Really, can we just call Danny Meyer and the USHG team geniuses? Each restaurant unique. Each restaurant impeccably run. Each restaurant reaching a different group. The great food and great dining experience the common bond between each restaurant. And good food and a fantastic dining experience are what these places all do best!
Walking into the Gramercy Tavernyou are greeted instantly by beauty. The front of the Gramercy Tavern is very plain. Gold lettering on each large picture window let you know that it’s the Gramercy Tavern, but that’s all there is. Once you open the door from the street, all that changes. There is an unbelievable warmth from the moment you step into the foyer . Beautiful flowers, a lovely handed painted sign with Gramercy Tavern on it let you know that you are in for a treat.
The Fork was late. Very late. Running down the street is not the best look for the Fork. Spoon was waiting, patiently. I walked into the Gramercy Tavern and was greeted by two hostesses with the kindest look about them and the biggest smiles. I immediately felt at ease and far less late than I knew I was.
By the way, kudos for allowing patrons to sit at their table and have a drink while waiting for a slow poke dining partner.
There are actually two restaurants within the Gramercy Tavern, the Tavern and the Restaurant. The Tavern has a great menu. Everything is a la carte. It is as exciting and wide range as the Restaurant, just smaller.
When you step out of the Tavern and into the main part of the dining room you feel as though you were transported back in time to a tavern in the 1800s, but this is not the type of fare you would have experienced then!
The restaurant is adorned with early American antiques. The wood burning stove is made from bricks from the last existing American foundry to cut bricks by hand. There is a wood pile stacked by the stove and adds to the rustic feel.
I found Spoon happily seated at a table – a corner banquet – munching on bread and having an iced tea. As I sat a lovely young lady came to the table, beaming, and introduced herself. Ana has someone bring over water for me right away – I think my panting gave her a hint – and asked if I would like a drink. I ordered iced tea as well.
As always, an aside about the iced tea! Large glasses. Lemon wedges on the side with the seeds cut out. We weren’t sure about the issue of bottom glass or ridiculous pricing! We always hold our breathwhen the check comes. This was not too bad. Four glasses, $3.00 each. Truly, we were expecting so much worse!
A bus boy came over with a huge basked of bread, with 6 different types of bread, and asked which I would like. I was tempted to ask if he would just leave the basket, but instead chose a green olive bread and a sourdough. On the table were two little white dishes, one containing a sweet, creamy butter and the other salt. And if this carb fix were not enough, he came back to see if we would like more!
Spoon had already studied the menu and decided what we were eating. Considering I was late, I agreed. What else could a Fork do? Our server came over, a lovely young lady named Ana. She answered some questions about the menu, asked if we were ready – you betcha! As an aside, Ana had the brightest smile, knew the menu, was able to give informative answers to questions. We found out she had recently been promoted from hostess and reservationistto a server. Very good decision! This young lady is excellent with people!
This menu was truly inspired by Michael Anthony’s well known love of seasonal items and local produce. Round of applause for utilizing the best of the season and the best of local ingredients!
We started with a Summer Bean Salad, eight ball squash, green beans, wax beans, lima beans, and various greens served in a gooseberry vinaigrette dressing. Barely blanched the vegetables were fresh and crunchy. Gooseberries are so sour, it made an interesting combination with the vegetables. Unfortunately, the dressing was tasteless. You could see it, it had a pretty pink color, but it didn’t have a lot of flavor. Perhaps if the gooseberries had been smooshed a little it would have infused the dressing with a little acidity.
Our other starter was Lamb Pappardelle with lemon confit, olives and swiss chard. If there were a possibility of a tiny, little diving board on the side of the bowl, this would be the dish that you would want to dive face first into! The pappardelle are made fresh every day. They are thick and tender with the perfect toothsome bite to them. The lamb and sauce is so perfectly spiced, you just are disappointed when you get to the bottom of the bowl. Thank goodness for the bread! Believe me, you can’t let this sauce go to waste! To add to the beauty and simplicity of this dish is a lemon confit. It adds a very subtle zing to the savory flavors. All of this is served over a bed of Swiss chard. This is one of those dishes that you would want order every time you visit the Gramercy Tavern. Sadly, it’s not on the menu for the Tavern, but I wonder if a pout could have one served? I mean, 10 steps can’t keep a Fork or Spoon away from such a delicious dish.
