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Space Ninety 8: Welcome to the Gorbals

Ilan Hall, winner of Top Chef season 2, star of Knife Fight, and owner of the wildly popular downtown LA restaurant The Gorbals is a long-time friend of Urban Outfitters. Who better, then, to open up a restaurant (and open-air rooftop bar) at our new Brooklyn concept store Space Ninety 8? In Hall’s hands, food is fun, fresh, often irreverent (bacon wrapped matzo balls, anyone?), and always yummy. We caught up with the Long Island native, who has returned home to the East Coast to open The Gorbals’ new Williamsburg outpost, to talk trending ingredients, supermarket sushi, and what we can expect to see on his new menu.

Hi Ilan! Tell us about the concept for The Gorbals at Space Ninety 8.
I like to make food that’s a little bit cheeky, that doesn’t take itself too seriously, but at the end of the day is delicious. We started out the concept for our restaurant in LA with it being based in traditional Jewish food, with elements of pork sprinkled in! I try to keep that attitude in my food. Not that every dish has to have, like, shrimp and hummus—I don’t want to do it for the sake of doing it—but I like food to be fun. Some of it will be a little bit weird and maybe a bit challenging for people, but for the most part I want it to be tasty and really satisfying and for people to maybe eat things they haven’t eaten before. As a chef you want to open people’s eyes to new ingredients or things that are new to them.

So, you’re going beyond the Kale we see on many a Williamsburg menu?
I’m sick of kale for the sake of kale! I think there are so many great vegetables available, I don’t know why kale has had such a boom in popularity. It’s a good green… I just think that the idea of food trends is kind of ridiculous. We’re not going to have a kale salad on our menu, because everyone has a kale salad on their menu. I think that, being a chef, you need to utilize everything that you can. There are no rules. There’s so many types of greens you can use—different types of watercress, chickweed… I sort of want to stay away from bigger trends because it’s easy to get sucked into them. But maybe that’s a bad business decision! Who knows?

What can we expect to see on the menu?
I’m maybe about a third of the way through working on the menu. I’m trying to use things that are really seasonal and maybe a little bit more obscure. Not obscure but, like, less common fish. Most people don’t put bluefish on their menu—bluefish is one of my favorite fish. I’d rather use a skate cheek than a skate wing. I’d rather use a monkfish liver or a monkfish tail. There are so many great parts of an animal, and you don’t have to always use the basic filet. There’s this farm really close to where I grew up on Long Island in Glen Cove that, in the spring and summer, has amazing produce. We’re opening at the best possible time for New York [produce]. There’s peas, ramps, spring garlic, fava beans, soft shell crab, Bouchout mussels from Maine.

How did you approach the design of the space?
Within Space 98 I really wanted to keep the aesthetic of the restaurant soulfully connected to my restaurant in Los Angeles. It’s a bit more rough and rustic in LA, we have this giant 18ft communal table. Here, the focal point is our grill, once that’s fired up it will be the hearth, and heart, of the restaurant. I wanted to go a little bit more polished in terms of the furniture here. A friend made the tables, they’re a bit midcentury-ish. We got the legs from a metal-smith in southern California and and our plates are all organic and rough. I wanted to adapt to the space and have some plants and for it to be more put-together. When we opened up the restaurant in Los Angeles, we opened it with no money, all of our chairs we got at a secondhand place. I’m a father now—it’s time to grow up a little bit! At Space Ninety 8 we had the opportunity to do something that was really beautiful that wouldn’t take away from the old building. I think we did a pretty good job!

How did you come to open The Gorbals inside Space Ninety 8?
I’ve had a relationship with Urban Outfitters for a few years. I’ve done some charity events and some cooking things and hosted a lot of parties for them at my restaurant in LA. I was talking to someone about possibly doing some consulting work on a café here that Urban was thinking of opening and then I said, “That would be a great place for a restaurant!” And now, a year and a half later, we’re in the restaurant. It’s been a dream of mine to come back to New York and Williamsburg is the epicenter of new restaurants right now; it’s where people are doing exciting things, lots of late-night things. It’s similar to the push in New York around 2004 when all these new places were opening up in the East Village and Gramercy Park area—Momofuku and Casa Mono—and it all keeps moving East. We’ve been open in Los Angeles for almost five years, so it was time to come home.

Have you been shopping in the store yet?
I think my wife bought me some jeans! The space is beautiful, they really did a great job. It’s quite lovely. I love the renewal shop downstairs on the first floor, that’s my favorite. You just opened a bar on the roof deck, too.

What’s your poison?
I like to order very simple things at the bar. I like Irish whisky, I like single malt scotch. Lagavulin is my everyday scotch—I don’t like subtle scotch, I like something really smoky, really peaty. I drink gin; I’ll have a gin and tonic. If I’m ordering a cocktail I’ll usually have something that’s gin and a bit bitter.

