May 6, 2010 – The Gorbals

6 May

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9:30 am

1 peanut butter and jelly sandwich on wheat

1 glass of water

1 pm

Gen-wa

1/2 dol sot bibimbap

various banchan

1 glass of Diet Pepsi

I ate at Gen-wa a couple of months ago with a former co-worker. I met another former co-worker here for lunch (due to it’s proximity to the Comcast offices), who’s only experience with Korean food was BBQ. She was amazed by the banchans and bibimbap and enjoyed herself greatly, and I forgot how exotic Korean food can be to some. It’s fun to be that friend sometimes.

6:45 pm

The Gorbals

2 matzoh balls wrapped in bacon with horseradish mayo

shared order of grilled octopus and chicken gizzards

shared order of roast bone marrow with oyster mushrooms and candied walnuts

shared order of cucumber, chickpeas and za’atar salad

1/2 Welsh rarebit

1 glass of Anchor Belgian ale

The Gorbals is one of those places designed to get you to talk REALLY LOUDLY. For one, the noise level in the box of a dining space, made entirely of hard surfaces, is deafening. Even at an early dinner at 6:30 pm, when the dining room was only a third full, it seemed loud. Secondly, well, just look at the menu. Octopus and gizzards. BLTs made with fried chicken skins. Matzoh balls wrapped in bacon. These are dishes designed to fuck with your head, get you to take a bite and then talk about what you just ate.

Chef Ilan Hall is best known for winning season two of Top Chef. On that season, he was the skilled but conservative chef who stuck to his expertise, Spanish cuisine. Meanwhile, his rival, Marcel Vigneron, was the molecular gastronomy guy who tried to push boundaries as much as possible, for better or for worse. In a bit of an ironic twist, it’s Vigneron who worked at a Spanish restaurant, although it’s for Jose Andres at Bazaar, the molecular gastronomy hotspot in Los Angeles. Meanwhile, Hall decided to open a restaurant based on “new and diverse ideas.”

Somehow, that comes out to “Scottish-Jewish.” The aforementioned matzoh balls are wrapped in bacon. It’s designed to flaunt the religious sacrilege of the dish, but they’re also very tasty. The aformentioned pork belly, unfortunately, was not on the menu. The Gorbals used to sell mini-haggis, and they sometimes have chicken balmoral on the menu, but outside of the matzoh balls, there was nothing Scottish nor Jewish when I ate there. Instead, the menu was more about clashing ideas together that should make sense on paper. Even though Hall was the “conservative” chef in the Top Chef finale, he was also responsible for one of the most infamous dish in Top Chef history, a chocolate truffle stuffed with chicken liver. So if you’re a fan of his from the TV show, don’t expect Spanish tapas.

Instead, you’ll get a pairing like grilled octopus and gizzards, both of which makes sense because of their textural similarity . The octopus was a bit overcooked though and the gizzards was the tastier half of the duo, but the pairing did make sense once you tried it. The matzoh ball and bacon pairing is more a cultural oddity, but it tasted good. Matzoh soaks up bacon fat well and it was a decadent little bite. Bone marrow was topped with a salad of oyster mushrooms, candied walnuts and some type of sauteed greens. The mushroom’s earthiness and unctuous marrow makes sense, but I wish it had a beefier tone. Even the pumpernickel bread we got to spread it on overwhelmed the marrow. The Welsh rarebit, which could be on the menu through Wales’ proximity to Scotland, is actually a pungent version, made with red wine instead of beer, served on pumpernickel and topped with a fried egg. It was good, though I prefer a richer and cheesier sauce. A cucumber salad with fried chickpeas and za’atar spices was decent, and considering it’s the only fresh vegetable on the menu (the other two vegetable sides are either fried or cooked in butter), it was a necessity. It was one of the most popular dishes at the restaurant for that sole reason.

It was an interesting meal to say the least. Even if some of the dishes read oddly on the menu, once we tried it, the food was pretty good, and it didn’t seem as odd. They were all based on sound decisions. We just didn’t love anything we’ve eaten there. Eating pork and matzoh, or comparing the rubbery textures of octopus and gizzard, are good enough ideas. But neither are the ideas revelatory. In other words, I won’t crave anything I’ve eaten there. (FYI, I know I should’ve tried the toffee pudding, which I read was the best thing there. But we were full and couldn’t think of dessert. Next time) The Gorbals is like a Noah Baumbach film, in that way. Smart enough and likable too, but not as easy to love.

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