Rich: The Gorbals is located in a place on North Six called “Space Ninety 8.” Outside, Space Ninety 8 has a list of all of its constituent businesses: Urban Outfitters, the Gorbals, Roof Deck, Gallery 98, and the Market Space. But do not be fooled: This is a giant, three floor Urban Outfitters with, like, some other shit—including a high-end restaurant in which you can eat a whole pig’s head while listening to an in-store band perform surf-rock-revival revival jams.
Caity: It’s impossible to remember what this restaurant is called or where it is located or how to get anywhere near the area where it might possibly be because all of its identifying information sounds like it was lifted directly from the prologue of a sci-fi novel. The Tronba is located in Quadrant D, West Outlands, inside Structure 6Q-1. As soon as I would finish reading the address on Google Maps, I would forget it again. I got lost during the walk from the subway. It was a four minute walk.
The best restaurant in New York is
The Gorbals in Urban Outfitters Williamsburg.
À la carte.
Cost before tip, including cocktails:
Caity: Every employee I encountered as I entered Space Ninety 8 seemed a little surprised to see me, like I was a vacuum salesman who had wandered into their living room. They waited with anxious smiles for me to make clear to them why I had come.
Rich: My experience in this Williamsburg establishment was, hmmm how to put it...EXTREMELY WILLIAMSBURG. I walk in and stand by the podium. In the dining room, one table is occupied. There are two waiters milling about. There is a bartender at the bar on the left, and a woman walking around carrying a ladder that is twice her height repeating, “I’m graceful like a swan,” as though it’s a mantra. I stand and wait. No one says anything. I get so bored, I look at the screen with the reservations on it. There are four for the entire night.
Caity: If you had taken a little initiative in that moment and started corralling employees, you might be the manager today. Sad.
Rich: When the hostess finally approaches me, she asks if my whole party is there. It is not. But it is on the way. (You are “it,” Caity. You’re it!) “We usually prefer to seat complete parties,” she says, telling me to sit at the bar. ONE TABLE WAS TAKEN IN THE RESTAURANT. I could have laid across several tables and disturbed no one.
So I sit at the bar, positioning myself in front of a bin of empty juice bottles, as if to say, “I’m only here because she made me.” And I guess it worked, because no one came by to take my drink order. I ended up in the men’s department, which conveniently is on the same floor as the restaurant. I saw a Stussy shirt that I really want.
Caity: While you were busy shoppaaaang, I arrived and said to the hostess “Hi, I’m meeting a friend here for dinner.” She seemed surprised and confused but happy for me. “I don’t know if he’s here yet,” I added, peering into the nearly empty restaurant. She also seemed to have no idea if he was. Then I received a text from him informing me he was “in men’s.”
The food and beverage offering presented on the Gorbals menu are fancy but due to the fact they are served in a dining area directly adjacent to the men’s department of an Urban Outfitters, the restaurant itself is not.
Rich: It’s fancy in the way that your grandma’s new porch with a TV on it is fancy.
Caity, do you like Williamsburg?
Rich: I love Williamsburg. I love the bridge (running over it). I love the water (so cooling). I love the 10-minute subway ride to Union Square. I love that I can walk a few blocks to get a $5 coffee in one direction or a $15 haircut by a man who doesn’t speak a word of English if I walk in another. It’s clean, and then it’s dirty, and then it’s clean again. It’s a home away from home, except it is my home. I guess the people are what you are supposed to hate, but you know what? I don’t pay attention to them. I don’t know them.
Until I do. Grindr is wonderful in Williamsburg.
Caity: I think if you love Williamsburg you are those people.
Rich: Come to Williamsburg! You can eat an artisanal blueberry magpie, get your dick sucked, and maybe get in a fight.
Caity: None of that happened to us but our first few minutes at our table were soundtracked from below by an in-store band performing a deafeningly loud sound check next to a rack of women’s rompers.
Also, we were served mussels on a bed of tiny stones.
Rich: “Don’t eat the stones,” said a server whose hair was slowly dreading on purpose or just hadn’t been washed in six months (she was white). I wanted to say, “What makes you think I think I could eat the stones, boo?”
Caity: I felt it was an odd choice to serve a food that already resembles small stones on a plate of small stones. In fact, I wanted to eat a couple just to prove to her that I do what I want and she’s not my mom.
Rich: Serving mussels on stones is a fun trick to play on someone with cataracts. I’m sure they get a lot of those at the Gorbals: I thought we were buying gerbils.
Caity: (I don’t know if we’ll put this in the post, but I pocketed two stones.)
Rich: (You’re wild. You’re wiiiiild! They did seem like nice stones.)