How does the New York dining scene differ from LA?
New York people are very adamant about what they want, they have very high expectations of service and quality—you can’t really get anything by New Yorkers! New York is one of the most critical food scenes. Everyone works in their first six months towards that New York Times review. I’m not nervous, I just want to offer the best possible product that I can. I want it to be fun; I want people to have a good time when they’re here! Because when I’m cooking, even if it’s stressful or very busy, I still try and have fun, and I want my employees to have fun. That’s why we have an open kitchen—I want our cooks to be part of the party. I want everything to come together in an enjoyable way.

Where do you like to eat in New York?
I love going to Chinatown, I love going to Flushing. In Chinatown I love Great NY Noodletown—they have this balance of simplicity and super-powerful flavors. I have friends with some great restaurants. Casa Mono where I used to work is still probably, pound for pound, my favorite restaurant in New York. It’s tiny and the quality of food they put out is amazing. My friend Dale Talde opened two places in Park Slope—Talde is a really amazing restaurant. It just hits you in the heart, it’s really tasty and sort of Asian with no direct focus. My friend Damon Weiss is the chef at Lafaytte and he’s doing amazing French food on a very large scale. Edi and the Wolf in the East Village is amazing; [it has] Austrain roots—I like food from all over. Every time I have a meal, I’m inspired. I love places in the [Williamsburg] neighborhood: St. Anselm, Café Mogador. I love eating wherever I can, all the time.

What’s your food guilty pleasure?
Supermarket sushi! It’s gross! But there’s something about it. Like, a step below Wholefoods sushi, but not bodega sushi. I don’t know why. It’s gross in theory, and it’s gross in actuality too [laughs]. Because I’ve eaten sushi at the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo at 6am and I’ve had some of the best and… that’s just not acceptable!

Urban Eats: Marble & Milkweed

Started by former pastry chef Briar Winters, Marble & Milkweed crafts beautiful organic and fair-trade teas from a clawfoot bathtub in her apartment in New York City's Lower East Side. From a Green Glow Elixir of Sencha leaves and spearmint to a Modern Chai of South Indian vanilla beans and cinnamon, it's hard not to just see pictures of Marble & Milkweed's teas and want a cup. In addition to selling tea, the shop also sells odds and ends for your dream tea time, like pure botanical fragrances and drinking crystals. Looking at the site, we practically have our kettle already on the stove. —Hazel

Nom Nom November: Gather Journal

Gather Journal, a James Beard Award-winning indie publication dedicated to good food and good conversation, is a feast for the eyes and the appetite. On the eve of the magazine's issue four launch, we talked to editor and co-founder Fiorella Valdesolo, and asked her to share a recipe from the cozy, Cocoon-themed issue, perfect for your Thanksgiving table. 

How did you get involved in the wonderful world of food?
I am a longtime lover and appreciator of all things food-related, but a relative newbie to the so-called food world. My entry point was through Gather Journal, a biannual recipe-driven magazine that I co-founded with my friend, the amazing Michele Outland, in the summer of 2012. The response since our launch has been greater than we could have ever imagined and we are having such a blast dreaming up the content for each issue. Our latest edition, the fall / winter 2014 "Cocoon" issue, is released on November 15th.

What is your idea of the perfect meal?
I can always get down with a bloody steak, oysters and a great bottle of red, but usually the best meals have everything to do with the company; if I'm sharing food with the people I love, that's pretty perfect.

What do you like to cook at home?
I'm first generation Italian and my repertoire at home definitely reflects that. There's a lot of carb love in my house.

Where to you love to go out to eat?
That list is constantly evolving but some of my favorite spots in and around the city right now are Battersby, Locanda Vini e Olii, Nightingale 9, Saraghina, Calliope, Buvette, Ganso (the Chez Jose pop-up in Williamsburg), and breakfast at Fort Defiance.

Sweet tooth or salt fiend?
Salt, salt, salt.

Your guilty food pleasure?
Anything deep fried.

Tell us about the new issue of Gather
The theme for the new fall / winter 2014 edition is Cocoon, and we explore every incarnation of the word—there are recipes that impart a warm, cozy, cocoon-like feeling, and those that visually mimic its wrapped and bundled form. We explore the idea of metamorphosis and renewal through the lens of food; devote a chapter to all things delicate, soft and silken, pay homage to the everlasting appeal of comfort food, and get up close and personal with butchery casings in a weird and wonderful way.

What is your most memorable food experience?
Gosh, that's a tough one. The few times I've managed to score a reservation at the Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare I'm blown away by the food. I had an incredible meal at this tiny, inexpensive restaurant in a village in Piedmont, Italy. Also, anything my nonna cooks is always memorable.

Winter is upon us! How are you keeping cozy this season?
An oversize cableknit Nili Lotan sweater, No. 6 shearling clog boots, and plenty of whiskey and ramen.

Serves 8 - 10

The season’s bounty is on glorious display in this moist cake of juicy, nestled-together pear halves, and currants, figs, and cranberries that have taken a nice, long whiskey bath. We like to think of it as a lazy, fall fruit cake—short on effort, long on pleasure.

