Gotan Gives Life to Midtown Lunch Scene

Sunlight flows through the skylight, illuminating exposed brick and greenery. I need to pinch myself when I remember I’m still on 46th Street in Midtown Manhattan. A mere .1 miles from my office building. 528 feet from my glum desk and cubicle, I’ve found a unicorn – a healthy, relaxing, delicious coffee shop with reasonable prices. A respite from Chick-Fil-A, Pret a Manger and Europa Café.

I stopped one afternoon and as I peered into this West-village-esque coffee shop, I was waved in by a friendly employee and welcomed to look at the menu. I took a copy, took a business card, and told them I would love to write about them on my blog. A few days later, I found myself shaking hands with Avi Camchi and Arnon Magal, the two Israeli’s behind Gotan.

Gotan NYC

The first stop was the barista’s bar. While the food at Gotan is something special – the coffee is the focus. Gotan is a coffee shop first and foremost, with an emphasis on coffee culture. Baristas wear bow ties and most of them are notably handsome. I’m not a coffee snob by any means – but after spending 10 minutes with Chris as he prepared me my first pour-over, I couldn’t help but be impressed by the process and the passion behind it. Chris was a full-time chef who made the decision to become a barista. He tells me tons of interesting information and I smile and nod, trying not to betray the fact that I typically order a $1 McCafe in the morning. Chris’s favorite is drip coffee or a cortado.

Gotan serves Counter Culture coffee from a bar that is visually pleasing, allowing customers to watch the entire process. My mind is blown by the exactness necessary to brew the perfect pour-over. Both water and coffee grounds are measured in grams – 24 grams of ground to 360 grams of water according to Chris. The temperature is also closely monitored for optimal brewing, though a pour-over can be tasted best after it has cooled down a bit. The problem with your coffee pot at home is that when you turn it on, it isn’t hot enough to fully extract the coffee.

When I finally taste it, it’s without cream or sugar but full of bold flavor. Notes of chocolate and cherry come through and the caffeine hit is certainly more noticeable than what I’m used to. $4-$5 for a cup of joe suddenly seems much more reasonable afterwards. And as co-owner Arnon explains – paying for a pour-over is paying for more than a cup of coffee.  You’re getting 6-7 minutes of valuable time with the barista during which dialogue, an important aspect of the coffee culture Gotan is trying to promote, takes place.

If you’re a fan of coffee shops that also serve fabulous food – you’ve probably heard of Little Collins Cafe, the Australian coffee-shop that kick-started the Aussie-coffee movement in NYC three years ago. I was delighted to learn that Little Collins was Arnon’s first venture out of real-estate and into hospitality and restaurants. He worked managing the kitchen, but was blown away by the “coffee culture” that he discovered there.

Soon, he was looking for a new space that would serve as an inspiration for his next project. He found that space in Tribeca, and opened the first Gotan. Arnon explained that as soon as he opens one place, he’s already looking for the next. The new location on 46th Street, across from SWERVE’s recently-opened midtown location, is in a building erected in 1938.

Just 40 days ago, Gotan was undergoing intense renovations when they discovered the skylight that now serves as a visual highlight of the space. A layer of bricks in the dining area were brought over from Calabria by a man who works with bricks “like a baker works with dough.”

Gotan NYC

While the space is visually stunning – it has some competition from the dishes flying out of the kitchen. Each day, the bar serves around 1,500 cups of coffee while the kitchen serves around 1,000 plates. With complex dishes requiring upwards of 15 ingredients – it’s no small feat.

These stats make the Instagram-worthy nature of each and every dish even more impressive. The natural lighting seals the deal – this is every #foodie’s dream come true (and every #instagramhusband’s  worst nightmare).

I had the pleasure of sampling 4 dishes at Gotan, and two the next day when I returned with friends for lunch. You could honestly order me any item on the menu and I’d be 100% happy.

Fattoush

gotan midtown coffee

Feta, cucumbers, tomatoes, radish, carrots, red peppers, mint, parsley, pine nuts, pepperoncini, lemon herb vinaigrette, pita

Sharing each dish with general manager Avi and co-owner Arnon was such a unique experience because I got to see first-hand how much tweaking and conversation goes into the taste and presentation of each dish. While eating this traditional Israeli salad, they discussed how the ingredients should be diced and sliced and how large the pieces of parsley should be.  

The ingredients were fresh and colorful and the overall taste was refreshing and full.

Daily Breakfast

gotan nyc coffee

Two sunny-side eggs served over sautéed kale, sweet potatoes, chorizo and cauliflower puree with multigrain toast

This was the standout for me. While Arnon explained that not all of their ingredients are organic or locally sourced – they pay special attention to their eggs – which are all organic. These were cooked perfectly, and the yolk oozed satisfyingly over the vegetables beneath them.

It’s a shame that their Daily Breakfast is a special which changes every week – because this was incredible! The details – like black sesame seeds atop the cauliflower puree, add an incredible depth to the dish visually and texturally.

Tuna Avocado

gotan nyc tuna salad

Tuna salad, avocado, frisee, tomato, crostini, parsley pest

It’s hard to pick out my favorite part of this dish – aside from how gorgeous it is. I love the use of frisee (although I don’t recommend it on a date – I felt like a slob eating it), of course I love avocado, and the addition of craisins to the tuna salad was superb. And parsley pesto? Wow.

