Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Gorbals - 10/02/2010

501 S Spring St
Los Angeles, CA 90013
(2130 488-3408

The Gorbals, brainchild of Top Chef season 2 winner Ilan Hall, defies simple convention and categorization, heavily featuring the Scottish, Israeli, and Mediterranean influences of Chef Hall's heritage with inspiration from his travels around the world thrown in for good measure. Ever since the restaurant opened I've been curious about the menu and its focus on less used ingredients like bone marrow, pig ear, and beef tongue which can be delicious but often get the short shrift at restaurants.

Bacon-wrapped matzoh balls - mustard aioli
No trip to The Gorbals would be complete without a plate of Chef Hall's signature dish. The dish, which has drawn equal amounts of praise and ire, features an incongruous pairing of the Jewish staple, Matzoh, with the candy of meats, bacon. The ball's repuation is well deserved, the creamy body of the matzoh is deftly enriched by the fatty bacon and the combination is further heightened by the tang of the aioli.

Welsh rarebit - fried egg
Also known as "Welsh Rabbit," this sauce actually contains no rabbit meat. Instead it is primarily composed of melted cheese and beer, though other accompaniments may be used in place of the beer. Recently on the TV show Master Chef, one of the contestants prepared a beer and cheese soup that one judge called one of the worst things he ever tasted while another called it a guilty pleasure and I've wondered since then what such a dish would taste like. Based on this course I think the truth is closer to the former, the rarebit offers a robust nutty spice countered by a bitter hoppiness that just felt disconcerting.

Roasted bone marrow - mushrooms & walnuts
Eating marrow often feels like swallowing semi-liquid fat. I enjoy the richness but can easily see how it could be overwhelming. This more restrained preparation was rich but not overbearing, particularly once the earthiness of the mushrooms came into play.

Crispy pig ear salad - pickled tomato, fried egg
I was looking forward to this course, expecting the acidity of the vegetables to counter the fatty goodness of the ears with the runny egg providing a viscous texture that tied the whole dish together. If anything the ear was too crispy and gristly, I think they would have been more effective in the context of the dish had they been a bit less well done.

Confit beef tongue - romesco, pumpernickel croutons
I've been finding out lately that I like my beef tongue prepared a certain way and it is not coated with a thick layer of char. The tongue itself retained some of the characteristic richness but a potent burnt bitterness made it difficult to see the strengths of this dish.

Twice fried chicken - grilled watermelon
Fried chicken has been getting a lot of play from great restaurants lately and so it stands to reason the only thing better than fried chicken is TWICE fried chicken right? Well not quite, the breading reminded me of a tempura batter, airy and light rather than the heavy salty goodness of fried chicken skin. Breading aside, the chicken itself was delicious supple and oozing juice which was augmented by the savory lushness of the grilled watermelon.

I appreciated what The Gorbals was trying to do, offering a more unconventional meal than the norm, but I left disappointed by the execution. It is possible to be a iconoclast and still offer good food, now if Chef Hall could just figure out how to do both.

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