Note this restaurant is closed
I’ve now been back many times. On the most recent visits I have not been as blown away as I was at first. What is the problem? Let’s all say it together: CONSISTENCY! Occasionally, I’ve had some really terrible dishes here; on the next visit, the same dishes have been outstanding. Now it is time for a completely updated review.
The restaurant is in the same space that used to house the Gotham Coffee Shop; however, you wouldn’t recognize it. These are the same folks responsible for Ripe and Clark Lewis (both reviewed elsewhere in my site). The interior is dramatic post-modern Lincoln log/prison. You’ll know what I mean when you see it. There is a reasonable-sized bar area, and the main dining has a roll up door for nice days. Sitting with good company on a warm night, watching the sun set over the Fremont bridge can make for a nice moment. The room is divided into two parts by a wall of recycled timber ‘Lincoln Logs’ stacked in a dramatic pattern with lots of open slots so you can see the bar. Towards the back are two ‘beehive-like’ caged areas that are stunning when viewed at night. Each holds a single party of up to six diners. Designer James Harrison of Rigga fame did a great job of transforming the interior. Overall I’d give it a B+ on ambiance, the only drawback being the wind and rain that blow in on the diners at the first table every time the front door is opened. Something needs to be done about that. One other thing: the inside looks great at night, but during the daylight hours, it isn’t impressive at all, if anything, it is rather ugly.
Most of the tables seat six. If you are a smaller group, be prepared to share one of them with another party. Fortunately they are big enough that you don’t feel crowded. On several visits I have enjoyed ‘meeting the neighbors’ and discussing various dishes.
Wine: corkage is $15 a bottle. The wine list consists of about 50 reds, 50 whites. The waiters know them well and there are some good selections to be made in every price range, pretty much representing all wine regions. Prices are a bit high ranging from about $30-$105. About twenty wines are available by the glass.
Beer: 11 imported, 7 domestics, and three drafts: Anchor Liberty ale, Victory Crema Pilsner, La Swep Blanc
Cocktails: extremely original and very well done, though a bit expensive. This is one of the few places around where seasonal drinks dominate the menu. Some examples: a fig royal of fig puree with Armagnac, cassis, and a float of sparkling wine ($9.00), a red plum drop with red plum puree and a hint of lavender ($8.00), peach sour with Jack Daniels and summer herbs ($7.00), or a fresh blackberry Long Island ice tea ($10.00). These are darn good cocktails.
The menu is one of the most creative I have seen anywhere. I consider myself pretty well versed in food and still had to ask our server questions about specific ingredients and sauces. Sometimes I wonder if they choose ingredients just to use unusual names, “seabeans, yes that will confuse them!”. It is very seasonal, changing by the month, so I’m going to list selections from many different months to give you an idea of the variety:
Fried gougeres $6.00
Pork sausage with late summer shell beans $8.00
Watermelon and feta salad with beets, fennel, and watercress $9.00
Fritto of spring onions with harissa aioli $6.00
Clams with sofritto and sherry $9.00
Sierra mackerel bruschetta with slow-cooked onions $8.00
Serrano ham, sherry-soaked figs, and Cana De Cabra $9.00
Grilled flatbread with dandelion salsa and house-cured lardo $9.00
Scallop and house-made blood sausage with fennel and sherry vinegar $11.00
Fat duck liver bruschetta with Seville orange marmalade $15.00
Simple greens, roasted red and gold beets, and Manchego $8.00
Farro, snap pea, and pea shoot salad with lemon vinaigrette $8.00
Leek and gruyere tart with frisee and herb salad $9.00
Arugula with fava bean crostini, mint and shaved pecorino Toscano $9.00
Lamb’s tongue with morels, poached farm egg, and truffle vinaigrette $12.00
Potted chicken and duck liver mousse with roasted figs, pluots and grilled bread $11.00
Scallop crudo with braised local celery and lobster aioli $10.00
Escarole hearts Caesar style $8.00
Yellowfin tuna carpaccio with pickled seabeans and citrus vinaigrette $12.00
Entrées: Items listed with two prices are available in small or large portions. I love this because it allows me to try many different things during a single meal. Prices have been updated where they have changed.