Avi cautiously took his first bite of their most popular dish – explaining that there are two things he typically won’t eat – mashed potatoes and tuna. It’s a texture thing. (His favorites at GOTAN are the acai and chia bowls).

Brooklyn Cured Ham

gotan nyc cafe

Ham, swiss, cornichons, mayonnaise, mustard

Though I wouldn’t typically go for a ham sandwich, it’s Arnon’s favorite – and understandably so. The French bakery bread is the perfect consistency – crispy without being impossible to bite into. The ham is from a Polish mom and pop butcher shop in Brooklyn and the cheese is from the Chef’s Collective.

My favorite part was the cornichons!

PBJ

gotan PBJ

Peanut butter, house made jam, banana dust, multi grain toast

Wow. When this dish came out, I’m pretty sure I momentarily morphed into the heart-eyed-emoji.  

Thick, perfectly toasted multi grain bread topped with mounds of peanut butter and bright dollops of sweet, sweet, homemade fruit jam. Sprinkled lovingly with coconut flakes.

What a time to be alive.

I asked Arnon his favorite way to eat peanut butter and found out that in Israel, they never mix savory and sweet flavors.

“American cuisine is the first cuisine I encountered that mixes sweet and savory in a very brutal way, really. Now, there are aspects of the American cuisine that I don’t appreciate and there are aspects that I respect very much. One thing that I really respect is American breakfast. It’s very comforting. It’s not good for you in a way but you still feel good after eating it which is nice. So I do love peanut butter and jelly, but it took me years to appreciate it. It’s like growing up on parsley and then one day switching to cilantro,” Arnon explained.

Avocado Feta Toast

gotan nyc avocado toast

Cherry tomato, mint, sunflower seeds, chili flakes, multi grain bread

You first eat with your eyes – and this dish is a stunner. Served with a big old steak-knife, you know it’s time to get down and dirty with this overflowing ‘cado toast.

Get it with an egg, bacon bits, or both to bring it to the next level!

I always say that a restaurant that does vegetables right is a great restaurant. Gotan respects veggies. Though their menu features vegetarian and carnivorous options, fresh vegetables are definitely the stars.

I asked Arnon how they developed the menu (did they break into my dreams and know exactly what I wanted?) and got much more than an answer about food. I learned about his past, his relationship with food and dining out, and a glimpse into the genius behind his model of coffee-shop.

Arnon grew up with a German mother and Russian-Romanian father in the middle of Israel.

“The table itself was an important event. The family sat around the table. Your mother cooked for you. If there was one thing I would take to fix this horrible world of ours it’s that mother’s would cook for their children. And have this family dialogue.”

Going out to a restaurant, regardless of one’s financial situation, was a form of celebration and saved for one or two times in the course of a year.

“Me and my brother – it was our favorite thing, going out, and we went to French restaurants. And they were very very good, there were French Jews who immigrated and it was the real deal.  I don’t remember a greater pleasure from my childhood and I think that affected me and touched me in a way,” said Arnon.

In those days, breakfast was chopped salad, light bread and eggs. Dinner was the same as breakfast and lunch was the heavier meal.

After moving to the United States in 1999 and working in real estate, Arnon started to notice a trend – this style of eating was taking hold in America. Gotan serves breakfast all day for this reason.

“It makes a lot of sense to have your meal towards the middle of the day and something very light towards the evening,” said Arnon.

He also noticed something else that has been a huge cause for the success of places like Little Collins and Gotan, “an immigration of budget if you will,” he says.

“New Yorkers are very funny. They would spend $4 on a nasty breakfast like watery coffee and a dry bagel and then they would drop $100 on dinner and they wouldn’t say a word for a bartender charging you $18 for a cocktail. And now, treating yourself to breakfast for around $20, deducted from your dinner budget, is something that we see that is happening more and more.”

Lucky for Arnon, he was able to convince some serious chefs and restaurateurs to buy-into this concept.

Previously, Avi worked in hospitality for 25 years – owning and managing Thalia for 17 years along with artisanal pizza spot Annabel.

“You have a really serious restaurateur doing a coffee shop. It attracts very serious people from the industry and I think there are going to be some really exciting establishments coming.”

Coffee, food, and atmosphere are all spot on at Gotan but the most impressive part of the operation is the hospitality behind every cup of coffee.

“We try to be a very accessible and approachable business – we are truly nice to everybody.”

During my time at Gotan, multiple patrons came up to personally thank Arnon and Avi – something that you don’t see every day in Manhattan.

As I left, I found myself thinking less about the amazing flavors that had just had a field day on my taste buds and more about the powerful concepts of family, childhood memories and space and how they play such an important role in our culinary experiences.

I know you’ll have an incredible meal at Gotan. I know you’ll be buzzing after your caffeine fix. But I challenge you to stop by and have a meaningful moment here – embrace their hospitality, engage in dialogue. Then take your kick-ass #insta

gotan nyc

While at Gotan, I noticed they had a killer playlist going on. So naturally, I recreated it for you to enjoy.

Want to learn more about the 'coffee culture' and Australian coffee-shop trend in NYC? Check-out these really interesting articles:

YOUR TURN:
HAVE YOU TRIED TO GET INTO THE 'COFFEE CULTURE'?
DO YOU KNOW OF A RESTAURANT WITH A MENU THAT JUST 'GETS YOU'?
WHATS YOUR FAVORITE CHILDHOOD MEMORY ABOUT FOOD?