Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Gramercy Tavern, New York New York

To be honest, it is tough for me to offer enough praise for Gramercy Tavern. While not the best food of my life, it was close, and in terms of overall experience it was certainly the most impressive.

After a tragic/unexpected death in the family, my sister, mother, and I opted to get away to NYC and on short notice managed to get a number of great reservations including a table for three in the peak of lunch hour at Gramercy. Having heard rumor of the wonderful setting, great food, and all-star service I'll admit we had high expectionations....forunately GT filled them all and added a few extra.

Arriving just on time, walking from the Chelsea Galleries, we were sat immediately and our wonderful server Emily poured water while the bread man delivered the best olive rolls ever (and some pretty solid sour dough and white rolls as well.) As my mother wanted the steak and my sister and I wanted the tasting menu, this was accomidated without question. While we waited for the first course we browsed the beautiful hard wood interior, elderly and well established diners, and flow of the restaurant. There is a reason the place is booked full each day.

Approximately 10 minutes after seating the first course of the tasting arrived in the form of a Calamari & Carrot Salad with Toasted Pine Nuts and Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette. While I'm generally not a lemon fan, the dressing was superb and the calamari was flawlessly prepared. Creamy and rich pine nuts and crispy carrot sticks contrasted sharply with the dressing and squid creating an inspiring oral medley that made even my mother, a non-fish eater, say "mmm." As good as the salad was, each of the following dishes bested it by miles.

Course two (along with new plates and silverware) consisted of a Scallop Minestrone with Asparagus and Green Garlic that can be simply described as perfection. Crisp yet cooked asparagus, perfect snap peas, and a green garlic broth provided the perfect compliment to the barely-cooked yet perfectly tender scallop and the entire dish was consumed in a slow "wowed" fashion as each bite brought out subtle nuances of the salty scallop against the amazingly textured background.

Course three...lets just say that this may be my favorite fish dish I have ever experienced, even better than the butter poached skate from EMP the day before. Hot Smoked Sturgeon with Leeks, Potatoes and American Paddlefish Roe arrived as three small yet perfectly poached steaks served over a soft and buttery bed of potatoes and leeks with crispy cooked potatos along side and perhaps 1/2 oz of roe spread throughout the dish. Having never experienced Sturgeon in all my years of fish consumption, I was pleased by the trout-like texture and amazed by the hearty beef-like flavor. Like the Minestrone, each component came across in its own wonderful way and made me want to stand up and pronounce chef Anthony my new hero. Like the Minestrone, this dish was so amazing that extra bread was requested to soak up every drop from the plate.

During course three and four my mother was served her dish of Roasted Sirloin with Short Rib Ravioli, Snap Peas, Spring Onions and Green Garlic. While I do not consume beef, I was told by my mother that this was one of the best pieces of beef she'd ever consumed and that the Ravioli was as good of quality as that at Babbo (if this is true, it is an AMAZING compliment.) As the portion was quite large, the dish easily lasted mom through both our mains and she was quite contented and full after the main and dessert.

Course four of the tasting consisted of Rack of Pork & Braised Belly with Baby Turnips and Adirondack Blue Potatoes. Having recently been turned back on to pork by chef Chang's dishes at MomoFuku, my sister loved this dish a great deal aside from the Belly which she believed to be too fatty. Myself? Lets just say that the Pork at Gramercy is every bit as good as the best pork I've ever tasted and far less 'ham' in texture than that at Babbo (I'm not sure which I prefer, honestly.) The Belly was unique in its incredible level of fattiness, but when paired with the crispy turnip and Blue Potatoes it was a great combination of salt/sweet/crisp/fat. While not as good as the Sturgeon, still a stellar main that I'd highly recommend.

For dessert we were given the option of the tasting menu dessert or one of Nancy Olson's other options. Looking at the menu and seeing "cookie plate" I knew what my sister would be ordering and glancing further down the words "Chocolate Bread Pudding" instantly grabbed my eye. For mom's selection it was the Rhubarb Meringue Tart with Vanilla Bean Buttermilk Ice Cream.
Prior to dessert all three of us received a dessert amuse consisting of an incredibly rich deconstructed Rhubarb Crostatta that was absolutely sublime and almost (note, ALMOST) made me change my dessert order to the same Tart as my mother.

In addition to the amuse, it was at this time that we were served the $6/12oz Yauco Selecto Coffee with Toasted Coconut & Macadamia Nuts from Puerto Rico. To describe this coffee would be unfair....lets just say it was the best coffee to ever grace my lips. A perfect blend of mild acidity, nutty undertones, thick texture, and perfect mouthfeel. Pricey? Yes. Worth it? Oh yes.

As dessert arrived I was instantly taken by the large size of each serving and wondered if I would have room. Thankfully one taste made "too full" not an option; Having had possibly 100 bread pudding varieties in my life I can without a shadow of a doubt say that this was THE BEST. Flawless in texture, chocolately without being a "chocolate dessert," smooth, buttery, rich, and decadent....years from now this will surely still remain in my top-5 desserts of all time. Honestly, the pudding was so good that I don't even remember the flavor of the Cacao Nib Ice Cream, but my clean plate indicated it must've been good. I don't think I've ever closed my eyes this much during a meal.

Like the amuse, mom's tart was delicious although I honestly think the Meringue may have been 'too much' as it overpowered the flawless poached and sweetened rhubarb. My sister's cookie plate, however, was perfect with 6 varieties including an incredibly buttery shortbread, creamy black/whites, crispy biscotti, chocolate chip, chocoate chunk, and the best damned PB/Chocolate cookies I've tasted. A tasting on top of a tasting left my sister in awe.

Following the meal three types of petit fours were served including an airy madeline, sugarly gelatin cube, and wonderful buckeye-esque truffle. Along with the bill (a steal at $55 for the tasting) was served a comment card where I commended the experience (also commented on Opentable.) After we finished our coffee our gracious serving team escorted us to the door and it was back to shopping and making the best of a well needed trip.

Five days after returning home I received an e-mail from Scott Reinhardt, the Assistant General Manager at Gramercy, wishing my family his condolences and thanking us for our kind comments and assuring us the comments would be passed along to the servers. I was floored. Totally unnecessary, yet totally meaningful in every way....there is a reason the Beard Award for outstanding restaurant went to Gramercy Tavern.

Food, service, and culture at its very best....Gramercy feels like a place for friends and family, a place where older people still frequent and everyone is made to feel special. Truly an amazing experience from start to finish and still moreso afterwards.

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