One Wednesday night I walked into Gather at 9:45 and asked if the restaurant was still serving. “We’re open until 11pm no matter what,” the host said. On this and subsequent evenings, this guy proved to be one of the more gracious front-of-house folks working today. But I wish he had dissuaded me, because I took a seat at the bar and ate a meal that lasted until 11pm, and it was terribly awkward—before I could even finish my soup, the restaurant cleared out, leaving me as the only patron.
So, yes, it was nice of the staff to let me sit there, but Gather should really just close at 10pm. This is not a late-night spot; instead, it’s been built from top to bottom as a place to bring the parents, go on a third date or celebrate whatever upwardly mobile milestone Lincoln Square residents celebrate—kid got on the cheerleading squad, sister got into Harvard.
If you’re with a group, great—Gather is built for this, and has a section on the menu (“gather and share”) dedicated to feeding you. It’s made up of dishes like charcuterie boards, a shareable short rib chili (you spread it on corn cakes), steak tartare served with housemade brioche. These are satisfying enough but will likely be consumed without comment. Hey, at least the food’s not getting in the way of conversation, right?
Chef Ken Carter’s talents are more easily accessed when you’re ordering for yourself. Not with the squash soup necessarily (it’s got all the ambitious trappings of a fine-dining soup, but the myriad garnishes never coalesce), but certainly with the housemade tagliatelle, which is tossed in a perky mushroom sauce. And definitely with his chicken—half roasted, half fried, all perfect. And, interestingly enough, also for dessert. Carter’s sticky buns, served bubbling in a cast-iron skillet, are a soft, buttery mess of dough and caramel. And where the sticky buns are hefty, the apple fritters are light and airy. More than tasting good, these desserts lend something else to meals here: the sense that, finally, at the very end of the meal, Gather is letting its hair down.