Critic’s Notebook: Gotham Bar & Grill, New York

Ceviche

Ceviche at Gotham Bar & Grill (Brad A Johnson)

I was in New York for a brief visit, with only enough time for one great lunch. “Where would you like to eat,” I ask a friend who lives in Harlem. “Let’s go to Gotham,” he says.

To be honest, Gotham Bar & Grill wouldn’t have been my first choice. Not that I don’t like Alfred Portale’s legendary Greenwich Village restaurant, but because so many new places have opened this year. The options are dizzying. 

“I’m sorry,” I say. “Where?” I actually heard him, but I thought maybe this would give him a chance to throw out an alternative.

“Gotham,” he says again. And I can tell from his almost giddy, confident tone that he has no intention of suggesting a runner-up.

“Gotham sounds perfect,” I say, not being entirely honest. Although I’ve always counted Gotham Bar & Grill as one of my favorite restaurants, it has been about 10 years since my last visit, so I am way overdue. “I’ll meet you there!”

When I arrive at the restaurant, I am instantly reminded of why I’ve always liked this place. It’s a room full of grown-ups having grown-up conversations, eating grown-up meals, drinking grown-up drinks. Lunch is a long, drawn-out, life-is-good affair. I look around the room and I see people who appreciate Hermès and who have nowhere better to be, nothing better to be doing. And I think to myself, that’s exactly what I’m doing today. A smile washes over my face, and I am suddenly ecstatic to be dining at Gotham Bar & Grill again. It’s been how long?

Everything about my lunch is perfect. The company. The conversation. The thoughtful, inconspicuous, perfectly timed service. The musings of the maître d’. But, most importantly, the ceviche. It’s a revelation. Pristine ribbons of striped bass have been lovingly acidized in a bath of citrus, just enough that the fish has started to turn opaque. This is not crudo. It’s ceviche the way ceviche was always meant to be served. I take a bite of the fish, and it’s so fresh, it almost wiggles. But even more impressive than the fish itself is the brunoise of pineapple, peppers and onion sprinkled on top. The precision with which the garnish has been chopped is mind-boggling—as if it were done under a microscope with lasers by an ex-Marine. Every miniscule cube is exactly the same size. How is this even possible? Not even a mandoline can do that. 

Everything else that happens after the ceviche is a blur. I remember it being excellent, sure. But my mind is still trying to wrap itself around the astonishing precision of the brunoise and the purity of the fish. 

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