April 25th was Justin and my’s anniversary, which called for an extra special celebration. We had a very special gift, a certificate to Gramercy Tavern, that we had been waiting to use, so this was the perfect occasion. Justin waited until exactly one month before the date, and called to make our reservation.
When the day arrived, we decided to take the express bus in so we could both drink freely. So, as usual, we arrived in the city about an hour before our reservation. Because of this we were forced to find another nearby bar to grab a drink. Luckily, the Flatiron area of NYC is full of options, and we came across The Cellar, a small and dimmer bar/restaurant on the floor below Beecher’s. The place was awesome, with aging cheeses lining a wall. We grabbed couple of seats at the bar, and took in the space. It seemed to have a really cool menu (the food looked and smelled as awesome as it appeared to be on the menu). And also a pretty cool happy hour deal. For our purposes, though, we each grabbed a cocktail.
As for me, you know I can’t resist an egg white option. So I went with the bedrock (on the left), which is a mix of aviation gin, creme de violette, combiner, egg white, lime, and red wine. Amazing. The violet flavor was really unusual and distinct, but in perfect balance. Justin went with the toy fair (on the right), which was four roses bourbon, spring44 gin, lime, angostura bitterer, and ginger brew. Different than mine, but equally delicious. While we were sad to leave this exciting new bar discovery, we were pretty excited about our upcoming, super fancy meal.
We were seated in the dining room promptly at 5:30, for our reservations – even though we called a month in advance, the day the reservations opened for our date, this was the only time available… pretty crazy. There’s also the option of going to the tavern, a little more casual, with an a la carte menu, and walk-in only.
Some history, as per Gramercy Tavern’s own website: “Opened in 1994 by legendary restauranteur Danny Meyer in a historic landmark building, the restaurant is designed by Bentel & Bentel with murals from artist Robert Kushner and vibrant floral arrangements from Roberta Bendavid.” While this all sounds neato, in all honesty, I didn’t really care for the art or decor or general feeling of the place. Maybe I’m just not cut out for elegance and class, but it felt sort of cold and drab. The art reminded me of those classical paintings I learned about in European history classes: beautiful, famous, and world-renowned, but utterly lifeless and colorless. The decor of the Tavern was much more my style, and I’m excited to get back to try that dining experience.
Ok, on to the food:
You have three options at Gramercy Tavern’s Dining Room: a three course price fixed menu for $92, a six course seasonal tasting menu for $120, or a vegetable tasting menu for $102.
Justin and I chose one of their more reasonably priced bottles of wine, about $75:
And, I’m sure it goes without say, we went for the seasonal tasting menu, photos below in the order they were served:
After dinner, we couldn’t resist the option of adding a cheese plate, so we did that, too:
And a sweet muscat wine:
And they gave us a little taste of chocolate, too:
Everything was great. Service was great (the waiter was a little bit awkward, and not the warmest of people, but I like awkwardness so he skated by). I don’t know; I just didn’t love it. Maybe it was the stuffy atmosphere – maybe I really am only meant to enjoy hipster casual places. Or maybe it was the never fading thought of the price tag on each one of our delicious and tiny plates. I don’t know what it was exactly, but I left feeling… hungry. Don’t get me wrong, every dish was executed perfectly. There really wasn’t a single flaw. But it just didn’t taste like $120 to me. It tasted like… maybe $75. They ripped me off.
For each of the dishes, let me take you through them:
The marinated scallops (kohlrabi, radish and lime) were excellent. Very fresh, and a fair portion.
The lobster salad (kabocha squash, braised kombu, and trumpet mushrooms) – yummy but what a wee little dish it was: really four tiny bites of lobster.
The poached Hake (spring onions and heirloom beans): Justin loved it, but this was my least favorite. Yes, it was cooked absolutely perfectly. But it was kind of boring. It needed some kind of pop. The waiter noticed that I left about 75% of this dish on my plate, and asked if something was wrong, to which I answered that, no, it was good it just wasn’t my taste at all. Maybe not eating this dish was what left me hungry? I wish they gave me a hunk of lobster to fill the Hake void in my belly.
Clam spaghetti (green garlic, herbed bread crumbs, and bottarga): as a self-proclaimed carbohydrate/pasta addict, this was my favorite. Super flavorful. But don’t get the major close up of the photograph wrong: this was a small portion. Justin claimed that he could have swirled it all onto his fork and devoured it in a single bite, which I don’t doubt for a second. Knowing how cheap it is for restaurants to produce a pasta dish, I wish they would have taken this opportunity to really fill us up.
The duck breast and confit (asparagus, leeks, and more mushrooms) was really beautifully done, too. Tons of flavor, and cooked to complete perfection. There’s no complaint there.
Dessert was cool: Orange vanilla rice pudding (white chocolate kris pies and basil). But I don’t know… I feel like they could of done better.
The meal was great. But for a nearly $500 bill, I don’t think I could have justified the splurge without having had a gift certificate.
Over the course of our meal, it became clear to us that we needed a change of scenery, so we asked our young, hip looking bus boy for any recommendations for more casual, speakeasy types of bars. He rattled off several suggestions, one of which was Dear Irving, only a few blocks away.
We walked over, and put our names on the list, and went to the little restaurant below, Adalya, to wait for our table. I’m not ashamed to say that we had beers and shared a dozen oysters there, and they were great. The guy shucking even gave me some tips, as it still takes me 10-15 minutes to shuck one oyster. Thank god for people capable of smiling – I breathed a sigh of relief as he joked with me about how, “it’s all in the wrist.” God, I love that guy.
When we got our text that our spot at Dear Irving was available, we grabbed our bill and headed back in. We sat at the bar and were really impressed by the style and vibe of the place. Small, cozy, warm, and beautiful drinks being made right in front of us… it really was the polar opposite of Gramercy Tavern, and exactly what we needed.
And this happened. My name is Baconboozer, and after a $500 meal at one of the most highly esteemed restaurants in New York City, I first drank a beer and ate oysters, and then ordered chicken liver pate and steak tartare at a speakeasy, with an egg white cocktail. The bartender heard us talking about our anniversary and gave us each a glass of complimentary champagne. Plus we even had an overly friendly drunk Irish guy sitting next to us who (obviously) became our best friend by the end of the night. The cocktails we ordered were outstanding, and the snacks were delicious. The steak tartare was not shy with the horseradish, but we loved it.
In summary, I gave Gramercy Tavern three Baconboozer stars. Very well executed food, and very good service, but just not for me. In all fairness, it is actually quite reasonably priced when compared to some NYC competitors like Eleven Madison Park ($225 per person), Daniel ($220 per person), or Per Se ($295 per person). Per Se is definitely on our to do list, but we’ll have to save up for quite a while, and have quite a big reason to celebrate when we do finally make it there. For me, I just felt that if I had received the same meal from Gramercy Tavern at some no name place, for the same price, I would have been outraged. It’s amazing how far a name can take you…
As for the other stops on our journey (The Cellar, Adalya, and Dear Irving), I highly recommend all three. Quality places all in walking distance of one another!