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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Gotham Bar and Grill

I ate at Gotham Bar and Grill.

Now, this was no random occurrence. For weeks, I had been anticipating this lunch. You see, I was meeting my editor at Wiley, and the person in charge of marketing for my book. For days, I had been saying with a straight face, “Oh, I’ll be in Manhattan, meeting my editor and marketing person.” It didn’t take me long to start giggling. How is this my life?

My wonderful editor and I have been talking for nearly a year, laughing on the phone about food and cultural mishaps. Most of the time, we’re eagerly tumbling our words over the other’s, connecting and agreeing, ready with another story. Most of the time, we weren’t even talking about the book. We just talked. I remember the moment I knew I liked her, in the first conversation we had back in the fall. When I commented on how much I liked the sound of her ebullient voice, she said, “You know, I’m just a happy person. People keep waiting for me to be jaded or angry, but I’m just happy.”

I love my editor.

When I told her I was going to be in New York for part of the day, she asked me where I wanted to have lunch. Within a minute or two, I knew. Gotham Bar and Grill. The Chef and I love Alfred Portale’s approach to food: seasonal, fresh, and always surprising. When I met the Chef, I also inherited two of Portale’s books. I’ve been inspired by those books more times than I can say. I knew it, instantly: Gotham Bar and Grill.

The Chef was so jealous.

After the suitcase story and the subway ride laughing, I walked down 12th Street toward the restaurant. Everything looked familiar. There’s a funny thing about New York: no matter how long I have been gone, as soon as I set foot on the sidewalks of that city, I am home. There was the Jewish temple where I volunteered every Saturday morning, feeding people who needed a meal. Over there the Quad Cinema, where I stood in line with friends to watch documentaries. And there was Gotham Bar and Grill, which I walked past countless times before I knew how tremendous it was.

Plus, they have a coat check where a lovely girl let me keep my bag for the duration of lunch.

And when I first saw my editor, we both squealed a little, and gave each other a big hug.

The lunch felt like it lasted minutes, instead of three hours. Jen, the wonderful woman in charge of marketing for my book, felt like a friend within four minutes. We talked about my book, eventually, but mostly we three talked about food, farmers’ markets, Michael Pollan, the confusions of the label “organic,” fresh fruit, and everything to do with food. (Oh, and dating and the weird vagaries of working for the overly rich.) They made me laugh and they gave me hope.

They also really like my book.

And if the conversation didn’t do it, we certainly bonded over the food. Asparagus salad with a poached egg. Black bass ceviche with chiles and avocado. Roasted duck breast with fermented plums, port sauce, and fava beans. Spinach custard with baby carrots. Everything gorgeous, and everything presented beautifully on enormous plates.

(Sadly, the photos I tried to take were simply too dark to post up here. I won’t do the place injustice by putting up ugly photos!)

That meal made me miss the Chef.

My editor had called ahead to ensure that I could eat gluten-free. And as I suspected, they took care of me, just fine. This is one of the rules I have learned throughout this journey: if you choose the restaurant where they truly care about food, you can eat gluten-free. Our wonderful waiter — half obsequious, half sarcastic — walked me through the menu to inform me of what I could eat.

However, I was surprised to find that a meticulous staff in one of the best restaurants in the city still didn’t understand the gluten issue. When the waiter gestured toward what I could not eat, he said, “Of course, you cannot have the risotto.”
Surprised, I asked him, “Do you use flour in your risotto?”
He looked just as surprised and said, “Can you eat rice?”

Later, toward the end of the meal, I was thrilled to find that Gotham has a warm chocolate cake, completely flourless. And it was served with lemon thyme ice cream! Of course, I wanted that.

“Well,” said the waiter, “the kitchen says you cannot have the lemon thyme ice cream. We can offer you cherry sorbet.”

I love the tang and soft surprise of lemon thyme. Wait, why? Do they put flour in their ice cream? Don’t tell me that they use commercially produced ice cream at Gotham Bar and Grill.

Curious, I asked the waiter, “Okay. But just for curiosity’s sake, could you ask your chef what it is in the ice cream that prevents me from eating it?”

When he returned, he said, “The ice cream has glucose in it.”

Glucose. Gluten. Same thing, right?

The good news is — I ate at Gotham Bar and Grill without a snitch of sickness. No gluten in me during that meal.

Life was good.

Gotham Bar and Grill
12 E. 12th Street
New York, NY 10003



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