Lord have (Gra)mercy!

20 Dec

The Tavern came near the top of most guides of best restaurants in New York City. It is well known for “farm to table” sustainable eating. I looked forward to eating there but worried about how it would fare, coming the day after my visit to Daniel.  Malcolm, my dinner companion, and I arrived just after our allotted time of 9:30 and were greeted by pleasant but not very warm reception staff. We were asked to wait in the cold reception area as the table was being prepared.

We looked at the menus on offer and both chose the tasting menu as we weren’t enthused by the dishes on the a la carte menu.  Tasting menus can be a bit of a minefield as they often include as many as seven intricate courses. By the end of the meal, you can be a bit jaded by the taste of yet more heirloom something, shavings of something else and foamed another thing, and just uncomfortably full.

Having said that, the food on offer through Gramercy’s tasting menu was mainly superb, with each of the savoury courses being better than the one before, lifting you on a crescendo of excitement almost to the end of the meal.

Unfortunately, this was brought to a discordant end with the most disastrous of desserts.

The good

The food was definitely the high point of our meal as it should be. The menu and courses were well designed and executed. The liberal use of seasonal vegetables was complementary and interesting.

We started with an amuse bouche, which was a buckwheat puff with pimento cheese.  At this time of year, squash is in season and appears in some form on most menus.  It made an appearance in our second dish of king crab with apple, yuzu and squash.

The third dish was vegetable chowder, a creamy celery flavoured soup, with scallops and caviar.

Scallops with Vegetable Chowder

Scallops with Vegetable Chowder

Next up was halibut with roasted cauliflower and capers.



The recent trend of roasted cauliflower dishes is very welcome.  Cauliflower is not my favourite vegetable but roasting brings out its nutty, caramel notes, which was in excellent contrast to the capers and a lovely accompaniment to the fish.

The final seafood course was squid ink tagliatelle, lobster and bell peppers.

This was a marvellous dish. The tagliatelle was home-made, delicious and appropriately al dente. The pepper broth was complex and rich with an Iberian influence that worked beautifully with the sweetness of the lobster.

The final course and the only meat course was roasted duck breast, mushroom, brussels sprouts, pancetta and hazelnuts.

As good as the lobster was, this took it up another level. The duck breast was tender and tasty, with the skin nicely crisped.

The pancetta added richness and the hazelnuts crunchy contrast. It really is a victory of a tasting menu to keep you interested to the end.

Duck breast

Duck breast

The bad

At top end restaurants, where the food is consistently amazing, it is often the little things that determine how you rank the restaurant.

From the bread that wasn’t warm, on one of the coldest days of the autumn, to the waiters, struggling with the mixed language menus, who were completely unintelligible, the Gramercy failed somewhat.

Initially, I found the headwaiter veered between being unctuous and downright creepy. Like an overly controlling husband, he chose our wines for us. He did let us taste before choosing but being offered an option would have given less of an impression that the wine was pre-selected for everyone having the tasting menu.

However, as the meal went on, he seemed to relax. The wine he chose was good, although not as good as at Daniel the previous evening. He was attentive and handled questions (and complaints) efficiently. I do feel though that senior waiters should know how tagliatelle is pronounced, not Taglia Tell, William’s Italian cousin.

The downright disastrous

The dessert, and final course, was pear pannacotta, pear puree and tapioca. This was served in a glass and was topped by coffee granita rendering it visually unimpressive.

Wet yoghurt

Wet yoghurt

The pannacotta tasted like wet yoghurt and wasn’t well set, which may be why it was served in a glass.

The watery bland granita on the top of the dessert amplified the impression of the dessert’s wetness.

I can understand the use of a granita for variety and texture. I think placing it on top of what is meant to be a creamy dessert might not be the best idea. The dessert could have been deconstructed with the granite on the side perhaps, giving that textural variety without the impression of a melted mess.  It just wasn’t in the same class as the rest of the meal.

I really can’t remember whether I finished the dessert or not but can see no reason why I would have.

Overall, I think I enjoyed dinner at Gramercy.  The food really was very good.  However, somehow this was almost overshadowed by bad acoustics, average to incomprehensible service and an awful dessert.

The journey home


As we stepped out of the Gramercy, we hailed a yellow cab.  The driver had the dubious honour of topping our indistinct waiter.  Not only was he incomprehensible, he also did not appear to know where he was going.  Unfortunately I fell asleep, to wake up in desolate, unpopulated surroundings that didn’t even look like New York.  I’ve obviously watched too many episodes of CSI as I became convinced that we were taken somewhere off the beaten track for God knows what reason.  My demands to be let out quickly turned to “I’m calling the police” as I realized that I had no idea where we were.  I think the cab driver managed to feel even more panicked than I did.  He had mis-heard and instead of taking us to 125th Street, he was heading to 25th Street.  When Malcolm realized that we were going the wrong way, he reiterated one hundred and twenty fifth street.  The cab driver in a futile act of bravado then decided that 125th street did not exist.  At this point, I ratcheted the crazy up to new heights.  “It’s a big street in Harlem!  You’ve written off a huge portion of African American history”.  We finally got there, with the cab driver hysterical and close to tears.  I think he was amazed when Malcolm, by now dying of embarrassment, handed him the same fare that we’d paid on the way down.  I’m not sure he’ll be heading back to Harlem in a hurry. Either that or he’ll install GPS….

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