Have you ever tried to catch dinner at The Gorbals? Because something tells me that this is one restaurant trying hard not to be found.
For one thing, it closes at random hours, which means that when you walk past the movie-star portraits in the empty old Alexandria Hotel lobby, music swirling, chandeliers bright, a Charlie Chaplin film flickering on the wall, the restaurant may well be shuttered, and you may start to believe that you’ve just wandered into a scene from The Shining. The phone tends not to be answered. The chalkboard “open” sign stands outside the entrance whether the restaurant is open or not.
The conceit of the cuisine — Scottish-Jewish food — seems designed to alienate as many people as possible: bacon-wrapped matzoh balls; pork belly braised in Manischewitz; BLTs made with chicken-skin cracklings instead of bacon; a dessert of Israeli couscous garnished with bacon brittle.
If chef/owner Ilan Hall, famous as an early Top Chef champion, were trying to pull a Springtime for Hitler scam on investors, I wouldn’t be the least surprised. As Homer Simpson might say: “Sacrilicious!”
But as aggressive as the food might be, the prices are surprisingly gentle, good-sized small dishes priced between $5 and $15 a pop. And when viewed within the context of pub food, which I have always theorized is designed to be just nauseating enough to require the counteractive effect of vast quantities of beer, the slight edginess of squash latkes with chestnut cream, charred octopus with fried chicken gizzards and chicken thighs stuffed with haggis is just enough to keep the ale flowing.
And the french fries cooked with deep-fried dill are genuinely delicious.
THE GORBALS: in the lobby of the Alexandria Hotel, 501 S. Spring St., dwntwn. (213) 488-3408.