Gramercy Tavern: Meyer Magic in a Harvest-Centric Glitzed-up Tavern
Danny Meyer’s Gramercy Tavern is as close to a New York culinary destination as you can get. Since opening in 1994, the ritzy ‘tavern-inspired’ restaurant has launched the career of former head chef Tom Colicchio, garnered a coveted Michelin star, earned 3 stars from the New York Times, won “NYC’s Most Popular Restaurant” in the ’03, ’05, ’06, ’07 and ’10 Zagat Survey, and took home a plethora of James Beard Awards. You’d think such a reputation would flood one of Meyer’s crown jewels with irritating food tourists, A-through-D list celebrities, and, well, tourists in general. Refreshingly though, the crowd seemed so very New York with a cross-section of bankers wooing clients, well-dressed couples just off work, gaggles of desperate housewives in Louboutins, and the odd exceedingly normal family.
The Bentel & Bentel-designed space is deceptively large with a casual bar and tavern area near the door and the more formal ‘dining room’ split into several rooms at the back. The look is traditional Americana with white walls, exposed wooden beams, gilt-edged portraiture and landscapes hanging neatly spaced, and incredible seasonal flower arrangements. Early American antiques can be found tucked into corners and arranged on shelves; a warm golden glow permeates the rooms, flickering from copper sconces and candles.* The harvest-themed bouquets and displays are eye-candy for design freaks and lend a surprisingly authentic bucolic feel to the otherwise sleek spot. * everything can be found in the September issue of Pottery Barn.
While it’s not clear whether the food is actually the main event at Gramercy Tavern, Executive Chef Michael Anthony’s renditions of American cuisine are clean, fresh, and generally excellent. There are typically 3 menus to choose from, an $86 3-course prix-fixe, a $112 6-course ‘seasonal’ prix-fixe, and a $92 6-course ‘vegetable’ tasting menu. While obviously expensive, the 6-course ‘seasonal menu’ is the best value, offering a much more complete and satisfying meal than the $26 cheaper 3-course option. Anthony’s autumn menu features fluke, crab soup, smoked trout, fettucine, venison, and either a fig cake dessert or your choice from the normal dessert menu.
The fluke is unremarkable yet refreshing, a light start to a menu that progressed incrementally to bigger and bolder courses. Served as a tartare, the salty and generous helping of bright orange trout roe outshone the mix of chopped radish and fluke. Next, the crab soup was elegant and beautifully built with an addictive savory broth, large chunks of crab, and surprisingly tasty bits of turnip. Of the three seafood courses though, the smoked trout was best. Served pink and sliced thin above a truly memorable cippollini puree, the fish was smoked so thoroughly that it tasted almost like meat; the pickled onions on top added a distinctly Eastern European kick to the excellent dish. From the smoked trout, Chef Anthony’s offerings were more and more satisfying, with a homemade and delightfully chewy fettuccine bathed in braised rabbit, scrumptious Brussels sprouts, and parsnips followed by a tender medium-rare venison loin, simply served with a pear puree, a pepper caponata, and succulent bits of venison sausage. Not a fig girl myself, I passed on the fig cake tasting dessert in favor of the banana cake and my date opted for the cranberry-mango ‘sundae.’ The banana cake, layered with hazelnut cream and coated in a thick chocolate glaze, was arguably one of the best desserts I’ve had in awhile’ it was soft, nostalgic, beautifully presented, and served with a nutty salted caramel ice cream. The cranberry-mandarin orange sundae, topped with earl grey meringues and vanilla bourbon ice cream, was muddled, confused, and decidedly mediocre when compared to the banana cake.
Gramercy Tavern is an excellent restaurant, and yet another example of how well Danny Meyer knows how to bottle up and serve the ‘classic New York’ dining experience. Every element of Gramercy Tavern is smooth, operating like a well-oiled machine. The atmosphere is sophisticated without being stuffy; the food is elegant and accessible without being fussy; the service is top-notch, friendly and unpretentious. For those looking to spend a pretty penny on a safe and comfortable yet truly special dining experience, Meyer’s Gramercy Tavern is your spot.
Perfect For: family gatherings, that classic New York dining experience, client dinners, special occasions, graduation dinners, taking the parents out, after-work drinks, fancy foodies