Gotham Steak House and Bar, Vancouver.

July 2017.

My friend Henry and I have a tradition we call “carnivore’s dinner” around Christmas. So far we have always gone to Hy’s here in town because we are being conservative (in my case trying it on, in his it’s genuine). Gotham however both would take a customer’s bottle of wine with a $50 corkage charge, and had an outdoor venue which was perfect because we were adding a summer version of this delightful event.

We arrived at 5:30 (we like to eat early and get home to bed), and were nicely welcomed and ushered to the patio at the side of the restaurant I had requested when I made the reservation. The patio is a little-bit harsh city space, but set up beautifully with wooden tables, linen napkins and nice flatware. It was almost empty when we arrived, early as we were, but filled up pretty much completely by 7:30 when we left. This alfresco rectangle didn’t have the studied elegance of the rooms inside: some big building nearby blowing a loud  intrusive exhaust fan and the surroundings flat backsides of other buildings.

Server was a young middle-aged lady who presented herself as knowledgeable about the wine, and told us she had been working there for 11 years. She was anxious, and also needed my help finding her way through the wine list, but was attentive and not hurried or presumptuous. I guess I kind of expected a bit slicker savoir-faire from someone who has spent a decade in this kind of place.

Prices are high. We each had a martini, and then launched into the main course of a sirloin strip steak for Henry and a bone-in rib steak for me (the smaller of the two rib steaks), about $63 each. We added (you pay just for the steak, accompaniments are extra) onion rings, a boiled cheese-coated and au-gratined cauliflower, and some cheese bread. These were plentiful but pretty ordinary considering the prices and pretense of this restaurant. We were out the door a fairly happy hour-and-a-half later minus $220 each with a 20% tip.

The vodka (I had Grey Goose) martinis were just fine, but as I’ve said before why the hell don’t restaurant people put the cocktail hard liquor in a freezer and do away with this stupid shaking with ice that just waters the alcohol and flavour down and fills the cocktail with shards?

The high point of this dinner unquestionably was the meat and I loved it. I had set myself a goal of trying to compare the beef they serve here with what we were used to getting at Hy’s for about half the price. The next day, thinking back, I’m pretty convinced this was among the best beef I’ve had. So yes! You can come to this over-the-top conservative place and get a fabulous steak for a somewhat blistering price. The “small” rib steak practically covered the plate and  I was stuffed to satisfaction before we left. Every bite was packed with juicy beef pleasure and I carved and gobbled my way through my steak so happily I nearly lost touch with my surroundings.

It might have partly been the wine. I had looked over what I had in my small wine fridge in town and decided I’d buy the bottle at the restaurant. Once our server figured out that I was pissy about wine, she disarmingly (after talking she said to another server who understood the list better – the sommelier was away on vacation) changed her mind about the Laughingstock bordeaux blend she had recommended. We went for a Sesti Sangiovese Rosso di Montalcino 2007 for $106, which was a sexy aging Tuscan from a very good year: tiled and summer-fragrant and a slim persistent mouthful cutting through the beef fat. The wine list by the way is huge and the online version is meticulously organized: searchable by region, subregion, price range, varietal, etc. Things bottom out at around $70 but high flyers can pay $4500 for the otherwise unobtainable Screaming Eagle Cabernet 2013. I estimate the markups are probably just beyond 50% which is fair.

Too bad the outdoor space is noisy with that fan, and doesn’t look and feel like some French garden tucked away in the dix-septieme Paris which would do justice to the luxury of the indoors and the sybaritic pretense this place does its best to ooze. Henry and I differed a bit on whether it’s worth the price. He wants to go back to Hy’s. I would say the value might not be so bad in the winter if you sat inside and had just a steak and a not-outrageously-priced bottle.

It is, whatever, one hell of a steak house. Maybe one of the two or three best destinations in town these days for a big splash if you’re not looking for haute cuisine. I might see if Robin can be talked into it for our next anniversary. Food 9.3 (selectively: stick to the steaks), service 8.0, ambience hard to call (inside better than outside), value 8.2, peace and quiet probably 8.0 indoors.

About John Sloan

John Sloan is a senior academic physician in the Department of Family Practice at the University of British Columbia, and has spent most of his 40 years' practice caring for the frail elderly in Vancouver. He is the author of "A Bitter Pill: How the Medical System is Failing the Elderly", published in 2009 by Greystone Books. His innovative primary care practice for the frail elderly has been adopted by Vancouver Coastal Health and is expanding. Dr. Sloan lectures throughout North America on care of the elderly.
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