Much to my sister's disappointment, Bobby Flay was not in the house. She had read that he was notably present in the kitchen since it's opening, and he had been... up until a very flattering two-star review from Mr. Wells. That said, he's got his little kitty (Gato means cat in Spanish) up and running like a well-oiled machine that seems to be simply purring even in his physical absence.
We were warmly welcomed, seated immediately. The room was pretty full when we arrived, and just got fuller and fuller as the evening progressed, the bar seeming to reach maximum capacity and boisterous energy penetrating all corners. The noise level isn't for the faint of ear: conversation can be arduous if you're hesitant to raise your voice a bit. But all this bustle kind of adds to the festive atmosphere. After all, Flay isn't known for white tablecloths and tuxedoed waiters, and his food is just as kick-back and punched up. There are a lot of items on the menu, making it tough to decide for a deuce although magnificent for big groups.... or big appetites. Our first dish was the roasted octopus: my tablemate and I both assess that chefs have really mastered the cephalopod. I feel like historically I was served either chewy rubber or fishy mush, but I haven't had a bad octopus dish anywhere in recent
history, and Gato's is no exception. It's a marvelously fat tentacle, roasted fork-tender and wallowing in pools of ruddy sour orange and vibrant oregano sauces, topped with two mild padron peppers and shards of thick, meaty bacon. Surf and turf and fruit and veg.... and this was just one little appetizer. Next up, some veggies kept our appetites from topping out too quickly: perfectly charred broccolini boasted feathery toasted florets and tender, sweet stalks. This sometimes bitter vegetable confuted that unfortunate tendency, and its bed of crunchy corn and buxom cherry tomato halves gave it a
dose of bright, summery appeal. Its relative, roasted cauliflower, was profoundly richer, roasted to a buttery bronze and saturated in a bold, salty agrodolce spiked with capers and judicious sprinkle of fruity pepper rounds, which although the menu states as padrons, these little vermillion beauties had to be some other kicky variety. This was the first dish that made me glad that although Flay has spread his wings far and wide, he has not yet achieved the ubiquity of commercialism that would require him to post nutritional information on his menus: I would fear the caloric impact of that cauliflower. But even more than that, the crispy potatoes are a force to be reckoned with: their crunchy-fried, thick
parmegiano-crusted coating must have measured half the girth of each chunk of spud, heady with smoked paprika and capped with the rich, golden yolk of a poached egg. I would ply this against any fast food offering in terms of RDA sticker-shock; it should come with a defibrillator, an NC-17 rating, and at least three other people to share it with. Although as excessive as it is, it's also really profoundly tasty: all things in moderation, and for this dish, that means quantity. 'Cause in creating it, Bobby forgot to use any moderation at all.
Plunging onward, we tackled a few of the entrees, and the paella lives up to the hype: that soccarat rivals any I've ever had, rendering the lack of any of the classic ingredients like chorizo or clams completely irrelevant. Tangy, vinegary bits of tender kale, chewy morsels of wild mushroom and immaculately
crispy baby artichokes had every bit as much flavor as that iconic Spanish forcemeat, and with
another egg, poached and whisked into the ensemble, it wanted for nothing. Our waiter was impeccably helpful, gracious and amicable, and while he was probably entirely correct in steering us towards the lighter dish of orata grilled under a slurry of piquillo pesto, I was left full of curiosity about the buzzed-about rabbit stew with carrots and fregula sarda, but just as full in appetite to prevent doing anything about it.
Because also this was (yet another!) birthday dinner, Gato graciously provided a blue and white striped candle for my blackberry crostato with rhubarb gelato. I regret to say that my taste buds may have been partially blitzed after the onslaught of salty, savory, spicy and sassy food, but the blackberries were plump and juicy and the cool rhubarb gelato whispered subtly as it melted into the buttery crust, sparkling with sugar. Nobody sang me the birthday song, but there was a festive soundtrack bumping throughout the course of the night, making things feel enough like a party. And Bobby should proudly be celebrating with Gato, too: the Iron Chef wins again.