I like to avoid something that sounds like a restaurant review, but my last visit to New York was made extra special after a visit to one of its famed restaurants. After reading Danny Meyer’s book on serving up success as a restaurateur last year, I was eager to try more of his Union Square dinning empire. One place that was described with passion and warmth was Gramercy Tavern. Described in Edible Manhattan as a modern tavern that George Washington would recognize, one is instantly enchanted by the old beams and modern casual paintings of fruit and vegetables amidst the more studied and formal portraits. I was also excited to try eating chef Michael Anthony’s seasonal and local food knowing his experience working at Blue Hill and his focus on cooking local and seasonal produce as well as sustainable meat and seafood. After unsuccessfully trying to make a reservation for dinner, my sister advised me that we could likely get a seat at the bar. Arriving about 9.45 on a Saturday, we found unsurprisingly that it was packed. Rather than get the cold shoulder from so many high profile restaurant, we were greeted with such charm by the host and hostess who apologized profusely for the long wait. My sister who hosts Sunday brunch in the oh so too-cool-for-school Lower East Side gave the staff at the front of the house and behind the bar, a nod of approval.
Retreating to nearby Tamarind for a drink and then returning in time to find a place where we could perch near the bar around 10.30 and then find a place to sit, we enjoyed some well crafted cocktails that creatively spoke to the time of year. My Good Fellow combination of Famous Grouse Scotch, orange bitters, oloroso and walnut liquor was a harmonious blend of potent flavors that didn’t overwhelm. Success! A couple gets up and we get to slide on to high stools behind the dark, burnish wooden bar, rich lines running over the surface that made it look not as if it were scratched but as though it were a well-aged leather bag. Nuts were placed on the table and I was delighted to finally eat the famed Union Square Cafe nuts that have been celebrated in cookbooks like Nigella Bites.
Our menus arrived and the seasonal dishes all took advantage of area produce and the hearty kind of cooking that best represents fall. Torn between options, I settled for duck liver mousse that arrived with buttery toast of yeasty bread and pickled vegetables that were mildly vinegary.
I knew I needed a glass of wine to enjoy this and my next course. An unorthodox, but successful choice of a Rioja Gran Reserva circa 2001 was a good way to cut the gaminess of the duck liver with a spicy yet full-bodied red, without a mouthful of tannins. My sister’s first course, a subtle squash soup with fried oysters on the slide had dimensions of deep root flavors and ocean crispiness.
Next came my entrée. I usually don’t get soups or stews as a main course, but the description of the seafood and saffron chowder had sounded intriguing. Rather than consistently heavy bisque, the chowder had minimal diary and had a conspicuous piece of poached fish that I needed to take apart with my knife, before enjoying its nearly meaty texture in the soup along with shrimp potatoes and some radish. There were allegedly mussels in this bowl, but they were rather absent. My neighbor’s trout was buttery and luxurious.
Dessert was certainly a requirement as despite the formidable options I settled on a happily overblown version of classic American comfort food: chocolate pudding. This was no ordinary chocolate pudding. Brioche and caramel croutons were tumbling over a spoonful of vanilla cream. Breaking apart these and diving one’s spoon into the dense mousse is done with slight trepidation in light of a near avalanche of croutons. The fun of extracting one’s coated spoon and eating it child like, I almost asked for a glass of milk, which Jeremy our affable barman would have no doubt only been too happy to accommodate. We retired from Gramercy Tavern into the cool night air content in our choice and so pleased to have experienced the season at a restaurant that continues to set a new standard in not-so-haute cuisine.
View Larger Map