Caity: As you and I were photographing the mussels with our cellphones, I explained to you that a new thing I like to do (that I have done twice) is sort of get down on the level of the food and photograph it from that vantage poi—-the dash in the middle of this sentence represents the moment I dropped my phone onto all of the plates and all of silverware in the restaurant simultaneously, and the resulting clanging, banging cacophony was so loud that I thought we might be asked to leave. It was the only thing louder than the band (which had by that point stopped playing).
Rich: I think everyone in the restaurant, all 10 of us including the chefs, just thought your clattering cacophony was a Bjork b-side.
Our waiter, who was cut from marble and VERY we’re-in-a-show-about-Williamsburg beautiful, told us that the chef suggests we share dishes. I explained to him that I only eat fish so we can’t really do that strictly. His eyes were so kind, so understanding.
Caity: I did not like that the mussels were cold. What am I, an otter?
Rich: Yes, you are so cute and I have often fantasized about keeping you in my bathtub.
Caity: Temperature aside, they tasted good.
Rich: They were so good. Tomato-y. Not gritty. I thought serving them like oysters (though they were clearly cooked) was very cute. I felt like a little girl having a tea/oyster party.
Caity: (Update: I just re-found one of the stones I pocketed on my desk, assumed it was a Milk Dud—from a box of Milk Duds that does not exist—and picked it up to pop it in my mouth.)
The next few dishes that arrived after the mussels were ones you ordered for yourself. All plants. Meanwhile, I was like “What am I a plant?” LOL.
Sugar peas! Snap peas! English peas! Whole peas! Tendrils! Flowers! Charred! Pureed! I don’t even like peas that much. But this made me a pea-liever.
Caity: If I ran a restaurant, the menu would have one item on it: No peas any ways! And when you ordered, the waiter (not me; I am the owner/manager) would bring you a cheeseburger.
Rich: We also had the cucumbers, avocado, pickled and crispy garbanzo, which I quite liked. Especially the crispy garbanzos which were like compressed butter dust.
Caity: I believe it was on that second plate of plants when—of nowhere—you just started singing “I looove this restauraaaaant!” very quietly to yourself. I don’t even know if I was meant to hear it.
Rich: I was ready to hate the Gorbals for the following reasons:
1. It’s called the Gorbals.
2. It’s in Urban Outfitters.
3. No one seemed to have any idea what they were doing, and that included interacting with other humans and not just ladders, when I arrived.
4. The menu is absurd.
5. A band was playing.
But nope sorry, I love it. I love the Gorbals.
I think maybe the alcohol helped heat things up, as it often does. “My Son of a Gun” (Mezcal, tequila, pear puree, lime, almond syrup, mole bitters) was thicker and creamier than I was expecting, but that was great. It’s like the drink knew me personally and was aware of how I like my liquids to come.
Caity: Cool, and then pull your glasses down toward the tip of your nose and wiggle them.
I got a drink, too, since we had to go for dinner rather than lunch. (The Space 98 website lists conflicting hours of operation for the restaurant but in fact it appears to only be open for dinner.)I asked our waiter to sing me his sweetest song in the form of a cocktail, and he suggested “The Darby” which is made with rum and strawberries. It was good. It wasn’t $12 good. But then, nothing I own is.
[We didn’t have any good pictures of the drinks because we were drunk. - CW]
Rich: Yes, you asked for a “very, very, very sweet cocktail,” and all I could think was, “Never change, Weaver!” Inside of you is a child sipping Shirley Temples. Never let that child die.
Caity: I love Shirley Temples but many bars simply do not have the grenadine. Best place to get a Shirley Temple in America: Red Lobster. Tell ‘em Caity sent ya.
Rich: Oh, do I agree.
Caity: Tell ‘em Caity and Rich sent ya.
Rich: Our third vegetable dish, was “fermented celery broth, apples crispy parm.” Wow, what a knockout.
Our waiter explained to us that the fermented celery broth—actually a concoction of fish juice and celery juice—is a recreation of an old Roman recipe. I wanted to ask if the apparent marble he was cut from was also a Roman recreation.
Caity: And I said, “And then you put a cheese cracker on it.” And he said, “Yes.”
Rich: I’d put a cheese cracker on it, all right. (His eyes were so kind.)
The cheese cracker was just wonderful, clearly the product of baking shaved parmesan on wax paper. I just loved it. It’s making me want to use food-writing jargon that I don’t use, that’s how good it was.
Everything complemented everything.
Caity: The cold celery water tasted like you left celery in water and then served me that water. I liked the cheese cracker.
Rich: Mmmm celery water. Perfect summer cooler. For dinner, I got the porgy. Apparently, this was the milder of the two options I proposed to our waiter (I PROPOSED TO OUR WAITER). The halibut cheeks are as intense as they sound, apparently. I wouldn’t know. I was chomping on crispy fish. It was good, but not as awe-inspiring as the vegetables.
