Gotham West at 1
Eating quick and classy in Hell’s Kitchen
In late November, Gotham West Market (600 11th Avenue) celebrated its first anniversary. Our food critics sampled key dishes at each stall and discovered that a boutique lunch in Hell’s Kitchen can be heavenly — or diabolical.
Choza Taqueria is authentic and elegant, but too expensive for a quick grab, and not fine enough to be a destination. It serves a few other standards, such as burritos and tostadas, and a few fun treats such as ceviche and horchata, but the nine taco options are at the center of its menu.
The shredded chicken taco has crumbly, mild cheese and sweet pineapple. The barbacoa is festive with cinnamon and cumin, giving it a lingering sweetness, but never grabs you. The pescado has the kind of elegant presentation you’d expect for four tacos at $15, with pointy slices of red onion wrapped around gobs of green mango salsa, white pickled cabbage and flecks of cheese. It is the only taco with a satisfying amount of meat, but because it’s cut in a giant chunk, it’s difficult to take a consistent bite that includes all the layers of flavor.
Which brings me to the chorizo taco. Choza offers four flavors of standard Mexican hot sauce — Cholula, Tapatio, Valentina and Yucateco. While the other tacos wilted and submitted to them, the chorizo taco parried every hot challenger. But at the price of a sit-down meal, I’d prefer a fresh hot sauce over store-bought standards.
At first glance, the offerings at Genuine Roadside seem a bit meager. At about $10 each, the buttermilk-battered chicken sandwich or pulled pork sandwich are about the size of your fist. But don’t be fooled. A lightly toasted potato roll bookends cool, crunchy coleslaw and a heavy chicken breast that punches above its weight class. The pulled pork is less impressive (a bit sweet to these taste buds), but both sandwiches reflect the hearty Americana that spackles Genuine’s walls. The interior design invokes a soda fountain and surf rock California with portraits of motorcycles and mountain ranges spread above the booths and counters. Final word: Genuine Roadside may be a bit pricey for its portions, but the combination of ambiance and quality makes it worth the trip.
Court Street Grocers is a little market best known for an array of mouth-watering comfort-sandwiches in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. Its even littler outpost, the Sandwich Shop at Gotham West Market, offers a dozen sandwiches and a couple of salads. When I asked for the best sandwich, the clerk directed me to the Italian Combo, a $10 cold cut-packed salt bomb.
The sesame-seed hero roll from Caputo’s Bakery has a good crunch without being painful on the gums, though it did taste a day old. Inside the sandwich I found mortadella, salami, hot coppa, swiss, mozzarella, pecorino romano, arugula, red onion, mayo, some house-made hoagie spread, chopped olives and red wine vinaigrette. This thing is extremely salty and acidic. It packs a punch in every bite but demands balance, perhaps a smear of fig or date jam in place of the olives, or even a less-forward green to replace arugula’s bitter bite. The Italian Combo fills the belly, but it’s a bit too intense to enjoy regularly.
The Cannibal serves — no surprise — meat. Not beef or pork, but anatomically precise choices like chicken liver. The booth is set up like the bar area of a diner, with stools and complimentary water in large glass bottles.
Peking Duck Rillettes should form a fatty paste, but there is no duck taste, and the dish is so overwhelmingly salty that the water chaser becomes essential. The contrast between the toasted bread and the soft rillettes is beautiful, but the bread is difficult to bite through. Neither the scallions nor the sesame seeds sprinkled on the crunchy bread enliven the flavors. At The Cannibal, it is possible to drown a duck.
Eel skin is always slimy, so it’s good that The Cannibal serves its eel skinless in its Hard Boiled Egg, Smoked Eel, Black Rye plate. But it’s a mistake to place the eel on a cold halved hard-boiled egg and smother it with a white sauce that tastes like it’s made with mayonnaise. In addition, the eel is undercooked, as evidenced by its gummy texture. Small pieces of black rye bread served on top of the eel don’t help.
This is a solid place to get a little taste (or rather, slurp) of authentic Japanese cuisine in the form of the classic ramen bowl. The Tokyo Shoyu Ramen bowl consists of a savory soy sauce broth, enhanced by chicken broth and a traditional dashi base. I chose chicken chashu over pork, along with two pieces of soft boiled marinated eggs to complement the thin rye noodles. Despite the simple presentation, the dish is complex, but not jarringly so.
The soup’s broth respected the delicate boundary between tasty and salty — a flavor that did not overpower the chewy noodles. The whites of the eggs were firm, the yolk soft. The only real disappointment was the chicken, served in two dull blocks — moist on the outside but surprisingly dry on the inside and short on flavor. Not flavorless enough however, to distract from the total package.
Ivan Ramen also offers a Tokyo Shio Ramen Bowl, Spicy Red Chilly Ramen, and a Vegetarian Shoyu option — the meat replaced with chunky mushrooms and roasted tomato.
El Comado, a Spanish tapas booth, features a glass display of unadorned small plates, including egg, sandwich and seafood dishes, which look more elegant and special than they turn out to be. The Huevos Roto, which includes two fried eggs over sobrasada, a cured pork sausage, and confit potato, quelled my lunchtime hunger, but underwhelmed in terms of seasoning. This hearty meal, presented in a small black skillet, elicited a pleasant flavor at first bite, but more complexity could have made the runny, flavorless eggs and bland potatoes worthwhile. A hint of spice complemented the potatoes, but they were over-salted. The dish — and ultimately, the stall — satisfies, but it is easily forgettable.