The Gorbals (CLOSED)
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“I won’t hover,” the earnest, quickly elusive server promises upon seating. “I’ll give you your space.” When asked for dish recommendations, he follows up with “I don’t want to usurp your natural interests,” delivered, incredibly, with a straight face. Yeesh. And thus begins a meandering, sometimes puzzling, often underwhelming meal at the Gorbals, the East Coast spin-off of the L.A. restaurant of the same name, from Top Chef victor Ilan Hall.
The location alone is a curiosity. Perched on a metal mezzanine inside Space Ninety 8—the multifloor Urban Outfitters complex in waterfront Williamsburg—the attractively industrial, albeit empty, dining room is enclosed with opaque glass paneling, offering peeks of distressed denim and faux-vintage tees between courses.
And like those racks crammed with tribal short shorts, the eccentric, eyebrow-raising menu is heavy on fads. Hall’s fuzzy focus is hipster immigrant food—the restaurant’s namesake is the once-Jewish neighborhood in south Glasgow from which his Scottish father hails—and that means gimmick grub like interfaith bacon-wrapped matzo balls ($9). Sans broth, the over-dilled spheres are rendered dense and grainy, paid no compliments by the flaccid, fatty strips of swine that surround them. Simply put, there’s nothing kosher about them.
The falafel-coated veal sweetbreads ($16) are equally head-scratching—that chickpea crust adds little save for an excuse to serve the offal nuggets with a garlicky “Cool Ranch” hummus—as are the pickled mussels ($8). Although gorgeously plated, nestled atop river pebbles beneath webs of saltwort, the marinated bivalves are disappointingly one-note—and that note is swampy.
There’s the literal mess that is the Jewish lunchbox ($15): a supple gefilte fishcake, oozing poached egg and dill-licked kimchi on a bed of fried barley, tucked neatly inside a tin bento box before that nonhovering server snatches it up and gives it a rigorous shake tableside. That tumble is more of a stumble, transforming the intriguing contents into texturally indistinguishable goop.
Sometimes, the gimmickry pays off—the banh mipoutine ($14), a fusion jumble of crispy thrice-cooked fries, shards of hoisin-sauced pulled pork and tangy pickled carrots, vibrant with jalapeño and cilantro, is the best dish in the house, as irresistible as it is ridiculous. Though more tame—well, as tame as a dish punctuated with a chicken talon can be—the chicken schnitzel ($12) is a surprisingly lovely update on poultry and potatoes, pairing a copiously crunchy cutlet with baked cauliflower florets and a toasted-cream pomme puree (a.k.a. crazy-velvety mashed potatoes).
It’s a shame there are not more instances of that restraint, to serve as proof that Hall has the substance to back up all that style. With more of it, a restaurant inside a Brooklyn Urban Outfitters could feel like more than just a punch line.
98 North 6th St
|Cross street:||between Berry St and Wythe Ave|
|Transport:||Subway: L to Bedford Ave|
|Price:||Average entrée: $20. AmEx, MC, V|
|Opening hours:||Mon–Thu 3pm–2am; Fri–Sun noon–2am|
|Do you own this business?|