I was a fan of Ilan Hall from his Top Chef days and I was dying to try his bacon wrapped matzoh balls and his GLT (a BLT with fried chicken skin subbing for the bacon). I headed directly to The Gorbals after my training ended, eager to enjoy a solo meal at the bar.
Here is the problem: it was Valentine’s Day. The most popular night for dining out all year and the one night of the year that you are most likely to get ripped off with an overpriced and poorly executed prix fixe meal. When I arrived at The Gorbals I was disappointed that they were not serving the full menu, and instead were serving a Valentines Day prix fixe dinner for $64. I was still excited to eat at the restaurant and the menu looked good, so I figured why not.
I scored a seat at the kitchen bar and ended up having the whole bar to myself with Ilan preparing the nights meal right in front of me. I basically had my own private chef’s tasting menu. Not a bad way to spend Valentine’s Day when you’re 3,000 miles away from your wife. I spent my evening chatting with the staff and watching Ilan and his team prepare everything. Ilan and his staff couldn’t have been nicer or friendlier. I thought one of his sous-chefs had a thing for me when he topped my borscht with a whipped yogurt heart. The deep red borscht with a heart shaped dollop of whipped yogurt was a great way to set the mood for my romantic date with…..myself.
I had a such a good time at The Gorbals on Valentine’s Day that I headed back the next night to try the full menu. This is something I seldom do when visiting a city– I usually try to get a diverse sampling of restaurants, but the team at The Gorbals left me wanting more.
There are two things on the menu at The Gorbals (ok, there are far more than two things) that I want to bring back to Washington, DC.
- The first is the their policy on substitutions : “Each dish is a happy family of ingredients. Please don’t kidnap the children. No Substitutions.” Great line.
- The second item is the option to buy the kitchen a round of beers for $10. It’s a nice touch and a great way to thank the kitchen for serving a great meal.
Here are some of the highlights from The Gorbals.
After multiple 13 hour days I needed a stiff drink, and the honey bourbon my bubbly waitress recommended did the trick. The bourbon, honey, and lemon soda cocktail went down so smoothly, I quickly found myself ordering another drink from the bar. Fortunately the drink tasted better than it sounded…The Master Cleanse. Not an appetizing name for a cocktail, especially when it is served with a little candied ball of ginger that looks like…well, you know. Despite the name and garnish, the drink was delicious and quite strong.
Cold Seafood Smorgasbord with grilled razor clams, east coast oysters, cold poached prawns, pickled strawberries, dungeness crab served with mignonette and freshly grated horseradish and fennel aioli to accompany the seafood. I loved the cold poached prawns when dipped in the fennel aioli. The unexpected surprise for the second course were the pickled strawberries. Ilan lightly pickles fresh strawberries in red wine vinegar, peppercorns, and bay leaf. As soon as I get home I am going to pickle some strawberries to top my salads.
Squid Ink Spaghetti, pork meatballs and anchovies - Easily the highlight of the evening. There is a very good chance I head back to The Gorbals this week just to get another taste. Prepared with heritage acorn fed pork and a touch of fennel these meatballs paired perfectly with the handmade squid ink pasta. This is not on the menu every night, but you can get the pork meatballs by themselves.
Bacon wrapped Matzoh Balls - Yup, you heard that right. Light and fluffy matzoh balls wrapped in crispy bacon served with a horseradish aioli. Really good. Obviously very different from any other matzoh ball I have ever had. This is the dish that made the Gorbals catch my attention and it did not disappoint.
Fried Broccoli - Oh god this was good. Why doesn’t everyone fry broccoli? This dish is nice and crispy and served with an Asian soy chili sauce. I would love to try making chicken with fried broccoli back at home.
The dish I was sad that I did not get to try was the Banh Mi Poutine: a heaping plate of french fries topped with braised pork, curry mayo, oaxaca cheese, carrots, cilantro, jalapeños, and pickled veggies. This dish came about after the kitchen staff ran out of buns for the banh mi’s they were preparing for themselves. This is one of those dishes that I hope a DC restaurant steals.