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.
In need for a last minute dinner reservation anywhere downtown, The Gorbals popped up on Open Table so I booked it. Illan Hall wasn’t a favorites on the show, but—much to the chagrin of my school teachers—TV tells me what to do these days.
In the pre-ultrahipsterazation lobby of the Alexandria Hotel an unremarkable door hides The Gorbal’s sparse dining room. Populated with utilitarian wooden furniture and down-lights, it’s a refreshingly quiet space from a winner of a reality television show. Although the unpretentiousness of the space is muddled by the paint-by-numbers predictability of the hostess’ high-waisted jeans and plastic rimmed glasses.
The menu is broken down by animal, with a neat little omnivore section for the likes of me (and you?)! The Pimento Cheese & Corn was sadly out of stock, still 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 assumed to be watered down sesame oil, the cucumbers were ‘kicked up a notch’ with sumac. Apparently I 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 sharp dusting of lemony zest! 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 that I first tried this pub classic… and loved it! Welsh Rarebit is a thick slab of toast drowning under a cheesy fondue-like sauce, what’s not to love?! Well, at the Gorbals figured out how to ruin this cobo: tthey also drown in it super piquant worchestershire. It kills 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, broccoli needs nothing more than a squeeze of lemon and a touch of salt. The Gorbal’s preparation takes a bolder stance: Soy Sauce, Chilies & Vinegar ($8). This is where the entire theme of the meal became obvious– Acid.
Every single dish of this meal is drenched in lip curling, tongue tingling vinegar and citrus. Chef Hall’s dishes are acidy powerhouses of flavor. By this third dish it 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: 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 was delicious, but has a disappointing lack of smoke. Don’t promise smoke if you’re not offering it.
Ultimately, just like my dinner at A-Frame, this is another lesson in bill management. Sticking to vegetarian options results in 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