Monday, March 26, 2012

Should have tried the Tomatoes at Gotham Steakhouse

Gotham Steakhouse & Cocktail Bar on Urbanspoon
At Gotham Steakhouse, your steak comes with no sides.
I'd heard all sorts of stories about Gotham, from how they had the audacity to charge you an arm and a leg for sides that normally show up on your plate alongside your steak; to how small the cuts were for your dollar. Not being huge on beef I only finally went last Saturday with the Greater Vancouver Fine Dining Meetup.

It's dark in there! The high ceiling and single candlelights at each table make for a somewhat dimly lit room in the evening. If you are a larger group (6+) and at one of their larger round tables, across-the-table conversation may be tricky as it can be quite busy, contributing to ambient conversation noise. Not much artwork to be seen in the main dining room to the left of the hostess's station when you enter, but there's a very large and colourful piece at the lounge on the right.
It's also one of those older style restaurants where you might be greeted by a female hostess, but all the bussers and servers are career male waiters. Not too many of them around, but strangely, the "better" restaurants (like Bishop's, Joe Fortes, and once upon a time, The William Tell) have this trait.

Dinner starts with bread. The round loaves are prepared off site but baked on site, and I was pleased to find what seemed to be a fairly freshly baked loaf brought to our table. On the hot side of warm, very soft on the inside. For our table of four, we received a full loaf (about 9" in diameter and about 4" at its highest), cut in half. Cutting it ourselves resulted in mashed bread because it was so tender on the inside (you can try to lessen the squishing by turning it onto its side and cutting down from the edge, instead of cutting it down from the down). Butter was boring butter, sadly.

At this point, with a generous amount of freshly baked bread right in front of you, you might well take advantage of it before it gets cold. DON'T. If you're not sharing your steak, you'll want to pace yourself or eat strategically here. Just your steak may fill you up, and you might not finish everything if you also order a side. And that's on top of taking up more room with drinks and bread. Go easy on the bread, save most for later in the meal. It's the least interesting food item anyway.

Our table only saw two appetizers: New England Clam Chowder ($9.95) and the Beefsteak Tomato and Red Onion Salad (with crumbled blue cheese, vinaigrette dressing; $11.95). The salad was quite good, but I thought the flavours came at you one at a time rather than altogether. First was the sharp dressing, then the softer flavours of onion and tomato. Most of this salad was the large tomatoes arranged in a row and topped with the other ingredients, and it also had an interesting carrot-like look because of springs of green at the one end. If you do order this, watch for the cheese because it easily falls off each forkful unnoticed.

For steaks, I ended up with a medium rare New York Strip ($46.95). I had by this time previewed the dessert menu and settled on the chocolate cake, so I was being cautious about portions. The portion size for the steaks aren't mentioned on the menu, and they are apparently not rigorously measured. But the larger steaks at the top of the menu were apparently about 24 oz., while the smaller ones, such as the New York Strip recommended to me because of the reduced size, was about 16 oz.

Tasty steaks typically have some fat "marbled" into the meat, because, honestly, fat is tasty. I couldn't see any of that in my steak, but after cooking it probably melted off. In any case, there was also a very thin layer of fat on one side, about 2 mm thick. If I had worked on it, I could probably have just peeled it off for less fat, but since there was so little, I left it on for flavour.
One end of the steak had a LOT of fat, almost half of each bite. That initially had me worried I'd gotten a 50% fat steak. Still, it was a chance to taste just how tasty all that fat was. So if you do indulge in a "proper" steak, don't go super-lean and strip off all the fat.
The meat itself seemed a bit chewy to cut because it was medium rare, but it didn't require a lot of work at all in the mouth. It was tender and juicy. I'm not a steak connoisseur so I can neither rant nor rave about it, but overall this steak was more tender and better prepared than any other medium rare steak I've had elsewhere.
There wasn't any extra jus here, and for my medium-rare it wasn't necessary. However, it does make the steak look really lonely, lost in the white space of the large plate. Presentation wise, Gotham isn't doing itself any favours here by making it look so small and lonely.
Whether you feel $46.95 is too much to spend on a steak, I leave up to you. My guess would be that you'd really need to be a steak connoisseur to justify the cost. If "steak is steak" to you and you don't care enough, it might be a case of pearls before swine.

