In an age where meeting new people is as easy as walking your dog, feeding your baby at the Nordstrom Women's Lounge, or starting a food blog, the number of friends, acquaintances, and internet chat buddies you have in your life suddenly becomes a little overwhelming. And to be perfectly honest, as much as I usually like the people I've met in my lifetime, I tend to like some more than others.
I recently thought long and hard about what the common thread is amongst the people who I get along with the best. And that common thread is simply...
...that the people I tend to get along with the best are not uptight.
People who are open minded, people who love to laugh and who can laugh about others as well as themselves--those are my peeps.
So it was completely appropriate that I met up with WeezerMonkey, yutjangsah, and The Delicious Life--a few of LA's most un-uptight local food bloggers--at Ilan Hall's most un-uptight new Downtown Los Angeles restaurant, The Gorbals.
One might have expected the atmosphere and surrounding environments of a Top Chef Season 2 winner's restaurant to lean somewhat on the swankier, more upscale side, but The Gorbals is quite the contrary. I had to Austin Powers my way out of the bordering-on-sketchy underground parking garage when its valet attendants were too busy trying to cram a car inside a freight elevator to acknowledge me. I finally made may way to the restaurant, located in the dingy lobby of the Alexandra Hotel, a historic hotel-turned-affordable housing complex. The stark rectangular space is, with its few wood and steel accents, minimalist-cool on one hand, and with its rows of wooden tables, a bit reminiscent of a dining hall on the other.
And if the setting wasn't enough to get that stick out of your ass, the food at The Gorbals just might be that extra pull you need. Named after a neighborhood in Glasgow, Scotland were Hall's father grew up, The Gorbals' menu draws inspiration from that neighborhood's post-war culture, where poor immigrants of varying ethnicities lived and ate. Hall created his menu, therefore, to know no boundaries, ethnicities or labels: it's "a spot for new and diverse ideas" and "tasty, oddball food that is there for anyone who is willing to eat something that does not fall into a category."
The restaurant's bacon-wrapped matzo balls with horseradish mayonnaise are probably the best example of Chef Hall's playful tribute to both the Kosher and the non-Kosher. This edible oxymoron was, from what I've heard, something the chef originally created as a joke for a non-Kosher Jewish friend's birthday party. I liked this dish, not only because I am usually a fan of bacon-wrapped anything, but mainly because of the sense of humor behind its concept. Hey, what can I say? I'm a rebel by old school Chinese standards myself.
Manischewetz-braised pork belly with clapshot and apples would also normally be a big no-no in Kosher circles, but leave it to Chef Hall to combine the two into a creation where pork and the Jewish faith can hold hands and coexist in peace. Not the best pork belly dish I've had around town (hint: Animal) but this version certainly works. And the Manischewetz reduction was quite tasty.
Butternut squash latkes with chestnut cream were a welcome alternative to traditional potato latkes, the light-as-a-feather chestnut cream being the star of the show here. Yutjangsah liked them so much that she'd eat Ding Dongs stuffed with this. We also told the chef that we really liked his cream and he told us it was really easy to make. Wait, that didn't come out right, did it?
Octopus with gizzards and lemon is a dish that would normally be right up my alley--I love chewy-tasties! Yutjangsah and The Delicious had already ordered this prior to my and WeezerMonkey's arrival and unfortunately, it had gotten a little cold and glazed over by the time I sampled. I'd totally love to try it fresh out of the kitchen next time.
Sweet oxtail buns with turnip pickles were this particular restaurant's version of everyone's obligatory slider. These were a little reminiscent of Manwich served on King's Hawaiian Rolls, which would normally be totally fine if they weren't one of the priciest options on that night's menu at $15.
Worcestershire sauce-spiked Welsh rarebit with fried egg was something I could probably eat for breakfast everyday if I wasn't fearful of food coma, clogged arteries and weighing 300 pounds.
Roasted marrow with king oyster mushrooms and walnuts was a tasty treat; I loved the acidic bite of the mushrooms against the velvety richness of the marrow. There was also bread to sop everything up. Genius.
Some of the wacky topics of conversation I had with the girls up to this point included white meat vs. dark meat chicken and earwax. I won't go into details but it was damn funny.
See, even Chef Hall is getting in on the humor. Here he is about to serve us our Gribenes sandwich:
Yes, the Gribenes sandwich. Chicken skin, lettuce (well, in this case arugula) and tomato nestled between rye bread and you've got yourself a "GLT." Need I say more?
I have to admit that it wasn't love at first bite with the Gribenes; I was a little concerned about the binding ability of the cold rye against the tower of ingredients, but a couple more bites and I was hooked. Chicken skin crack.
Apparently, the gribenes wasn't the only crack in the Gorbals that evening...
I really wanted to like our dessert more since I've heard good things, but I just wasn't thrilled with our sticky toffee pudding, nutella-buttermilk ice cream with maldon salt. Perhaps it was an off night, but whatever the case, our toffee pudding was dry and the ice cream lacked a little j'ne sais quoi, which is just fancy talk for a little somethin' somethin'. I'd love to give it another shot however.
We ran into H.C. of LA and OC Foodventures and mooched off his Israeli couscous, pumpkin ice cream and bacon brittle dessert, which to me was like a cross between oatmeal and tapioca pudding. Just OK, but I thought the bacon brittle was really cool.
Being relatively new, I think The Gorbals has a little bit to go in finding its groove, but nevertheless, I had quite the enjoyable dining experience. From the wacky, sacriligious, but tasty-for-the-most-part food to Chef Hall's down-to-earth personality to planning a boba/legal/mani-pedi/dry cleaning truck with some awesome bloggers, it was all good. If you're one of those stuffy, upturned-nose kind of people, though, this isn't the place for you.
501 South Spring Street
Los Angeles, CA 90013