For a guy who usually has things going his way, TV chef Bobby Flay's taken his share of throwdowns in the death sport known as Manhattan real estate. Last summer, facing a whopping rent increase, he closed his flagship Mesa Grill after 22 years. But the blow that struck hardest may have been the loss of his Spanish restaurant Bolo, which fell victim to developers in 2008. At two-week-old Gato—his first New York City opening in nearly a decade—Flay revisits Spain but also ventures into neighboring lands, promising bold flavors with citrus, garlic, olive oil, and other Mediterranean staples front and center.
Early word on Chowhound says he delivers. An appealing way to start is the bar-menu sampler: three dishes out of a dozen or so choices. Winners so far include rare lamb tenderloin with salsa verde, sautéed duck liver with grapes and black pepper, and a roasted artichoke heart topped with sea urchin and a quail egg. For his signature chile heat, Flay turns to ingredients from the Mediterranean and North Africa: Crab risotto gets its kick from Calabrian peppers (and an alluring anise note from fennel or tarragon), and a side of charred carrots, balancing hot and cool, is dressed with harissa, yogurt, and mint. Some of the deepest pleasures are the simplest, like fluffy scrambled eggs with almond romesco and Boucheron cheese, which Ziggy41 declares "a revelation!"
Not surprisingly, some old favorites from Bolo are back, tweaked and updated, at Gato, including: eggplant with Manchego, oregano, and balsamic; "Eleven Layer" scalloped potatoes with shallots and fried sage; and spot-on crispy squid with anchovy vinaigrette and a lively green-chile pesto. As Flay told Eater earlier this month, "The ghost of Bolo definitely still lives." Something else that's haunted him over the years, he acknowledged in an interview with the New York Times, is the perception that he's more TV star than chef. "People think that I don’t cook," said Flay, who's been running the kitchen nightly at Gato. "And it’s just the furthest thing from the truth."
324 Lafayette Street (between Bleecker and Houston streets), Manhattan
Photo of scrambled egg with almond romesco and Boucheron by Chowhound member Ziggy41