Quick, when you see the word "Gorbals," what comes to mind? A deadly disease from the Middle Ages (as in: Egad, he's got the gorbals!)? A cuddly but vicious gorilla-gerbil hybrid? Or a new restaurant in downtown L.A. named after a neighborhood in Glasgow, Scotland, that was once home to much of the city's Jewish population?
As much as you might be inclined to think the former two, the answer is actually the latter. The restaurant, which opened Friday, is the oddball creation of Ilan Hall, Season 2's winner of "Top Chef." It is located in a simple white room -- with vintage molding, an open kitchen and rustic wooden tables -- off the recently renovated lobby of the historic Alexandria hotel at the corner of 4th and Spring streets in downtown Los Angeles.
According to the handsome and bespectacled chef, who was born to a Scottish father and an Israeli mother, that would be serving a variety of small plates heavily influenced by his mixed ethnic background -- but without adhering to any rules of tradition or decorum when it comes to their creation. One such dish is a bacon-wrapped matzo ball, which could be the punch line for a joke beginning, "A rabbi and a pig walk into a bar . . . ."
But the menu as a whole is not a gag.
Complex and hearty offerings include a lamb breast confit with traditional rarebit sauce on toast, served with fresh mint and grilled lime; Manischewitz-braised pork belly with spicy mustard on clapshot (a mixture of mashed potatoes and mashed turnips with chives and butter); gefilte fish and chips (deep-fried and served with dill-infused vinegar); and a cucumber-avocado salad (basically cucumber spears slathered in fresh chunks of avocado and garnished with a delicate fried sesame leaf).
The house drink is, of course, Scotch whiskey. The Scotches -- including Highland Park, Lagavulin, Macallan and Talisker -- were hand-picked by Hall's father, whom Hall credits for his love of cooking. "He still cooks dinner for my mom every night," Hall says.
On the morning of the Gorbals' opening, Hall is a touch manic, alternately complaining about a man who threw a juice box on the ground ("I love it when people litter right in front of my restaurant"), praising the emerging downtown landscape ("It's one of the most real places in L.A."), and becoming excited about certain passersby: "Oh my God, a rabbi just walked by me!"
What would he think of your bacon-wrapped matzo ball? "I don't know, but I wanted to ask."
Where: 501 S. Spring St., L.A.
When: 5:30 p.m. to midnight Tuesdays to Thursdays and Sundays; 5:30 p.m. to 2 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays
Price: Small plates, $5 to $15; Scotch, cocktail, beer and wine prices are pending.
Contact: (213) 488-3409; www.thegorbalsla.com