501 S Spring St
Los Angeles, CA 90013
Mr. FST guest blogs on the culinary delights of The Gorbals.
I've enjoyed the pleasures of dining out long before I was married to my lovely food blogger wife. In my twenties, thirties and early forties, before the food channel, before I was aware of the names of the chefs, before ingredients were scrutinized, techniques were wowed over, dining out served as the main social event of the evening.
Restaurants fell into a few choice categories. Cheap, funky, and fancy. The meal itself fell into the categories good, bad, or so-so, and were rarely considered more closely than that. Eating out was an opportunity to meet friends, talk for hours, and drink and plan for our next venue for drinking. Most of the time for me eating out was a date. The romantic centerpiece to an evening, and ultimately, hopefully, a prelude to sex. A lot has changed in the way I dine out since food blogging became a passion of my wife's. But on those nights when Liz and I have a plain old-fashioned romantic dinner out, I feel like I had it right all along.
Ilan Hall was a Top Chef winner a couple years back. He was my favorite on the show because he is quirky and earthy and though slightly pretentious seemed genuine. As a matter of fact, he was forthright in a way that his pretense made him seem charming as opposed to annoying. The Gorbals is the prefect venue for his personality.
Downtown is the most exciting area of Los Angeles by far these days. New restaurants and bars are popping up like pimples on the face of a 14 year old. Some of them trendy, some of them budget friendly and funky, some of them upscale and urban in a way that reminds me of Manhattan and a few true dive bars in a city that sorely needs them. The Gorbals is on 5th and Spring. It's a block away from Pete's and Warung, not far from Yxta and The Must. But it's also close to an internet cafe that does blues shows for the homeless and quite a few bars where short skirts and high heels would not be a good idea. You could still get killed here. And if you hit enough bars in the area you will drink with locals. And when I say locals I don't mean folks that live in the newly renovated condos downtown, I mean people who live on the streets two blocks away. Don't let that fact scare or deter you from frequenting The Gorbals. There's enough activity and cop presence to feel pretty safe and its exactly that environment that helps showcase the earthiness of Gorbals and Hall's wonderful cooking.
The Hotel Alexandria was built in 1906 with a lobby that hasn't seen a renovation since the 1960's. Picture a cross between the starkness of the offices in Mad Men with the dangerous cool of the ministry sets in Terry Gilliam's Brazil. The Gorbals has an upscale diner feel. It's stark and understated wth dim lighting. We sat at the bar, which we usually do.
Though I don't remember Ilan hall mentioning being Jewish on Top Chef, the food he cooks is decidedly so. Not to say that he doesn't mix it up with some wonderfully non-kosher ingredients. He also brings a lot of different elements in his preparations. That said, the general feel of the food reminded me of my Jewish mother and grandmother's cooking. Hearty, rustic and homey. All the proteins were cooked through, which I believe must be a characteristic of Jewish cooking, because I grew up in a house where all meat resembled some form of jerky prior to ending up on our plates. We started with Ketel One martinis, a fine start to any meal.
Bacon Wrapped Matzo Balls
Great idea, Smallish matzo ball with well cooked bacon, wonderful texture and perfectly non-kosher. (Did I mention bacon? Yum!)
Butternut Squash Latkes with Sunchoke Cream
Very nice latke. Crispy on the outside, moist on the inside. Sunchoke cream, though nice, just wasn't my thing. Can you really beat applesauce with a latke? I think not.
Oxtail, Creamy Oats, Crispy Tripe
This was one of my favorite dishes. As strange as the flavor combinations sound, this was like a beautiful Shepherd's Pie. The oxtail melted in your mouth and the oats gave a delightful mushiness with the tripe an intestine flavored tortilla chip.
Crimini Soup with Haggis Meatballs
This was my favorite. Jason, the chef de cuisine, informed us that this was just voted one of the ten best soups in LA. I can see why, it was straight up awesome. The haggis meatballs felt overcooked to L, but were the prefect crunchy contrast to a flavorful light broth. Bravo!
Octopus, Gizzards, Lemon
Liz loved this one. Kinda looked like a scene from Alien to me. This was a gentle reminder that I am still at heart the pizza and sloppy joe eating boy from the SF Valley.
Pumpkin, Coffee Nitro Ice Cream
Jason was kind enough to barrage us with a rapid fire succession of the desserts offered on the menu. (hello, FTC!). I dug this one, Liz called it so good that it was fucking insane.
Israeli Cous Cous Risotto, Nitro Ice Cream, Bacon Candy
A little too much like baby food to me. Go Gerbers.
Toffee Pudding, Vanilla Nitro Ice Cream
We were told the above is a staff favorite, I can see why. If you are going to order dessert definitely give the toffee pudding a shot. The pudding was beautiful.
This was my favorite, though I am not really a bread pudding guy. This seemed like a classic preparation and was perfect in every way.