Now, on to the sides!
Especially if you're already daunted by the steak prices, you might be thinking of skipping any side orders. After working through my steak, I have to say that a side order really does enhance the meal because it gives you a break from the monotony of the steak itself. This sounds strange, but when there's a whole slab of steak to go, you may at some point think, "Yoicks! Still half a steak left?" But what to order?

Prior to coming, I had spoken to a friend about Gotham and strangely, she was going on and on about the "Grilled Beefsteak Tomatoes". Beefsteak Tomatoes are the largest variety of cultivated tomato. But surely that's not what makes them special, grilling or not. They are $10.95 on the menu. For that kind of money, I would want them to be something special. I e-mailed Gotham about them, and here's the reply: "The tomatoes are good, we sit soak them in herbs and balsamic vinegar before grilling then cover them in the same mix, it’s simple, as all our food is, but delicious."

Once at the restaurant, I asked about the other sides and initially got what seemed like a flustered response, as if they didn't normally get asked this and didn't have a ready answer. The server did later point out specific items and how they were prepared, but initially the question was downplayed -- something about how they wanted the steaks to take center-stage, so they don't put much information about the sides on the menu, and in any case, they were prepared simply.
I got sold on the description of the cauliflower gratin ($10.95) and forgot to get the tomatoes. Oops. Other sides ordered at our table were the asparagus ($10.95), baked potato ($6.95), and Lyonnaise Potatoes ($8.95).
You can expect that each portion is slightly smaller than your steak, so one side order is pretty good for two persons.
  • For the prices Gotham charges, I'd try to choose something interesting. So having seen the asparagus, I'd have to say that's out. On the plus side, the stalks of asparagus were some of the longest and thickest I've seen served at any restaurant: You're getting a lot of (hopefully premium) asparagus for your money. But for $10.95? Asparagus sauteed in butter isn't $10.95. Sorry.
  • The baked potato comes with your choice of toppings, but it's really still just a baked potato. And of the sides, it's probably the "heaviest" -- If you will be stuffed by your steak, you won't finish your potato, and it'll just go to waste. Be careful with this one, or have your appetite ready when you go. (Did you eat a quarter loaf of bread at the start? Tsk tsk.)
  • The cauliflower gratin was quite good. If you're sharing, try to leave some of the cheese on top for your fellow diners. It was on the watery side of creamy, but not so much cream that it was soupy as there was a lot of cauliflower in it. If you find your well-done steak on the dry side, then this could be a nice accompaniment.
  • The Lyonnaise Potatoes were probably the best of the side dishes. These were pan-fried-to-golden potatoes, jazzed up with some onion and herbs. Unlike the baked potato, you're not committed to so much potato, and you could just nibble at it one slice of potato at a time.
For dessert, two of our party were defeated by their steaks (plus the bread, appetizer, and/or sides they ordered) but myself and one other were looking forward to Belgian Chocolate Bourbon Cake ($10). Standard sized wedge with a bit of gummy looking cream on the side. Not sure what it was, but it had the look of thick cream that had sat around a bit to become gummy, and I avoided it. The cake itself was a deep chocolate colour and had quite a rich taste. Sweet, but not so sweet that it burned the back of your throat. Light, almost fluffy, which may have contributed to the feeling of flour in the mouth. Very warm, but strangely slightly hot as we worked our way to the middle of the cake, suggesting that it may have been pre-plated and sitting somewhere to be warmed (?). Couldn't find my bourbon in the taste, though. Not the best chocolate cake, but still a solid choice for a tasty chocolate cake as dessert.

One New York Strip, cauliflower gratin, chocolate cake, and peppermint tea (Higgins & Burke; $1.95) -- no alcoholic beverages -- came out to $69.85, and close to $100 after tax and tip.

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