Gotham Bar and Grill: Chef Alfred Portale made a name for himself in the 1990s with "tall food" and its soaring, dramatic presentations. Today, the food is lower on the plate but still delicious as the chef enters his 27th year in the kitchen. As for the restaurant, well, Gotham Bar and Grill remains a must-do in Manhattan, an eatery whose menu, service, decor and vibe work together seamlessly. All these years later, my pulse still races a bit as I scurry through Greenwich Village in the gathering dusk and see a golden glow spilling out onto East 12th Street through the broad glass windows of this former antiques store. Gotham keeps its look as fresh as the food, which has a sophisticated American accent that stresses seasonality. The restaurant's website notes there are periodic updates of the dining room, the menu covers and the killer art collection so the place "remains always vibrant and ever-current." That translates into soaring ceilings, plush upholstery, towering floral arrangements, plenty of white paint and theatrical lighting. Yet it's also a surprisingly private experience. Even with every table taken, there still seems to be a relaxed feel. Attentive staffers never seem rushed; they seem as though they have all the time to devote to you. Gotham Bar and Grill, 12 E. 12th St. (between Fifth Avenue and University Place). 212-620-4020. gothambarandgrill.com.
Bill Daley/Tribune photo