Caity: Oh, brother. Let me tell you about the tragedy of my meal: Because I thought it would be the funniest thing to order—apart from “Whole roasted pig’s head, (for sharing),” which I was not hungry enough to eat on my own—I ordered “Beef marrow, hen of the woods, creamed walnuts.”
Caity: This meal was technically cooked to perfection. I think.
Rich: Who can be sure? What is any of that supposed to be like? Does anyone know?
Caity: The problem is: beef marrow is not a texture I can handle.
I can’t handle it.
I CAN’T HANDLE IT.
The thing is, I knew going in that texture would be a challenge and I ordered it anyway because I was there for work not a funfair.
Rich: “This is absolutely my least favorite texture of anything ever. This is a really bad time for me.”
That is what you said.
Caity: I agree with her. I ended up having to swallow the pieces whole, like shots.
Rich: You joked, “Do I eat the bone?” but now I see it was a cry for help.
Caity: I did chew on the bone briefly, to make you smile.
Rich: It did. You were a good dog!
Caity: I preferred the rock hard texture of the bone to the warm, gelatinous solid of the marrow.
Surprise #2 was that “Hen of the Woods” is not a fearless feral chicken that must be tracked and captured. IIIIIIIT’S MUSHROOOOOOOOOOOM!
Rich: “Now that they mention it,” you said, frowning at your plate, “I guess chicken doesn’t live in the woods.”
There is another thing like that with a misleading name, but I can’t remember what it is.
Caity: There are lots of things like that. For instance: ALL PLANTS. Baby’s breath is not literally the expirations of a baby. Bachelor’s buttons are not literally the buttons Taylor Berman uses to fasten his humble rags together.
Rich: A weeping willow isn’t crying ALL the time.
Caity: I felt like a true goddamn moron.
Rich: For dessert, more spectacular things happened in our mouths.
Caity: We ordered “sticky toffee pudding, vanilla ice cream, maldon salt” and “brownie, Vidalia caramel, candied onions.” The candied onions were my favorite part of the dessert. All vegetables should be candy. The Vidalia caramel was my least favorite part. No candy should be vegetables.
Rich: Onions and chocolate sounds disgusting and I suppose it is, but it worked really well. I’m trying to think of what it’s like exactly, but no comparison does it justice. Chocolate and onions is a new standard in unlikely combinations that somehow work. It is the Sam and Diane of my stomach.
Caity: The brownie was a little dry. The sticky toffee pudding was a little dry too. But I wasn’t upset at any of it. Everything that went wrong felt like my fault. I made the call. I thought a brownie served with onion sauce could be cool. I thought hens lived in the forest.
Is Everything Okay?
Questions about the Dining Experience
Would you go back?
Rich: Yes, I would go back because it is just down the lane from my apartment and I really want that Stussy shirt!
Caity: Did I enjoy my meal? Eh, not really. Would I go back? Absolutely.
Is it a good first date spot?
Rich: It was a wonderful first date with my beautiful waiter and I look forward to seeing (read: eye-fucking) him again.
Caity: If someone brought me to Urban Outfitters on our first date, that would also be our last date. Imagine, twenty years from now, bringing your kids back to that place.
“See that building where the Urban Outfitters is? That’s where your father and I had our first date.”
What was it back then, Mom?
“It was an Urban Outfitters.”
Is it a good place to have an affair?
Rich: I say yes. There are so many nooks and crannies, so many lotions to use as lube, so much everything going on that you would just blend into the general performative ambiance of the space.
Caity: No. Even though there is almost no one there, there are just enough people around that everyone is extremely aware of everyone else’s presence. It is not romantic. It is a great place to have a business lunch if you already work at Urban Outfitters.
Is it a good place to bring a doll?
Rich: Yeah, I think it is. If you carry around a doll, people would think you were either being retro, or ironic, or unique, or any number of the things that make Williamsburg the vibrant, always slightly annoying, but you know FUN and FREE place that it is.
Caity: Yes. You should order your meal in the doll’s voice so that when they bring you out a plate of unexpected developments, you can just say “Oh, she didn’t know that Hen of the Woods was mushrooms. I’m sorry. She’s literally the dumbest idiot,” and send it back.
There are a bunch of restaurants in the world, including some in New York City. But in a city of over 24,000 restaurants, how do you find the best? You begin your search in places that are already popular: New York’s hottest tourist destinations. In The Best Restaurant in New York Is, writers Caity Weaver and Rich Juzwiak attempt to determine the best restaurant in New York.
Previously: The Best Restaurant in New York Is: The Central Park Boathouse; The Tommy Bahama Store; The Bronx Zoo; The Armani Store; The Crown Cafe at the Statue of Liberty; The Campbell Apartment inside Grand Central; The U.N. Delegates Dining Room; Play at the Museum of Sex; Le Train Bleu inside Bloomingdales; LOX at The Jewish Museum; The American Girl Café
[Images by Rich Juzwiak / Caity Weaver / The Gorbals]