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Manhattan

GATO last night

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GATO last night

erica | May 29, 2014 01:50 PM

A celebrity chef with lots of FoodTV coverage in a vast downtown location with a vibe that one critic compared to that of the Meatpacking district does not promise an excellent meal, at least to me. So I was prepared to be disappointed but what I was, instead, was quite impressed with my dinner last night at Bobby Flay's new Lafayette Street restaurant.

The room is large, but quite handsome, with brick walls and a vaulted ceiling hung with clusters of mercury glass cloches. Tables are bare wood, and the floor wears Andalucian-inspired tiles. Despite the lack of obvious soundproofing, the handsome space was not uncomfortably loud, although our waiter told us that it would become so later in the evening. (We left close to 8pm)

Dinner begins with two breads from Hudson Bread, served with fragrant olive oil from Sicily's Frantoia. (Breads were on the soft side). Servers were generous with bread.

Service on the whole was notably attentive, with our waiter, Luciano, frequently checking with us, and servers refilling water, cleaning table between courses. Staff seemed actually happy to be working there, as far as we could tell.

Two of us shared the White Chicory Salad, a tangle of frisee and endive shot with fontina and dotted with lardons of chorizo and topped with an egg cooked to perfection (I think the waiter told us 6 minutes).The "apricot almond" dressing completed a salad that tied with Estela's recent fava bean confection as the most memorable I've had this year.

Luciano told us that many diners forego salads. That would be a mistake, judging from the one I had last night.

I was equally wowed by the Soft Shell Crab and Ramp Crostini, two halves of a small-ish crab set atop two toasts sitting in a pool of Harissa-inflected goodness that had me wiping up every last smear with the bread.

The Roasted and Seared Octopus was almost as delicious, with an interplay of salt, savory, sour and sweet flavors that I found impressive, and delicious.

The kitchen draws from all over the Mediterranean, from various points in Spain across to Moroccoo and Tunisia and back again to Calabria, whose spicy chili peppers showed up on a number of dishes. The wines by the glass offered several intrguing selections and prices seemed moderate although I've no idea of markups. With the crab and octupus I drank a lovely Godello, from Galicia's Vinos Godeval ($12) that I hope to find in a NYC retail shop.

My partner was very content with a pork chop (I found this to be a tad dry at the edges) set stop of a pool of polenta swirled with Romesco.

The tiny charred carrots were excellent as well…wrinkled and sweet under a blanket of crispy parsnip shards.

Dessert was a decadent Chocolate Crema Catalana. After dinner we were treated to biscotti with glasses of cream sherry from Bodegas Lustau.

The menu offers many other tempting choices that I hope to return soon to sample. The price for the dinner described above, before tip, was $117.

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