It’s been nearly a decade since Bobby Flay last opened a new restaurant in New York, and in that time, The Man Who Would Throw Down has had to forfeit the two restaurants closest to his heart: Southwestern-inflected flagship Mesa Grill and its follow-up Bolo, where Flay channeled the flavors of Spain. But even with those personal losses, the celebrity chef’s cultural cache has only increased, from meeting grills to meeting President Obama. Now we have Gato (324 Lafayette Street, 212-334-6400), a NoHo Mediterranean restaurant where Flay is promising he’ll be spending most of his days (for the foreseeable future, at least).
The chef was circling stations and checking in at the pass on a recent visit, visible through a line of windows that look onto the kitchen. The dining room boasts oversized design elements like vaulted ceilings, blocky brick walls, and a massive centerpiece bar that encourages schmoozing and boozing, but the space still doesn’t exactly feel big box.
Flay’s savory menu is separated into five sections encompassing standard appetizers ($12-$18), entrees ($27-$34), and sides ($10). A platter of spreads gets its own billing, though the portion of yogurt, hummus, and white bean dips doesn’t match up with the $16 price tag. Perhaps because of that bar, a choice of small tastes are available at three for $17. We had no complaints about juicy slips of lamb tenderloin sitting on top of salsa verde or the pleasantly spongy chorizo crepinette with apricot mostarda and pickled brussels sprouts, but a flash fried prawn, eaten whole and dipped in deep, herbal green romesco mayonnaise, made for an especially fine pairing with one of the four sherries available by the glass.
If you had any doubts about Flay’s bistro-centric ambitions, look no further than the white chicory salad, which mimics classic French frisee aux lardons with its matchsticks of firm Spanish chorizo and poached egg. There’s also risotto, scrambled eggs, shrimp, octopus, squid, two pizzas, and a vegetable pasta on the busy menu — and that’s just the appetizer section. Flay’s cooking is never fussy, but he accentuates ingredients with pointed flavors, as in a vegetable side of charred, harissa-spiced carrots with parsnip chips, chiffonaded mint, and pomegranate arils.
Half of the entrees are devoted to generous cuts of meat, from tarragon-scented chicken and deboned lamb shank to a porterhouse pork chop glazed with tomato-spiked pan juices and sharing the plate Venn diagram-style with puddle of red pepper romesco polenta. Between the smoky and sweet tomato notes and polenta so buttery they could be grits, the dish almost feels like a nod to Mesa Grill. But the majority of the menu nostalgia is saved for Bolo: a scalloped potato dish from the defunct restaurant made the cut, as did a petite layered square of manchego cheese, eggplant, and oregano sitting in a pool of balsamic vinegar. The most expensive dish on the menu, a house-made squid ink fettuccine tossed with mussels and hiding under giant head-on Spanish red prawns, is a nod to a similar assembly of ingredients that Flay served at Bolo (in that case, using black rice instead of pasta). Check the next page for more dish pictures.