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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….

New York! These streets will make you feel brand new! Big lights will inspire you!

29 Nov

New York Soundtrack

Empire State of mind – Jay-Z and Alicia Keys:

The A train

So I arrived in New York one early afternoon mid-week and took the A train to Harlem. Apparently it’s the quickest way.

I’ve planned a whistlestop tour of some of New York’s finest restaurants, bars, markets and street food. I’ve arranged to stay in Harlem, using AirBnB. At £67 per night, this is reasonably good value in New York. I was a little nervous though as it felt a bit like going back to being a student and having a flat share.


I’ve picked a bad week. New York is freezing. Buffalo is under 5 feet of snow. Having hopped out of the subway at West 125th street and after several cold consultations of the map, I arrived at a slightly “bruk down” looking building. Surely that’s not it? It’s not quite the Harlem brownstone that I had envisioned.  I climb the 3 flights of stairs with a feeling of mild trepidation.

Thankfully, the flat is nicer than it first seemed. I met our host, settled in and began to get ready for dinner.

Just as I was bracing myself to catch a cab in the cold, I was arrested by a mellow scent familiar from life in Brixton. Hello? Of course I couldn’t resist asking my Guyanese host if that was what I thought it was. He confirmed that it was and showed me the number “420” on the blackboard in the lounge. I guess not all things about student life were bad.




I felt very lucky to book a table at Daniel Boulud’s Daniel at 60 East 65th street.



Unfortunately jet lag kicked in and I forgot my camera so ended up taking pictures with a phone.  I apologise for the fuzziness in advance.

Dress code blues

Something that I have found surprising about New York so far, is that the high end restaurants seem to all stipulate business casual wear. This is in contrast to London, where you can turn up in jeans and sneakers (as I have done on several occasions) if you so desire. This had my dinner companion scrabbling through his luggage to try to find suitable attire. He just about managed but I did wonder if we’d be turned away on arrival.  Far from it.

We received a very warm welcome although he was definitely the least well dressed of the men dining that night.

The Food

The food on offer included a price-fixe menu for $125 (one starter, main and dessert from a wide selection); a 7-course tasting menu or a la carte.  As the range of choices was excellent and having almost died having tasting menus in Australia, I went for the price-fixe.

I chose lobster to start, pork for the main. My dinner companion chose scallops and cod.

The lobster came in three ways: butter poached; rolled with Hawaiian hearts of palm, wrapped in blanched romaine lettuce; and in a small light curried lobster samosa.

The scallops were seed crusted with Aleppo seeds and came with a birch reduction and flavourful celery mousseline.

The pork included chops and belly with delicate shards of crackling. Treviso ragout cut through the fattiness of the belly and the harissa jus gave the chops a zingy edge. The pork chops were so surprisingly tender, they could probably be cut with a spoon.



The Atlantic Cod was slow baked, in order to cook without drying. It was coated in yoghurt and grilled. It was served with spinach and a lemon balm and liquorice “foamed” emulsion.




I’ve never understood why you are sometimes offered a choice of wines before you’ve even had a look at the food. I resisted, chose my starter and main and asked if the sommelier could come across and give us a hand in finding a wine to match. I like to do this as it helps to engage. A good sommelier will know the wine list inside out, sometimes producing a choice that you wouldn’t have made but that may well work better.

This was such a case. We ended up with half a bottle of an Austrian Gruner Veltliner.

Gruner Veltliner

This had a full and floral bouquet but wasn’t quite so perfumed on the palate. The rounded, full flavor worked well with the food that we’d chosen: it stood up well to the pork and the butter poached lobster but didn’t blow away the cod. The wine was described as being fun by the sommelier and that was an accurate description. Before the starter had gone, we were already contemplating the second and third halves of the bottle.

The extras

Before the meal began, we had a selection of canapes and an amuse bouche. The canapés included 3 broccoli inspired tastes: broccoli soup with crème fraiche; smoked trout with a broccoli slice and broccoli quiche. I love broccoli and this was certainly enjoyable.

I wish I could remember the amuse bouche but it was so greedily inhaled I’d forgotten what it was by the time I stared sadly at the empty plate

The accompanying bread rolls were so tasty and flavourful, they could almost be considered a course on their own. The cheese rolls were full of umami that they almost tasted Marmite-y. The layered brioche rolls were sinfully buttery, only the fear of not finishing the rest of the food stopped me from eating about four.


I strove for comforting simplicity, choosing a simple chocolate fondant with caramel ice cream. The second dessert was a work of art. It included a tempered chocolate tube with a layered “drawer” which could slide in and out. It was made of layers of cake, praline and mousse.

This dessert was technically excellent, cleverly conceived and just plain good fun.

Chocolate "drawer"

Chocolate “drawer”

Post dessert

After dessert, we were offered petit fours, despite not having coffee. I greedily galloped my way through these but my stomach drew the line at the Madeleines. Sensing my hesitation at jumping off the greedy cliff, the waiter proposed packing them up to go. I was delighted not to leave my little friends behind.



I wonder if everyone gets quite the same treatment at Daniel?

The food was delicious and varied with a lot of choice on offer.  The sommelier and waiter made the service feel not only exceptional but personal and special.  This makes it one of, if not the best restaurant experiences that I’ve ever had.

We’re off to an exceptional start in New York. Long may this continue!