Are chefs so obsessed with novelty that they feel the need to create unholy alliances of national cuisines? Apparently so, because chef Ilan Hall, Top Chef season 2 winner and the child of Scottish/Israeli parents, apparently felt the need to pioneer Scottish-Jewish cuisine at The Gorbals, although no one had previously articulated the need for those cuisines to get cozy with each other. The Gorbals is tucked deep in the belly of the Alexandria Hotel Downtown -- a fine place to see Wall of Voodoo in 1985, but diners at the Gorbals will still have to traverse a grungy underground garage (if you park in the building), then navigate the lobby shared by the hotel's residents. A lunchtime portion of fish 'n chips
The windowless room has spare wooden benches and long wooden tables, with a small bar on one side and a menu that's only written on the blackboard. One signature sandwich, made of gribenes or rendered chicken skin gribenes, is crossed off the blackboard when we arrive for lunch -- fortunately another specialty, bacon-wrapped matzoh balls, are still available. I order fish 'n chips, and the fish is ok -- not as good as Golden State --with the slightly-overcooked fries that have also gained admirers; I like the fries, though others find theirs unbearably salty. We have to keep asking for explanations on the many white sauces that accompany the dishes -- the tartar sauce is nearly indistinguishable from the aioli or the chestnut sauce.
Salty bacon is a good foil to the matzoh balls, making this one of the most successful dishes we try. Butternut squash latkes are a little greasy and flaccid, while a bbq brisket sandwich is oversauced. We're left with the impression that every dish is doused in liquid smoke -- a pall of salt, smoke and grease seems to hang over the table, especially as we've forgotten to order a salad or vegetable side. Plus, there's no iced tea served at lunch, just sodas and very sour limeade. Desserts are equally haphazard -- sticky toffee pudding is irresistibly rich, but Israeli couscous "rice" pudding with pumpkin ice cream topped with bacon brittle (above) doesn't taste of bacon or pumpkin at all.
Some of these dishes, like the fries and matzoh balls, might be perfectly fine if you're just stopping by for a beer or some Scotch late at night, and maybe when the place is full the whole conceit works better. And the prices are fairly reasonable. But for the most part, The Gorbals seems to have achieved much the same thing as my Jewish grandmother -- the cooking manages to leach almost all the flavor out of the food except salt.
501 S. Spring St.