Went Friday. Great food, with one exception: they use the smoker to keep items warm, and smoked bread and apple pie are not my speed. On the other hand, Mr. Stern has very clearly kept the skill he displayed at Le Bec-Fin. An appetizer of Moroccan-spiced braised lamb paired with raw toro was lovely, the seemingly mismatched flavors bridged by cucumber in different iterations: a little mound of puree and a few raw, lightly seasoned slices; I wasn't allowed to touch the risotto fries - apparently too tasty for the likes of me; the skate was delicious, very straightforward preparation, but perfectly executed; duck two ways was likewise delightful. Etc, etc. You get the point: food good, and I would trust this kitchen with *anything* on the menu.
Before you think I'm just shilling for them, though, I have *major* problems with the rest of the Gayle experience. I should say, before continuing, that every staff person we dealt with was perfectly lovely, curteous, helpful and personable. So when I say the place was completely intolerable- at 9:30pm, yet -, you should visualize Azafran. Then double the number of tables. The space is so infernally crowded, out twosome actually became a foursome: becoming friendly was much the better option, as I wasn't able to move without elbowing our neighbors. A server actually did elbow me in the back of the head. I spent a good quarter-hour waiting to be spoken to, on first arriving, and spent that time trying to negotiate with sundry arrivals and departures for the use of the four square inches of floor available to us all. Blood was not shed. We were not given the amuse-bouche other tables were offered, most likely because the servers were in permanent overdrive. While these nice young men and women were pleasant and helpful, they clearly did not have the training or experience that allows the staff at La Viola (the only restaurant in town I think is as crowded) to minimize the damage to the eating experience.
All in all, I am glad I tasted chef Stern's food, but if I return it will be on an off-day and an off-time. For the $130 I dropped, not including the wine, I need a bit more space, physically and mentally.
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