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Finally! Dinner at Gramercy Tavern

  • Restaurant  Gramercy Tavern
  • Cuisine  American
  • Location  42 E. 20th St. (between Broadway & Park Avenue S.), Manhattan 
  • Phone  212-477-0777
  • Directions  Hopstop
  • Atmosphere  spacious, casual elegance, rustic and warm
  • Attire  business casual
  • Ideal for  small to medium-sized groups, 1x1, foodies, special occasions, tasting/prix fixe menus, private dining room (seats 22 guests)
  • Price  expensive

"You've never been to Gramercy Tavern!?!?!"  This reply is typically followed by a horrified/confused stare before a "Wow, that's crazy!"  Yes, it is crazy.  In the nearly eight years that I've lived here, I have never been to the iconic, highly-regarded and beloved Gramercy Tavern.  Why not?  Well, for one, every time I've attempted to go, my dining partner has gotten sick and cancelled and, two, the restaurant isn't exactly cheap!  It's reserved for meals that I would classify as "special occasion" or "for when the parents are in town."  At least the main dining room is; I can't speak for the tavern/bar.

Finally, a date was set.  Christine made a reservation - one month ago, to the day - for a party of three on the eve of January 17th.  

After checking-in with the hostess, I was able to admire the interior space as I was led to our table.  Rustic wooden beams contrasted beautifully with the buttermilk-colored walls and arched passageways.  Understated chandeliers, wall sconces, hand-painted murals and antique artworks painted the space with casual elegance.  

Photo found on blavish.comWhat a pleasant surprise to see that Julie had arrived first and was already seated at our table!  While waiting for Christine, the two of us got a chance to briefly catch up and order our first round of drinks.  After perusing the cocktail menu, there wasn't a chance in hell that I could say no to the "Jalisco Pear," composed of tequila, pear liqueur, and allspice dram.

Christine joined us just moments later.

"Jalisco Pear" cocktailWhen dining at Gramercy Tavern, you have one of two choices:  the $88 a-la-carte prix fixe (dinner), or the $116 seasonal tasting (dinner).  With the latter menu, guests are not able to select specific dishes, unlike the a-la-carte option.  My girlfriends and I opted for the seasonal tasting menu, because someone forgot to tell us that we're not ballers.   

Moments after we placed our orders, a gentleman carrying a large basket of bread and a pair of tongs approached our table.  We had the choice of sliced sourdough or a whole wheat boule - or both, if you're anything like me.  Butter and sea salt accompanied.


First course:  Fluke Tartare

Radish bits, orange segments, and bite-sized pieces of raw fluke came together "tartare-style" in this sexy presentation.  The dish was finished with dollops of black caviar. 

As stunning as it may have appeared, I found that the fluke tasted unpleasantly "fishy."  The verdict is out as to whether it was intentional, but the caviar only accentuated that strong flavor. 

Second course:  Clam Chowder

A halved, pan-seared scallop - a single shrimp - and, what tasted like, a tempura-fried clam, appeared at the bottom of a shallow bowl.  Celery root soup was poured over the ingredients and topped with smoked trout roe. 

This dish would have been dynamite had it not been for the roe.  I did my best to push it aside but, ultimately, I was defeated.

Third course:  Halibut

A perfectly-cooked filet of halibut sat atop a surprisingly flavorful carrot broth and a vegetable melange, including cabbage and mushrooms.

It was at this point in our seafood-heavy tasting that I finally enjoyed every aspect of the dish.  Bravo! 

Fourth course:  Duck Dumplings

Three handmade dumplings were stuffed to the brim with salty, finely-shredded duck meat and surrounded by a rich broth (I'm guessing it was beef) that was studded with cooked turnips and black kale.

All three of us loved this course, but found it to be a bit salty.  The duck meat reminded me of a ball of tightly packed, shredded brisket. 

Fifth course:  Roasted Sirloin and Flatiron

A small medallion-cut of each, sirloin and flatiron, was prepared medium-rare and served alongside chestnuts, beets, and ripe pear.

This was the course that I wanted to love most of the five savories.  It also happens to be one of the reasons that I voted for the pricier tasting menu.  Sadly, I was disappointed; the beef was incredibly hard to cut, tough, and chewy.  It also lacked in flavor but, luckily, we still had a dish of sea salt on the table from the bread service.    

Dessert course's amuse bouche:  Deconstructed Goat's Milk Cheesecake

A round, graham-cracker/shortbread disk separated a dollop of whipped, goat's milk-based cheesecake "filling" and a small scoop of Concord grape sorbet. 

Aside from the duck dumplings, this was my favorite "course," despite it being an amuse.  The pungency of the "filling" was perfectly cut by the sweetness of the sorbet.  The graham cracker disk added a delightful crunch and texture.

Dessert/sixth course:  Coconut Mousse with Passion Fruit Ice Cream

While this plate appears to be "busy," all of its components worked brilliantly together, both in flavor and texture.  In the center stood an ample scoop of passion fruit ice cream, which was surrounded by toasted coconut nibs.  A ring of fresh passion fruit puree came next, followed by fluffy coconut mousse.  The mousse was topped with crunchy meringue "puffs" that, from afar, looked like cotton balls.  Finally, another ring of passion fruit puree encircled the outer perimeter of the plate.

To conclude...

I can easily see why Gramercy Tavern is a favorite among New Yorkers and tourists, alike.  The space is lovely, the service is smartly on-point, all of the ingredients are sourced from local farmers/producers, they've got a great beverage program, and the food is good.  However, people said that a meal here would change my life.  It didn't.

In hindsight, I should have paid more attention to the details of the tasting menu and just how seafood-centric it was.  While I do enjoy seafood, I am very sensitive to anything overly-fishy.  This includes salmon!  At the same time, I know that fluke shouldn't have tasted as fishy as it did (in my first course).  I can't blame that on mother nature - I don't think the fish was as fresh as it could have been or, perhaps, usually is.

I was disappointed by our steak course, having assumed that the kitchen could make magic out of the sirloin and flatiron.  For the price of the tasting menu, surely, Gramercy Tavern can upgrade to a better cut of beef.  Just sayin'...

I look forward to returning to the restaurant - only next time, I'll enjoy my meal in the more casual Tavern room.  I'm more of a "cheeseburger and fries" type of girl, anyways. 


Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle 

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Reader Comments (1)

I've eaten at Gramercy Tavern several times both in the main dining room and in the tavern/bar. I do enjoy a fancy meal sometimes but have found the fancy tasting menu less memorable and less fun than the tavern menu. I went right before Christmas for a long, boozey lunch and I die for the meatball smothered in fontina.

January 19, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterlissy

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