Bavette cacio e pepe $5/10.00
Goat cheese ravioli with ramps $8/16.00
Penne with fennel and sausage ragu $7/14.00
Gnocchi with chanterelles and black truffles $8/16.00
Tagliarini with pork ragu $7/14.00
Fresh pecorino ravioli with roasted eggplant, tomato, and ricotta salata $8/16.00
Squid ink Tagliatelle with mussels, chiles and tomatoes $8/16.00
Local salmon with corn crepe, arugula pesto and opal basil vinegar $21.00
Alaskan halibut with asparagus and roasted morels $21.00
Pan-roasted rockfish, with tomatoes, capers, olives, and braised escarole $20.00
Crater Lake blue cheese soufflé with tomato chutney $17.00
½ roasted Greener Pastures chicken with spring vegetable panzanella $19.00
Porchetta with baby turnips and turnip greens $21.00
Grilled Cascade Natural hanger steak with patatas bravas $20.00
Slow cooked duck leg with stuffed chard, aged balsamic, and grapes $18.00
Patatas bravas (fried potatoes) $6.00
Braised greens with chili and garlic $4.00
Shell beans with olio nouvo $5.00
Spring vegetable panzanella $7.00
Ken’s bread and sweet cream butter $3.00
The meal always begins with an amuse bouché – lately bruschetta with olive oil, garlic and Corona beans in a piquant sauce. I don’t know how they get those beans quite that good, but it certainly wakes up the palate. This little bite is always simple and very good.
The Serrano ham is, in a word, fantastic. High quality Spanish ham that tasted like it had been cured for a long time, dotted with a good balsamic and served with incredible figs that made me flash back to my grandmother’s tree in Texas; probably the best I have ever had in the US. The amount of time they had been marinated in sherry was short enough that the fruit was not overpowered, but rather kissed by the flavors. The pairing with Spanish Cana de Cabra cheese was terrific. A classic dish that really worked, due to the high quality of ingredients, and a must-have dish for any visit—A really excellent course. Note: when we returned in May, the cheese was a bit over-aged, leaving a slight metallic taste on the finish. This was, of course, especially noticeable as you got toward the rind. Still a good dish, but not perfect. A leek and gruyere tart was perfect. Light wonderful crust, wonderful balance. A very small portion, literally three bites, but really good.
Overall, I enjoy the Caesar salad. The greens are fresh and the two anchovies draped across the top have a fresh, clean taste, giving a nice tang without being fishy; usually soaking them in milk gives this quality. Balance is good with the harmony of flavors coming through. The croutons are excellent, with a grating of a good reggiano on top instead of the overly salty stuff so many places use these days. This is subtler than many Caesars, though not terribly authentic, more in the style of Julia Child’s recipe. My issue again is consistency. Some nights the salad has way too much lemon, to the point the other flavors are overwhelmed; other nights it is perfect. The beet salad is simple, just a few slices of red and yellow beets among a huge pile of greens and cheese, but still very good, with just a breath of dressing. The sweetness of the late fall beets is just terrific, balanced against the greens and cheese. Another winner is arugula with favas, mint and shaved pecorino Toscano – really good and fresh tasting, the slight hint of mint giving a nice surprise, the cheese of high quality – a really nice dish. Unfortunately, the farro, snap pea salad was a bit odd. No one at my table really liked it, but we didn’t hate it either, just wouldn’t order it again. Spring vegetable panzanella was not the style you normally find around Portland. Nice garlicky bread, good quality olive oil, with asparagus, radish, artichoke, garlic, onions, and fava beans.
Fried gougeres take a bit of attention to get them right. These are almost always good, nicely browned on the outside; light, yet crisp, and close to perfect. The carpaccio of yellow fin tuna is almost surreal, an incredibly subtle dish. Paper-thin slices of very fresh tuna, a fog-light citrus dressing settling over the top. Take your time and concentrate, shut out everything else if you really want to appreciate it. Scallop crudo with braised celery and lobster aioli was really good when everything was paired together in carefully orchestrated bites. Alone, the scallops were not that great and suspiciously fishy, but when paired with the other ingredients, wow!
