Earlier this week, Bobby Flay and longtime business partner Laurence Kretchmer opened Gato, a sprawling brasserie on Lafayette Street in Noho. This project started as an updated version of their old Flatiron Spanish restaurant Bolo, but it quickly morphed into something else entirely. For this new venture, Flay is drawing influence from several countries that border the Mediterranean Sea, not just Spain. The big name chef/restaurateur has made it clear that he plans to be the driving force in the kitchen at Gato, his first Manhattan restaurant in over eight years. On day two of the restaurant's soft-opening phase, Eater sat down with Flay to talk about the inspiration behind the restaurant, his decision to open in Noho, and jumping back on the line.
Did you take any trips to do research for this restaurant?
We went on one sort of official trip which was a three-day whirlwind. When I have down time, which is very rarely, I spend most of my time in Europe. So, Sicily, Spain, France, and I love Italy. Bolo was clearly focused on Spain — we had that restaurant for 15 years. It's been five or six years, and my palate has expanded in terms of wanting to utilize the full Mediterranean and all the ingredients that really go well together. It's not like taking an Asian ingredient and mixing it with an Italian ingredient. I know some people do that, but that's not what I'm trying to do here. Basically the entire cuisine is fused together with extra virgin olive oil. So anywhere in the Mediterranean where olive oil lives, I'm utilizing: Greece, the south of France, Spain, and Italy.
Did you put any dishes from Bolo on the new menu?
There are a couple of things that have survived from Bolo. The eggplant and manchego dish is definitely a Bolo dish. The 11 layer potato is on the menu. It used to be called 12 layers, but I'm trying to do less is more so I took one layer off. But it's not really 11 layers — it's a sort of scalloped potato. It's just a number I picked. There's a version of the roasted shrimp, but this one has a little more spice to it. The other thing is that, the way I do Mediterranean food is probably different than someone who is authentically Mediterranean because I can't stay away from chile peppers. I stumbled upon Calabrian chiles, which have now become my go-to. It used to be the chipotle, but in this cuisine I use Calabrian, padron chiles, and harissa. The chile peppers of the Mediterranean are finding their way into my food. I can't do a bland dish — I reach for the chiles.
Are you consciously trying to do something lighter here, than say, Bar Americain?
Oh definitely. Bar Americain is clearly an American move with a French attitude towards it. It's Midtown, so it's a completely different environment. The food here is simpler. I think the food here is impactful in terms of flavor. I really go for impact whenever I cook. It's sort of my common denominator. I think it's definitely a lighter cuisine and I think that people like to eat this food. It's just enticing. For instance, we're doing this homemade fettuccine with squid ink, and we're using Spanish red prawns. It's based on a dish that we did at Bolo that we did with black rice as opposed to pasta. The ghost of Bolo definitely still lives and shows its head here and there, and it has to. It was a really important part of who I was for 15 years. Oh, and the crispy squid is basically right off the menu.
Why did you decide to open in Noho?
It was one of the neighborhoods that we certainly would consider. If you spend time with people looking to open a restaurant in Manhattan, you'll realize that you don't get to open wherever you want to. It's very difficult to find spaces that work. I mean, frankly, it took us five or six years to find this space. We looked at hundreds and hundreds of spaces. Whether it was impossible to make a lease deal or there was a landmarks issue or it would be too difficult to get a liquor license, for whatever reason, it just never felt right. When I walked into this space, Laurence [Kretchmer] said to me, "I think I got it. Meet me right now." I was standing in front of the restaurant, waiting for the broker to show up and a red cat walked under my feet, that's how we came up with the name.
What were your priorities for creating a kitchen from scratch?
I wanted to have a pizza oven, and I wanted to have a plancha, a really classic plancha, not just a griddle. I just wanted the flow to be right, and that to me is the most important thing. I've worked in small kitchens throughout my career, but really this is my first New York kitchen where the kitchen is brand new. Every other kitchen I inherited, and so it was nice to be able to design it from scratch.
The bar takes up a large chunk of the space. Did you guys always envision half of the restaurant being a tapas parlor/ bar?
Well, we don't use the word tapas because once you say tapas, it's a Spanish restaurant. If you look at the menu, it's all over the Mediterranean. In fact, I separate it into "bar" and "kitchen." I just thought the space would be really inviting with a nice big bar. Especially at a bar that is not just going to be a place where people are going to drink — they're going to eat at this bar, I think. If I came in with my wife, if this wasn't my restaurant and I came in Stephanie, we would sit here and eat. We would get two seats at the bar and be like, "You know, we don't want a table, we want to sit at the bar." The bar is not just a bar in a restaurant. To me, the bar is really a big part of the restaurant. It's just sort of an extension of it.
The dining world has changed a lot in the eight years since you've opened a Manhattan restaurant, and the review cycle has accelerated. You've made it clear that you plan to stay in the kitchen here. Are you prepared for the madness?
I'm thrilled for it. The place I'm most comfortable...I know a lot of people know me from the Food Network and all that stuff. But the Food Network knows this: The most important things to me are the kitchens in my restaurants. It's not even close. It's not even something I'm concerned about; it's something that I'm thrilled about. My focus is a thousand percent in the kitchen, laser-focused.
How were the first few nights? Are you getting any feedback?
Yeah, people like it. Most of the people we know. We're sort of taking it very slowly so the service staff and the kitchen can kind of get in their groove. This is hard no matter what. No matter how many times you've opened, I still find myself saying, "Where's the extra-virgin olive oil?" 10 times a night. You just don't know where anything is. It takes time to work alongside people, to plate things how you want them plated, and get the timing down. This is like a child. It has to grow up and we're trying to grow up slowly.
What are your favorite dishes on the opening menu?
I think the paella with kale and wild mushrooms and crispy artichokes. I can tell that people want that for their table. It's a vegetarian paella, and it's got a lot of flavor to it. The crab risotto is getting a lot of raves, as is the octopus. A dish that I was inspired by in my last trip to Barcelona was the scrambled egg dish. It's got romesco and Bucheron cheese running through it. It's a really great example of taking a cheese from France and some romesco, which is one of the classic sauces from Spain, and marrying them together. They work perfectly well together — there's no awkwardness in that relationship.
It looks like there's a lot of à la minute cooking going on here. Did you create the menu with that in mind?
Oh totally, that's how we designed it. There are a couple things that are longer cooking, like the lamb dish, which is a lamb shank that's off the bone so we braise that for three and a half hours. The black fettuccine is cooked to order, and we make all of that in house. Everything is cooked to order.
Gato is now in soft opening mode, with a grand opening slated for next Monday.
· All Coverage of Gato [~ENY~]