The last time I was in New York, I made lunch plans with a good friend of mine and told her to meet me at Gramercy Tavern. She was running late, and as I walked down E 20th street, I realized that she might as well be late, because I had assumed that the restaurant would open at 11am (that day they opened at 12). I made this realization as I walked by the windows and saw the entire kitchen staff finishing up their meal and preparing for actual service. This observation didn’t seem relevant to me until now, nearly a month later after I visited the restaurant again.
There are quite a few things that come to mind when I think of Gramercy Tavern. As a close friend put it, Gramercy Tavern is a gem. It is a classic, a staple in the New York fine dining scene. If you needed a baseline in comparing other fine dining establishments, look no further. Something I love about this restaurant is that it can be enjoyed through multiple dining experiences. The Tavern serves a la carte meals in a casual setting, or you can have a quick snack or drink at the bar. The Tavern also offers a daily four-course tasting menu at dinner. No reservations are needed. The Dining Room offers fixed-price and tasting menus with an a la carte option at lunch.
It was a crisp fall evening when I stepped into the Tavern for the second time, but with the intention of trying their $125 seasonal tasting menu in the dining room. Reservations are required and go rather quickly. In the three weeks prior when I booked the reservation, 10pm was all that was left. Despite the lateness in the evening, everyone- from the hostess to the service staff, were very friendly and upbeat, moving fluidly around the dining room and poured every glass of wine and presented each course with grace and ease. If they were tired, I would not have known it.
Grapes, beans, peppers, and fresh seafood were the stars of the seasonal menu. Chef Anthony certainly knows how to highlight ingredients and play with different textures, and this is evident in most, if not all of the courses. The soft, delicately flavored and marinated scallops contrasted quite well with the grapes, which gave a sweet, slightly tart addition to the subtle brine of the scallops. The heirloom beans and turnips absorbed the scallop and grape marinade without losing their crisp texture and crunch.
The grilled calamari was a vision of color- white and green, flecked with shades of red from the crunchy spiced almonds and the red chilies. The tender calamari meat was exceptionally tasty when eaten with the spicy almonds. I'm not sure if that was Chef Anthony's intention to play with such interesting textures- chewy, soft, crunchy, but it worked. I wanted more of this dish. I could see myself recreating it for a light lunch- and I just might! Sans foam of course. I don't have time for that.
The next two courses also featured seafood- each one becoming a step more savory and meaty, eventually leading us to the meat course. The cured arctic char had the texture and mouth feel akin to salmon sashimi- only sweeter, thanks the the glaze and the apple. Flavors transition from light and sweet to savory with the next course - the squid ink campanelle with lobster, chorizo, and peppers. This dish features multiple colors, textures and flavors. The meatiness and spices from the chorizo add a wonderfully savory flavor to the delightfully chewy squid ink pasta, and the pasta itself adds a good structure and bite to the dish and provides as a good base to soak up the chorizo, pepper and lobster juices.
Finally, the meat course- a duck breast seared and roasted to a beautiful pinkish red hue. Deliciously tender, the duck breast was carefully placed on a bed of lentils, celery root, and cabbage- which soaked up all of the flavors of the dish. I did my absolute best to make sure that each bite included a piece of duck, sausage, lentils, celery root, and the sauce that melded them all together.
For the final course, grapes were brought back in the picture. Fitting of course, as they opened the meal. It only made sense for grapes to help close the meal as well. Out of all the tasting menus that I have tried across the country, this has to be my favorite dessert so far. The crispy meringue (the pavlova) with the tangy goat cheese mousse, tart sorbet and sweet grapes created a harmonious combination of flavors that I haven't ever tasted before. It was a light dessert and a perfect ending that tied all the flavors and themes of the previous courses together.
If you include the amuse bouche, the palate cleanser, and the chocolate truffles that followed dessert, this is basically a 9 course meal. We also received a chocolate granola bar for breakfast the next day.
The space itself is beautiful, classic and lush, without being too overbearing or stuffy. Opened in 1994 by restaurateur Danny Meyer, Gramercy Tavern continues to impress diners and critics from all over. Not to mention that for the level of service and food that you will be experiencing, the prices are well worth the value, when compared to other restaurants of their caliber, are quite affordable.
There is a sense of community and kindness that you experience when you dine here. The fact that the entire staff shares a meal before service gives the impression that everyone- the partners to the chefs, to the service staff- understand and care about the experience they are about to give. It shows in their hospitality and in their food. Much like there is a sense of camaraderie among the staff, you see and taste the team work and the bond in their dishes. The way the dessert course bonds with the rest of the other courses shows the deep level of understanding that pastry chef Howard Kalachnikoff has of Chef Anthony's dishes.
If you're ever looking for a New York classic, look no further. You've found it.
- Meal: Dinner (Dining Room)
- Menu: Seasonal Tasting Menu
- Price: $125/pp
- Accolades: 1 Michelin Star
Marinated Scallops – Heirloom Beans, Grapes and Turnips
Grilled Calamari- Corn, Pole Beans and Spiced Almonds
Artic Char-Cauliflower, Applies and Chiles
Squid Ink Campanelle- Lobster, Chorizo and Peppers
Duck Breast & Sausage – Lentils, Celery Root and Cabbage
Concord Grape Pavlova –Goat Cheese Mousse, Sesame Halva and Min