Last spring brought lamb’s tongue with morels, poached farm egg, and truffle vinaigrette. If you like lamb, this is a really interesting dish. The tongue is thinly sliced with a very intense flavor – you can taste the meadow in the lamb. The morels soak up the flavor very nicely, and the egg runs out over everything, adding depth and complexity to the dish.
Now we get to the pasta, and as far as making them, Gotham does everything right. Unfortunately they are frequently ruined during the cooking process. This never happened early in the year, but lately has been a real issue. Nettle ravioli are perfectly cooked, with a terrific sauce; the ‘small’ portion unexpectedly large. Nettles are subtle in flavor and not overcooked as is so common. My only complaint is that too much reggiano was piled on top of one large ravioli, which overpowered it while leaving the others lacking; pretty, but a hassle to deal with. The first time I had the pecorino ravioli with roasted eggplant, tomato, and ricotta salata it was freaking perfect. I turned to my companions gushing, “They are like angel pillows of pasta!” Best darn ravioli I’ve ever had. A week later, the dish was a salt bomb. One salt lover at our table couldn’t even finish it. I’ve had similar experiences with tagliarini with pork ragu. The first time my notes read “awful, terrible, and drenched with salt – I drank two glasses of water, though underneath the salt, the pasta was perfect.” What a disappointment. Two weeks later the seasoning was perfect. Note that the salt experiences between the two dishes were opposite, several weeks apart. The gnocchi, while really good, light and tender, could be improved. The truffle flavor was very hard to discern. For me, the bar was set at Zuni Café in the Bay Area. Gotham’s version isn’t quite there yet.
A recent special was a Carlton Farms pork chop in romesco sauce, with asparagus spears and fried potatoes. The sauce was really good and had a nice spiciness that went very well with the perfectly cooked, thick and juicy pork chop. Smoky and complex, it’s like a gypsy version of mole, originally from Tarragona just south of Barcelona in Spain. The potatoes were fine, nothing special here. Asparagus is easy to cook, even in a restaurant where everything has to go out in a hurry. This asparagus was insipid; terribly overcooked limp spears, it didn’t even hold its shape but kind of slumped on the plate, really putting a damper on what otherwise would have been a very good dish. This fall I tried another pork chop, this time with peaches. The meat was dry, well-cooked shoe leather with a heaven-sent grilled peach on a bed of perfect greens. Unfortunately the pork made the dish beyond rescue. I couldn’t even finish it.
Fish at Gotham too can vary from night to night. In spring, seared tuna was on the menu, a good sized portion, but overcooked to the point of being dry. The vegetable escabeche was interesting and a classic combination, but here the strong pickling used tended to overpower the subtlety of the fish. This was a disappointing effort and the overcooking a rather inexcusable lapse. On the other hand, a fall salmon with corn crepe, arugula pesto and opal basil vinegar was exciting, the corn crepe a brilliant touch that brought the Northwest theme sliding into home plate.
There is usually a chicken dish on the menu. Chicken a la plancha is a grilled boneless flat chicken—the waitress didn’t appreciate it when I asked if that meant it was road kill—served with the ever-present fried potatoes. This dish was okay, the requisite chicken dish on any menu, but nothing to write home about. Hanger steak is also a regular on the menu. It is probably my favorite cut of meat for the deep flavor. Last spring it arrived perfectly cooked, slightly smoky, perfectly seasoned on a bed of cooked greens, served with fried potatoes. Later in the summer the potatoes were covered with a hollandaise & chipotle sauces. They were kind of strange, but the potatoes stood up to the flavor of the meat, so the dish pretty much worked, but the cooked greens were over salted to the extreme. I tried it again this fall, and as usual the steak was perfectly cooked. This time it had kind of a spicy béarnaise flavor to it – not sure how they pulled it off, but it certainly was great, especially paired with the tiny seasonal tomatoes. On another fall night the hanger steak was a bit tough, but cooked correctly. The current horseradish potato gratin was good, though nothing to write home about, the horseradish rather muted. The sherry braised onions, however, were a triumph, a wonderful synergy with the steak. It may be my imagination, but the portion size seems to have decreased over the past six months.