1⁄2 cup dried cranberries
2 Tbsp dried currants
4 dried figs
1 cinnamon stick
1⁄2 cup rye whiskey or bourbon
1 & 3⁄4 sticks butter, softened, divided
3⁄4 cup packed light brown sugar
3 pears, halved and cored
1 & 1⁄2 cups all-purpose flour
1 & 1⁄2 tsp baking powder
1⁄4 tsp salt
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1⁄2 cup whole milk

1. Simmer cranberries, currants, and figs in whiskey with cinnamon stick 5 minutes then let stand 1 hour or overnight. Drain, reserving liquid. Slice figs in half.

2. Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly butter sides of a 9-inch cake pan. Smear a layer of butter using 3⁄4 of a stick on bottom of pan. Sprinkle evenly with brown sugar. Arrange pears, cut sides down, and dried fruit over sugar.

3. Stir together flour, baking powder, and salt.

4. Beat granulated sugar and remaining butter with an electric mixer until pale and light. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each. Beat in vanilla and reserved whiskey. On low speed, beat in half of flour mixture, then milk, then remaining flour. Gently spread batter over fruit.

5. Bake until cake is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Let cake stand in its pan set on a rack 10 minutes before inverting onto a plate to cool completely.

Nom Nom November: Sydney Kramer

During the month of November, we will be featuring some of our favorite women in food, gathering their tips on how to keep cozy this winter and sharing a recipe for your Thanksgiving feast. First up: Sydney Kramer, the talented Brooklynite behind food blog Crepes of Wrath. Kramer is a whiz in the kitchen, with a creative take on comfort food (her sea salt chocolate chip cookies won her the Anderson Cooper Cookie Challenge, no less). As a lover of Thanksgiving, we chatted to Sydney about her favorite Holiday dishes and the best Brooklyn dive bars to hit up on Thanksgiving Eve.
Interview by Katie Gregory

(Photos courtesy of Sydney Kramer)

When you were young, what dish did your family make every Thanksgiving?

My mom always made her famous chestnut and sausage stuffing. I loved it and I still do. I usually make it every year now that I’m on my own. I have been known to shamelessly stand in front of the fridge gorging myself on cold stuffing at midnight. It is as delicious cold as it is warm and this is a scientific fact. I still look forward to stuffing the most. I love foods with lots of flavors and textures, so stuffing is my jam.

What is your favorite dish to make these days? Is there anything you make sure you cook every Thanksgiving?

I love making something new for Thanksgiving every year. Last year my favorite dish was David Chang’s fish sauce Brussels sprouts, and this year we’re shunning turkey in favor of fried chicken with crab macaroni and cheese and sweet potato pie. Thanksgiving is a holiday about exciting food, and eating the same thing every year seems like it would get pretty old, which is why I’m sharing this waffle stuffing with you fine folks.

Do you go out the night before Thanksgiving? What is your favorite dive bar to hit up?

Last year we just stayed in and had a few drinks, but I personally love a bar around the corner from my apartment called The Tradesman in Bushwick, which we may end up at this year. We also love Burnside Brooklyn, where you can play shuffleboard and eat cheese curds any day of the week. The night before Thanksgiving is devoted entirely to preparation for the next day. I can’t go hard in the club two days in a row, so I always leave Wednesday night for baking and chopping and getting myself ready for what I believe is the best day of the year.

The Recipe:

Waffle, Maple & Sausage Stuffing
with cranberries and walnuts

Total Prep & Cooking Time: 1 hour 30 minutes

10-15 waffles (I used 10 large Belgian waffles, which is about 8 cups), cubed into 1-inch pieces
2 pounds breakfast sausage (think Jimmy Dean’s – this is America!)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 onions, finely chopped
5 stalks celery, thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
1 cup dried cranberries
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon ground sage
4-5 cups chicken stock
1 cup maple syrup, plus more for drizzling
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, finely cubed
Sea salt, for sprinkling

1. Use your favorite waffle recipe to make your waffles, or buy frozen Belgian waffles. Cook them according to the package directions. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F, cube the waffles into bite-size pieces, then place on two baking sheets and toast in the oven for 10-15 minutes until crisp. Allow to cool completely.

2. In a heavy bottomed pan, crumble in your sausage and turn the heat to medium-high. Cook the sausage, breaking it up with a wooden spoon, until lightly browned and cooked through. Remove sausage from the pan and place on a plate lined with paper towels to drain. Add in 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter over medium heat, then add in the chopped onions and celery. Cook until softened, about 5-6 minutes, then add the garlic and cook for another minute or so, until fragrant. Remove from heat.

3. In a large bowl, toss together the toasted waffle cubes, sausage, onion mixture, walnuts, cranberries, salt, thyme, sage, and 4 cups of chicken stock. Toss together, and add another cup of chicken stock if necessary. Pour in the maple syrup and toss to combine.

4. Press the stuffing into a well buttered 9 x13-inch pan (if you have extra, divide the stuffing between the 9x13-inch pan and an 8x8-inch pan) and drizzle with additional maple syrup and a sprinkle of sea salt. Bake at 400 degrees F for 15-20 minutes, until golden and crispy. You may need an additional 5 minutes or so, depending on your oven. Serve warm alongside your Thanksgiving feast!