by Mike Sula
Carter's put together a tight menu of sharable plates, appetizers, and entrees with a varied but not terribly adventurous array of stuff (steamed mussels, grilled flatbread, crispy pork belly, ricotta ravioli, a steak, tagliatelle, etc) geared toward casting as wide a net as possible. Its range and variety aren't going to frighten anyone in the neighborhood, unless they happen to order two particularly discouraging sandwiches I had the misfortune to work my way through: an arid, dense bacon cheeseburger with too little fat to help force it down, and a porchetta sandwich, built like a shawarma, but with dry slices of pork eased only by a surplus of creamy sage-seasoned aioli and some pickled fennel strips. This sat on a doughy platform, called "Italian bread," that performed like an undercooked pizza crust.
On the other hand, the bartender know hows to make a balanced, stirred manhattan with quality spirits (Old Weller, Carpano Antica), which is more than you can say for pretty much any bar in the neighborhood, and there's also a terrific dessert, a trio of apple-cobbler fritters served with caramel and vanilla ice cream.
But I came away with one indelible memory: an exceptional brandade, the whipped spread of rehydrated salt cod, potato, garlic, and cream, native to the Mediterranean coasts of a handful of European countries.
Here it arrives in jar, light and fluffy, crowned with a few fingerling potato chips, alongside a small measure of lemon confit and roasted garlic. But the key to the success of this dish is the warm potato blini that arrive with it, thick, hot, and complementarily fluffy. There's more than enough supplied to empty out the jar with, so you might find yourself looking for a way to smuggle the remainder out the door. But I bet you can just ask.
The quality of these flapjacks is duplicated in the corn cakes that come with an order of thick, stout-spiked short rib and pinto bean chili, garnished with dabs of yogurt and crunchy house-made corn nuts. Just like the blini, these are hot, light, fluffy, and served in a quantity more than enough to handle the job. If Gather ever opens for brunch, my first order of business will be pancakes.
Gather, 4539 N. Lincoln, 773-506-9300, gatherchicago.com