By David Minsky
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Even locals, who might have heard that Gotham City is south Palm Beach County's hottest new restaurant, can be misguided. Pictures of the design elements show Brazilian hardwood floors, sheer flowing draperies, goth candelabra, oversize banquettes, and light fixtures that look like dozens of dinosaur eggs glued together. You might suspect the lounge to be a cozy den for Korn-worshiping club kids. Or if you saw only the nip-tuck clientele, whose facial skin is as tight as their clothes and who parade as if in search of serial spouses, you might think of Gotham City less as a scene than a place to be reseen. Or had you merely considered its pedigree -- owner David Manero is a restaurant-industry magnate whose other projects have included Sopra -- you might aim, as I did, for trendy Atlantic Avenue. Then you'd be, as I was, lost... literally and metaphorically.
Gotham City is actually on the west side of town, located in the Addison Shoppes in an area colloquially labeled "country club row," just north of the Boca Raton border. Directly across is Henry's, restaurateur Burt Rapoport's well-populated neighborhood spot. These aren't likely environs for an establishment that could be a doppelgänger for South Beach's Tantra.
Yet Gotham City doesn't merely exist here -- it makes "here" exist. The customers seek, but they also find. Prices are high, but portions are big. The saxophone player who roams the bar area, playing tableside whether you want him to or not, may have money clipped to his belt -- hint, hint -- but his honeyed tone and quick riffs are worth the fiver necessary to impress your date. And while the menu is a virtual blog of geographically oriented appellations -- San Marzano tomatoes, Chicago Stockyard beef, black Canadian mussels -- it's also rife with the promise of items like house-made mozzarella and just-picked basil.
Quality is the follow-through for such billed assurances. We scored with dramatically presented appetizers that included a pair of gargantuan stone crab claws served with a key lime mustard sauce. I'm not such a fan that I make every effort to source the claws on the very first day of season; indeed, in late October and November, I've often been disappointed by specimens that had been left lingering in someone's freezer from the previous season. But providence brought us to Gotham at the launch of season, when our obviously well-trained server smartly declaimed the claws wonder near the top of a lengthy list of specials (that she was clearly delighted to have memorized and delivered without pause). Mild and sweet, without the extra squeeze of water that comes from being defrosted, these claws tasted as if we might, unlike in 2002-03, be in for a good year. The mustard sauce, however, could have used an extra notch of flavor.
More novelty arrived in the form of a Kobe beef "sizzler" plate. An aside might be necessary here. Kobe beef is the highly prized stuff from Japan that is gleaned from a breed of cattle called Wagyu. Though technically only beef that is imported from that island nation should be called this, ranches in other countries also raise Wagyu cattle and designate the flesh as Kobe. In the American West, there are at least four large companies that have begun to purvey to private restaurants as well as the mail-order public. Thus, while Publix probably won't be carrying this particular grade and breed of meat, we are beginning to see an increase in meat from Wagyu cattle on the menus of high-end restaurants like Gotham City.
Whether Gotham's Kobe is "authentic" as the menu states, which implies that it was imported from Japan, or raised domestically, as our server acknowledged, doesn't really matter. What does? Cost versus taste, because regardless of a bit of newfound availability, this stuff is still truly tony. For $20, we were brought four centimeter-thin slices of supple raw beef along with a chili-peanut dipping sauce and a flaming konro (Japanese for stove). On top, a large stone was heated and waiting to sear the meat, which we did. Cooking carpaccio on rocks isn't easy, as we discovered by peeling the first slice of seared meat morsel by morsel. If you do the math, that's about a buck per molarful.
For the remaining pieces, I greased the rock with oil from the ramekin that accompanied the basket of crusty European breads and thin flatbreads, and for my resulting cook-and-release efforts, I was rewarded with a compliment from the waitress. "Most people don't know how to do it," she confided. Given her statement, the strength of the breezes from the constantly swinging doors, and the length of the curtains that enclose many of the tables, if I were Manero, I'd keep the Kobe but skip the fiery prep. Surely culinary director Bobby Lane and his kitchen can come up with a quickly seared Kobe beef dish that isn't an invitation to a lawsuit.