Finally we come to soufflés. There always seems to be one on the menu and at Gotham they do them very well. Last spring, the Bloomsdale spinach soufflé with morel cream was… well, we are talking an amazing dish: perfectly cooked, nice and light with a lovely brown crust. Next to it was a small bowl of morel cream sauce. You eat the whole thing with a soupspoon, scooping up a bit of soufflé, dipping it into the sauce, and popping it into your mouth. It’s like a symphony on your tongue. More recently the Crater Lake blue cheese soufflé with tomato chutney was ‘interesting’. While I appreciated it, and especially enjoyed the dance between the chutney and the blue cheese, I wouldn’t order it again. It was just…. I dunno… heavy… and I’ve been eating a ton of this cheese lately so am very familiar with it.
As does everything else, sides very depending upon what is in season. Cooked greens – A great balance of carefully cooked greens and herbs with subtle lemon vinaigrette were wonderful one night (though still not up to the standard set by Paley’s), but, during the summer, they were terribly over-salted, almost a blowout that burned the mouth.
Bread was from Ken’s Bakery, arguably the best in town. While I appreciate good bread, it annoys me that this organization seems to feel it necessary to charge $3.00 extra for it.
Desserts at Gotham (actually through their entire group of restaurants) have always seemed to be a bit of an afterthought. Not any more. During the summer they hired Jehnee Rains, most recently of Chez Panisse. As she got her footing, the quality and inventiveness has soared to the point where they are some of the best in the city. A recent list:
Almond cake with honey roasted figs and crème fraîche, $8.00 Best almond cake I ever had
Fresh huckleberry and vanilla float with tapioca pearls and lavender short bread $7.00. Interesting. Good huckleberry flavor, but the whole thing was really runny. I wouldn’t order it again.
Pluot and blackberry cobbler with sweet corn ice cream $8.00 Mindblowing. Inspired. A finish that lasted through the drive home. Wow. Corn ice cream. Who’d have thought?
Bittersweet chocolate ice cream with black currant tea cream $7.00 An excellent dish.
Three cheeses available at $4.00 each, Humbolt Fog, sheeps milk, and a cows milk.
Service: Service can be excellent but can vary WILDLY depending on your server. There are a couple that really need to ‘leave to spend more time with their families’. Occasionally, the service comes with a ‘you aren’t cool enough to be here’ feel, other times they never really seem to engage the table, while you’ll hear different servers at other tables waxing poetic with detailed descriptions of dishes. There are occasional misses, such as bringing the dishes to the wrong table or water glasses not being refilled. Should you have to ask four times to get refills on ice tea? Another disturbing trend is the wait time between courses. There is a difference between a relaxed pace and service that is just too slow. Lately waits between courses get to the point where conversation lulls and everyone starts to look around wondering what is going on, yet you peer between the Lincoln logs and it seems people are casually standing around the kitchen. One evening three tables were looking around wondering where their food was.
Overall, I still think this is the most exciting new restaurant to open in the Portland area for a very long time. It is obvious lessons have been learned from Clark Lewis and a lot of thought has been put into this location. The menu is a bit daunting to those who are not culinary academics but that is part of the adventure and makes it fun to bring other people. I am worried that some dishes seem to have turned downward in quality over the past year, and am beginning to think it is slowly turning into another average Portland restaurant. That being said, on a good night you can still have a very memorable meal. As far as my score, I’ve debated lowering it from the previous three stars downwards, but for the time being will keep it at 3 Stars. (503)235-2294. Reservations advised. 2240 North Interstate, at the Mississippi Interstate Max Stop. There is parking in the dirt lot just across from Max. Google Map They now have a website, with menus. Ripe/ClarkLewis/Gotham Website. Open Tues-Fri, 8am-2:30pm, 5pm-close; Sat-Sun 5pm-close. Brunch is also served Sundays. Reviews of breakfast and lunch available on this site. American Express, Discover, Visa, Mastercard.