still see fresh foie gras on menus in New York, and the version here, very lightly seared and rosy inside, takes well to an apricotmostarda, walnuts and a sharp-sweet Champagne gastrique ($48). Fresh cavatelli—a rather small portion—got lost under a complex thatch of mushroom duxelles, pesto Genovese, marinated tomato and chanterelles ($29). (First rule of Italian pasta: stay simple.)
Among the entrees is some terrific trout ($46), a fish largely ignored on menus because the farmed example is often inferior. This, from Green-Walk hatchery in Bangor, Pennsylvania, had a perfect, meaty texture and fine flavor, matched with romano beans, sweet corn, hon shimeji, smoked vermouth nage—a dish I would order again and again. Plenty of lobster meat is incorporated with tender carnaroli risotto, confit fennel and spicy mussels paprika ($56), none of which overpower the lobster’s essential, briny flavor.
Too many chefs soak their pork chops far too long in salty brine, but Paprocki’s Niman Ranch pork gets the ideal degree of cooking, so the juiciness and the fatty taste of this superior product, marrying it to a salsify purée, bitter-salty broccoli rabe, crispy fingerling and peppercorns ($46).
By the way, there is also a substantial bar menu listing items like Comté-filled croquettes with aioli, verbena and bonito flakes ($24); duck rillettes with mustard, pickles and toast ($24); trofie cacio e pepe ($25), and a cheeseburger with fries ($34).
Gotham’s wine list, always one of the very best in the city, now has more depth and breadth than ever.
Given Paprocki’s background, desserts are created with the same care and precision as what precedes them, including flourless chocolate cake with dark chocolate and salted almond ice cream ($18); a delightfully tangy calamansi lime tart on a shortbread crus with, yogurt ice cream($ 18); “dark passion”: of dark chocolate, crémeux, passion caramel cocoa nib wafer, passion fruit sorbet ($18)— Csencsitz and Paprocki also founded their own Gotham Chocolates company—and an apple tarte Tatin for two with vanilla ice cream ($35).
And so, after fears that we would never see the likes of Gotham Bar & Grill again, a new Gotham has carried on at the same level and with a new spirit wholly expressive of a special New York sophistication not easy to find outside the city’s borders. (A good number of gentlemen were wearing jackets, by the way.) Gotham joins other restaurants—some, like Gotham, re-cast— of a civilized mode, like Essential by Christophe Bellanca, 15 East Tocqueville, Le Coucou and l’Abeille whose clientele well knows the difference between good food and fine dining.
12 East 12th Street
By John Mariani
Open for lunch Tues.-Fri.; Dinner Mon.-Sat.