Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Restaurant 15: Gobo (Infinite Feast XVII)

LOCATION: 401 Avenue of the Americas
DATE: May 7, 2005
FOOD: Cranberry Walnut Bread with Sweet Potato Spread (complimentary); Split the following: New England Rolls; White Bean, Root Vegetable and Pumpkin Soup; Yam & Yucca Fries; Green Tea Noodle with Vegan Bolognese Sauce; Butternut Squash Risotto with Toasted Almonds; Carrot Cake with Hard Sake Sauce.
BEVERAGE: 2 oz. shot of Wheat Grass with Lemon
PRICE: $42.00

Flower power, hippies, and free love aren’t as prevalent in 21st century Manhattan as Vietnam War era California (well maybe the free love part, at least let’s hope). But if you needed any further confirmation that the 60s are officially over, the vegan-gone-elegant food of Gobo hammers the point home one final time. Apparently, the baby boomers have beaten the ideals of the Beat Generation into a bloodied, moneyed pulp.

Gobo, located in the West Village, is truly the perfect restaurant for the area. No peace signs or yin-yangs grace the walls, but there is a large Buddha statue resting over the open kitchen, surveying the customers on his way to enlightenment. The atmosphere is somberly tranquil but unromantic, more Zen temple then L’Impero love shack. Gobo seems like a “Sex in the City” restaurant, offering above average vegetarian Asian food stir-fried in West Village wealthy faux-bohemianism. While Gobo can’t provide a transcendent experience, it does prove that going out for vegetarian doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice taste.

I chose Gobo to match the Far-East eclectic influences of Cloud Atlas. Like Mitchell’s luminous novel, Gobo dabbles in multiple genres, crossing the cultural boundaries of Korea, China, Japan, and Pacific Rim to create a more universal aesthetic. But whereas Cloud Atlas is one display of virtuosity after another, Gobo doesn’t quite reach this level of fluent multi-lingualism, doing many things well, but nothing exceptional.

The menu caters to sharers, so Danny and I had no problem sampling a multitude of dishes. The house bread is crusty, thick and delicious, one slice a multi-grain variety, the other a cranberry-walnut to rival (but not quite measure up to) the Modern’s. The Moroccan spiced sweet potato spread accompaniment makes the bread a meal in and of itself, and was a great way to jump start the taste-buds. The pumpkin and bean soup we began with was a drab disappointment though, tasting like the canned vegetable broth which served as the base of many an elementary school soup calamity. I didn’t taste nearly enough of the pumpkin which should have been the featured attraction of the medley.

But the New England rolls and yucca & yam fries that followed quickly made me forget the soup. The fries came with a kicked up dip somewhere between cocktail and sweet and sour sauce. The contrasting textures of the yam and yucca were also interesting, though the yucca was a bit too papery and tough at times, while the yam fries were pure gold (of the non Yukon variety). Filled with soy ham, crunchy vegetables and served in red tortillas, the New England rolls were Mexican in appearance, Far Pacific in flavor, but a success anywhere.

Our entrees came with as many ups and downs as Joan Rivers’ career. The green tea noodles with a vegan Bolognese sauce reminded me of lasagna stripped of everything but sauce, and were excellent, the soy mimicking beef as well as a bean derivative product can. The green tea was more apparent in the color of the noodles than in their flavor but I enjoyed this course nonetheless. The risotto, however, was a study in Moby Dick duality, mildly creamy and sweet in one bite, and mushy and Congee Village porridge like in the next. The kitchen forgot to include the toasted almonds in our order which are supposed to come atop the rice (many of the eaters around us ordered the dish and the almonds were remembered) and Danny and I both agreed this would have made the dish much better, as a hard crunch was needed to offset the rather limp risotto. I don’t think soy milk and soy cheese are suitable substitutes for real and milk and cheese, at least in Italian dishes.

Dessert presented a wide spectrum of possibilities, but unfortunately I selected the poorly. My carrot cake should have been called a loaf, as it was overly firm and as dense as a fruit cake. The nondescript and tasteless sake hard sauce softened the cake, but in a way that freezer burn leaves a frozen waffle mushy even after toasting. Danny’s hazelnut napoleon was a much better choice, sweet hazelnut puree sandwiched between thin wafers.

I also endured a shot of Wheat Grass, ordered more for its novelty than any expectation of pleasure. Its smell of fresh cut grass (was that lawn mower gasoline as well?) was enough to turn my stomach, but its crabgrass taste was something like the gymnastics lesson I took at age four – once, but never, NEVER again.

Gobo is Confucius turned Renaissance man, ready to try its luck in every field rather than perfect one. And while the vegan cooking comes with a dose of yuppie, Gobo is worth a visit, if for nothing else then to at least see for a night how the non-carnivorous live. Gobo succeeds in making it temporarily possible to imagine being a vegetarian, to learn the various gradations of tofu, to contemplate embracing a life of soy and whole grains like Hugh Heffner embraces silicon - but just for a moment. Babbo is located nearly across the street and I as I left Gobo, I suddenly developed a hankering for some beef cheek ravioli.

RATING: 7.0/10

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