When Victoria Blamey interviewed in March for the job of executive chef at Gotham Bar and Grill, a Greenwich Village fixture for 35 years, she had never eaten there. She didn’t even know the kind of food it served. So she came in for dinner. The difference from her cooking “was night and day,” she said.
Where her style is boldly creative, these dishes — like miso-marinated black cod, and goat-cheese ravioli — were rich and reminiscent of a former era in fine dining, served on white dishes, on white tablecloths.
“I was more confused than anything,” she said. “Our styles were so far. What I kept saying is, ‘I think you guys missed a generation.’”
To its many fans, Gotham is a New York institution — best-known for its former chef, Alfred Portale, and the tuna tartare and towering chocolate cakes he popularized in the 1980s and ’90s. (Mr. Portale left in May to prepare for the opening of his own restaurant, Portale, but remains a partner in Gotham.)
“She is passionate, she is driven, she is disciplined and she represents a contemporary approach,” said Bret Csencitz, the managing partner of Gotham Bar and Grill. “We wanted a new voice.”
Mr. Csencitz and the owners — Jerry Kretchmer, Jeff Bliss, Rick Rathe and Robert Rathe — went looking for a creative, ambitious chef, and told Ms. Blamey she had full license to update the menu. She has completely overhauled it. “I wouldn’t be doing justice to myself if we kept anything on the menu,” even the signature dishes, she said.
Her approach is more innovative and multicultural. There will be yellowtail crudo paired with a purée of smoked avocado, fish sauce, cilantro and milk, and Wagyu beef glazed with a veal jus blended with tomato water, coriander seed, glucose and lovage. There may also be some version of chupe, a thick stew from her native Chile.
The bar menu will be more casual, “with a lot of Chumley’s,” Ms. Blamey said, including a burger laced with bone marrow.
Then there are smaller adjustments, like cooking pasta to order instead of before service. As for the vertical plating style Mr. Portale made famous at the restaurant, “no one wants to see that right now,” she said flatly.
Ms. Blamey is also replacing many of the white plates with colorful ceramics, and removing the tablecloths from the bar tables. The brown-hued crown moldings will be painted off-white, to lend an airier feel. (The fabric-covered hanging lamps will stay.)
“I want to see people being more loose,” she said. “I want the bar to be buzzing with people who are my age, eating oysters or having a beautiful rillette.”
Ms. Blamey’s kitchen staff is a mixture of longtime Gotham employees and new hires whom she worked with at other restaurants. “A lot of people left” once she started, she said — perhaps because of her gender, she speculated, or her desire to make major changes.
She is certain that the restaurant — which Sam Sifton awarded three stars in 2011, the last time The New York Times reviewed it — will draw fresh attention from restaurant critics. That’s the only part of the job she finds slightly intimidating.
“But I can do this,” she said. “You bring in younger, ambitious people, and this is what you get.”
Gotham Bar and Grill 12 East 12th Street, gothambarandgrill.com.