When some things change, they become unrecognizably different. Massive stars collapse into black holes, for example, and caterpillars turn into butterflies. Meanwhile, other things change in certain ways, but stay the same in others. The new iPhone has a better camera, but it still tries to connect you to random wifi networks five times a day. And Lebron James changes teams, but his hairline continues to recede all the same. Then there’s Gato, Bobby Flay’s Mediterranean spot in Noho. It still resembles its 2014 form in some ways, but the food isn’t nearly as good now as it was back then.
We’ll start with the things about Gato that haven’t changed. It’s still packed most nights, when the horseshoe bar and big, high-ceilinged dining room are filled with dates and groups of people who probably have strong opinions about the best and worst Equinox locations in city. The service is still great, with a server-to-customer ratio similar to the proportion of teachers to students at a Connecticut boarding school. The menu has also primarily remained the same, including mostly Mediterranean food ranging from bar snacks and appetizers like roasted octopus to pastas and entrees like a porterhouse pork chop over polenta.
And some of those dishes are still very enjoyable. There’s a mushroom paella with crispy but not burned rice, which isn’t dry at all due to some oily kale and a runny egg on top. There are also scrambled eggs. Think about the best eggs you’ve ever made, replace the Frank’s Red Hot and whatever bread was on sale on Fresh Direct with romesco sauce and cracker-thin slices of tomato confit toast, and you’ll get a sense for how good the soft, fluffy version here is. And no matter what else you order, make sure to get dessert. Things like blood orange cheesecake and an apple crostata with brown sugar gelato make coming here just for a nightcap a very reasonable option.
But many other dishes on the menu are some combination of bland, too salty, and overpriced. The bar snacks, which are little more than your choice of three amuse-bouches for $21, include things like seared yellowtail that is both overcooked and served too cold, and a piquillo pepper filled with raw tuna that tastes like chilled, unflavored Jello. As for the larger plates, the fettuccine fra diavolo is a bit spicy and pretty tasty, but it’s $34 for a small pile of pasta topped with exactly two shrimp. The charred beef is a similarly small portion, and considering the price and size of the dish, it’s reasonable to expect some very high quality meat. And it may well be a premium cut, but there’s no way to tell because it’s topped with blue cheese so dominant it could be paired with wagyu or ground beef and taste about the same.
Gato used to be a celebrity chef restaurant with outstanding food. It’s certainly still a celebrity chef restaurant, but the quality has slipped. Now, we’d suggest you sit at the bar with a date and share some crispy potatoes, Spanish wine, and dessert. You might even spot Bobby Flay mingling around the space, but the food doesn’t taste like he’s the one cooking it anymore.
The bar snacks all sound appealing - with options like an artichoke heart with quail egg and salmon roe, and a piquillo pepper filled with raw tuna - and you can choose any three of them for $21. But they’re much more interesting on paper than on your plate. The lamb tenderloin is dry, the seared yellowtail is cooked to the point that it may as well be overdone cod, and the polenta equates to $7 for a single cube of bland cornmeal.
We’re not here to comment on the fact that these fried potatoes topped with a poached egg and parmigiano cheese are listed under the vegetables section of the menu. We’re here to tell you that they’re really good and should be on your table.
Octopus and bacon are two things we very much enjoy, but they just don’t work very well together in this dish. The octopus itself is pretty tender, but the whole thing is too salty, and the flavor from the octopus is drowned out by the bacon and sauces.
Breakfast food for dinner is an acceptable (or even strongly encouraged) option in general, and these ridiculously gooey, soft scrambled eggs are not an exception. The romesco gives them some spice, the goat cheese makes them rich, and the tomato confit toast provides a far better serving vehicle than those English muffins in your freezer that you can’t remember ever buying.
This pizza is topped with a ton of rich mushrooms, goat cheese, and truffle, and our only complaint is that the toppings are so strong that they overpower the crust, which is soft, chewy, a bit salty, and could definitely be enjoyed totally plain.
We like everything in this dish - the firm noodles, the spice from the fra diavolo, the brininess from the tender shrimp and calamari - but we wouldn’t order it again. It’s pretty good, but it’s not worth $34 for about seven bites of pasta.
If you’re OK with spending $33 for a meatless paella, then this is a must-order. It’s normal for paella rice touching the bottom of the pan to be crunchy, but all of the rice in this dish has that texture. It’s mixed with some wild mushrooms, not-at-all-bitter kale, and crispy artichokes, and all of the flavors work very well together. It’s also topped with a runny egg to keep it from tasting dry, and a runny egg makes just about everything better.
We’re not going to complain about crispy ham or carrot hot sauce being on any plate of food, but it feels like they may just be trying to distract from the fact that the meat itself is dry.
This is the weakest dish here. It consists of dry farro as well as beef that’s neither charred nor particularly tender. The meat is topped with intense blue cheese, which is good on its own, but becomes the dominant flavor to the point that you wouldn’t know if you were actually just eating a $42 burger patty.
If you’re going to get any of the entrees here, it should be this very large and very intensely-flavored pork chop. The polenta and romesco that come on the side aren’t great, so just eat the meat on its own. It’s about as thick as that copy of Infinite Jest you keep telling yourself you’ll eventually finish, but it’s still juicy and rich throughout.
Some aspects of the food here have fallen off, but the desserts definitely have not. You can’t go wrong with any of them - like the not-too-rich espresso bread pudding and the fluffy blood orange cheesecake - but the best option is the apple crostata, which tastes like a caramelized puff pastry filled with cinnamon and fruit, and is topped with brown sugar gelato.