I’m not a star chaser. I’m not! Really! But… would I have cared about The Gorbals if not for Top Chef? Er, probably not.
One night, in need for a last minute dinner reservation anywhere downtown, The Gorbals popped up on Open Table in the time slot I searched, so I booked it. Illan Hall wasn’t even one of my favorites on the show, but much to the chagrin of my elementary school teachers, TV tells me what to do these days.
In the vaguely dirty lobby of the Alexandria Hotel (similar to Manhattan’s Jane Hotel pre-ultrahipsterazation), through an unremarkable door hides the sparsely spacious dining room. Populated by utilitarian wooden furniture and down lights, it’s a refreshingly quiet space for a winner of reality television. But the unpretentiousness of the space is muddled by the paint-by-numbers predictability of the hostess’ outfit.
The menu is broken down by animal, with a neat little omnivore section for the likes of me (and you?)! Though the pimento cheese and corn was sadly expunged from the offering that night, we ordered a nice assortment of hits and misses that gave me a clear picture of Chef Illan’s cooking point of view. Yes, even without the meat.
Our meal kicked off with the Persian cucumbers and clearly not canned garbanzos beans tossed with sesame oil and sumac ($8). Wading in a puddle of what I assume must be “watered down” sesame oil, the cucumbers –normally renowned for their cool mildness– were “kick up a notch” with sumac. I really didn’t know what sumac was before this meal, but I’ll never forget it now! Though the red color implies spiciness, it’s more like a rough dusting of lemony zing! Fabulous!
The major miss of the meal was the Welsh rarebit with a fried egg and worchestershire ($9). It was on an ill-fated trip to Tam O’Shanter (we thought we were walking into a pub, not a Lawry’s Steakhouse) that I first tried this pub classic… and loved it! It’s toast drowning in a cheesy fondue-like sauce, what’s not to love?! Well, at the Gorbals they also drown in it super piquant worchestershire, killing any and all the subtlety of the sauce. I could taste nothing else.
In my kitchen, I may run out of sugar, I may run out of salt, but I will never ever run out of broccoli! It’s the best vegetable ever! To me, it really doesn’t need more than a squeeze of lemon and a touch of salt, but I was intrigued by The Gorbal’s preparation with soy sauce, chilies & vinegar ($8). This is where the entire theme of the meal became obvious– acid. Every single dish was drenched in lip curling, tongue tingling vinegars and citruses. Each of Chef Hall’s dishes are acidy powerhouses of flavor, but by this third dish I felt like I was treating my mouth to some delicious chemical peel. So, yes, while this broccoli was succulent and punchy, it begged for a neutral accompaniment, like rice or bread.
Finally, my favorite dish of this meal (and of every Jewish deli): Latkes ($7)! These potatoes are clearly cut on a mandolin –I prefer box grader—so you end up with square cut skinny fries instead of a thick crisp crust along the edge. But honestly, it’s hard to mess up potatoes pancakes; and considering Chef Hall’s pedigree, of course these are delicious. The only disappointment was the smoked applesauce. It too was delicious, but has a disappointing lack of smoke. Don’t promise smoke if you ain’s got none.
Ultimately, just like my dinner at A-Frame, this is yet another lesson in bill management. Keeping it vegetarian produces a ridiculously cheap tab… even when you consider they charged us for water! Would I return to The Gorbals, sure! But this is where my ground-in ‘native Angeleno’ prejudice surface: I don’t like Downtown. It’s dirty, it’s overpriced, parking sucks, it’s not walkable, etc… So, if The Gorbals were somewhere else, I’d probably be here all the time… but they are not, so neither will I.
501 S Spring St Los Angeles, CA 90013