The restaurant has the dubious distinction of being the product of two former failures combine. The space is in the gravesite of the restaurant formerly known as Alison 18 (RIP) and some of the key players behind it are from Manzanilla (RIP) which was a wonderful restaurant that caught a kiss of death one star review from the NY Times. Such a crime, because their reviews are about as accurate as Yelp half the time. Manzanilla was a gem that shined far brighter than scores of other places in the city that boast an embarrassment of adulation, undeservedly so if you ask me. Babbo, Per Se, Eleven Madison Park and Union Sq. Café are among the first to come to mind.
So as a result of my deep love for Manzanilla, I was REALLY pulling for these guys to rise like a phoenix from the ashes and send a big “Fuck You” to the sycophant at the Times.
Well, sadly I did not get my way. The Gander, while it has its moments, is no Manzanilla. The décor, is appointed nicely here and there, but feels a bit barren and cavernous somehow in the main dining room. As though they aren’t quite done decorating just yet.
The service was also a bit sloppy. One of the bus boys spilled oil on my sport coat and tried to slink away as though he didn’t notice. So definitely off to a bad start comparatively to the past. The service at Manzanilla was excellent and the décor was beautiful. So now I shifted all of my hopes toward the food, which had been getting rave reviews from people at work.
Well, I have since fired those people. KIDDING! But the food was very hit and miss. Not a total disaster. There were some highlights. The fist being my blood orange tea cocktail. Another being the Sea Trout Tartar, beautifully presented, loaded with brightness and acidity. But the runaway success of the night was the suckling pig, prepared in a very traditional Mediterranean sauce of herbed olive oil and lemon. So good.
The angel food cake dessert wasn’t bad either, but it shouldn’t exactly make the highlights list, or the lowlights for that matter. It really falls somewhere in the middle.
Now for the lowlights. I personally would skip the much touted Buffalo sweet breads. They taste like fried batter with Buffalo sauce. You get absolutely nothing of the gland itself, so what’s the point? I mean even with Buffalo wings you at least get the chicken meat!
Another highly acclaimed miss was the Brisket Tots. Their issue was dryness. And truth be told, not very flavorful either. The only saving grace for the dish are these tiny shaved coins of apple when eaten together with a tot, brings the much needed moisture back to the dish, making them in fact worthy. The problem is that the apple to tot ratio is not is not a favorable one.
And last but not least, my biggest gripe of the night, the Brown Butter Ravioli. This dish is SO small it is laughable that of all the pastas on the menu this is the only one that isn’t offered as an app portion. Only as a main. But I defy anyone to tell me that this is an entrée. Literally comprised of three underwhelming dumplings for 14 dollars. It’s basically 5 dollars a bite! You’d think it had truffles or something. So overpriced and underwhelming. They should be embarrassed to serve a dish like that, that’s how bad it was for the money.
Sorry Gander. I wanted to love you so bad. Hopefully third time’s a charm.