For our first entree we had the Pork Croquette served over Potato Puree and Escarole. This dish is on of the reasons we were so excited about going to the Gramercy Tavern. Fork and Spoon had been reading wonderful things about this dish in the blog world and this dish was an absolute given before we arrived. The presentation is simplicity at it’s best, but once you cut into the croquette, simplicity is the last thing you taste. The pork is encrusted and fried – now how can it be bad? Pork and fried in the same temptation! You look at it and you think, hmmm, could all of those bloggers be wrong? As your fork starts to cut into it all you feel is the crispness and hear the crunch and then the shredded pork tumbles out. Sigh. There were cubes of pork, and pork belly, and bacony something, and shredded pork all encrusted in what Fork and Spoon are assuming was a mixture of panko and toasted breadcrumbs. The only thing that can make this sort of pork dish better – besides more pork – is mashed potatoes. The croquette sits on top of blanched escarole, capers and pureed potatoes. Again, the flavor profiles are amazing and so perfectly suited for each other. Spoon and I are still trying to figure out what the ingredients were in the delicious broth around the potatoes….definitely another trip back for that! This dish is very, very good, and very, very rich.
The second entree we ordered was the Pasture Raised Chicken with Spring Vegetables. A lovely pirceof chicken, braised and then baked for a few moments to crisp the skin. Served with carrots, green and yellow beans and sugar snap peas and sat atop a yummy carrot puree. Beautifully plated dish. The small piece we were able to eat was delicious. We suggest though that during a time like Restaurant when there are wonderful dishes to try that a simple chicken may not be the way to go. Anyway, we were unable to eat this dish as the main portion of the breast was very pink. Our server, Ana, came over and asked if there was a problem and we explained. The plate was whisked away, brought back to the kitchen, re-fired and packed up to go. Even the slightest hiccup is handled in a very kind, but professional manner. They get the concept that the customer is right.
Dessert, dessert, what to do? We wanted all of the desserts. See, some people go over their budget in restaurants or over the prix fixe cost on drinks…for Fork and Spoon, it’s dessert! Well, okay, perhaps a great side dish. We were champing at the bit waiting for the dessert menu. Would we HAVE to order a third. How can we be expected to pick only two?
The first dessert we decided to try – well, not decided. This – like the Pork Croquette – was pre-decided! When there is so much buzz about a dessert, how do you not try it? But, I digress. The first dessert was the Warm Chocolate Bread Pudding with Cacao Nib Ice Cream. Now, I have never been a big fan of bread puddings. They are either two dry or resemble nursery food. This, I must say was delightful. Moist, with a nice consistency. It doesn’t hurt that there were chocolate chips scattered through out! The ice cream was amazing! Very smooth and creamy with bits of cacao throughout, sitting on a little mounds of nibs. Streaked across the plate was a ribbon of dark chocolate and one of milk chocolate. And as if there weren’t enough here to keep your taste buds amused, there was a chocolate straw.
Dessert number two was harder to decide. We really were stuck between the Rhubarb Brown Butter Cake and the Blueberry Peach Streusel Tart with Roasted Almond Ice Cream. It was probably the addition of the ice cream that tipped the scale. And once it was presented, we knew we made the right choice! The tart crust was crisp and buttery. So crisp, you would think it had just been made. There is no way that this sat around and retained the crispness this crust had. On top of the crust were blueberries and peaches. And on top of that was wonderful, crunchy, buttery streusel. On the side was a quenelle of toasted almond ice cream. Now, if, as a kid, you were a fan of Good Humor’s Toasted Almond bars, this ice cream will bring you back to skinned knees, baseball, hopscotch, or whatever your favorite childhood past time was. One bite of this and I could see our Good Humor man standing next to the park with his cart, jingling the bells, calling us all to come running! Connecting the ice cream and the tart was a streak of peach puree and a streak of blueberry puree.
The nice thing about both of these desserts was it gives you just the right amount of sweet after a big, rich meal without making you like you over indulged.
Normally, Fork and Spoon don’t discuss rest rooms unless they’re really – well, yucky. In this case, we had to mention the rest rooms. Yes, the photo to the right is the sight one sees upon entering the rest room!
There are surprising touches and flourishes in every corner of the Gramercy Tavern.
While people complain that they cannot get reservations in the main dining room, be flexible with your time, with your day. Eat in the Tavern, the food is excellent.
While there is no cookbook attached to this restaurant per se, there is a wonderful artisinal cocktail book MixShakeStir. This is a wonderful book full of cocktail recipes. And since cutlery cannot – or should not – drink on an empty stomach, there is even a chapter on Bar Fare. (Don’t they just think of everything!?)
Gramery Tavern . 42 East 20th Street . NYC . 212.. 477.0777