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New York – Golden key to Gramercy Park and Tavern

image34For our last night we decided to dine at the renowned Gramercy Tavern, close to Gramercy Park and an historic attraction in a private enclave exclusive to local residents and Gramercy Park hotel guests. Being guests at the hotel gave us the opportunity to enter this place of intrigue and to step into a quieter and gentler New York City. Entrance however, requires the privilege of the golden key. Back to dinner - despite the rather high-class setting, the Gramercy Tavern has a wonderful neighbourhood vibe and serves some of the best food I have ever eaten. Not only did the food impress, the staff were fantastic and incredibly knowledgeable. Our main server basically wrote my blog for me with all of his anecdotes and stories.

image35The executive chef, Michael Anthony, specialises in New American cuisine and his fiercely seasonal menu consists of elegant dishes with a rustic influence that showcase the restaurant’s relationship with local farms. He joined Gramercy Tavern in September 2006, previously run by Chef Tom Colicchio of Top Chef fame. The restaurant has earned a number of accolades under his leadership, including a three-star New York Times review (2007), and James Beard Awards for “Outstanding Restaurant” (2008) and “Best Chef: New York City” (2012). He is also the author of The Gramercy Tavern Cookbook.

One can either dine at The Dining Room (our choice) or the Tavern, which is a little less formal. The sophisticated and timeless Dining Room features seasonal tasting and fixed-price menus. We opted for the six course seasonal tasting menu.

We decided not to do the usual “food and wine pairing” but rather to spoil ourselves with a bottle of Handley Pinot Noir 2009. Handley Cellars is a small family-owned winery in California’s Mendocino County, located at the northwest end of the Anderson Valley. Winemaker Milla Handley seeks to make balanced wines that possess distinctive varietal characteristics, wines that reflect the soil and climate in which they were grown.

The Pinot Noir was moderately light with a reddish-purple colour in the glass. The aromatics jump out when the cork is removed, but allow this wine to breath and reward with flirtatious, ripe red berry perfume. Medium-bodied, it bathes the mouth with dark cherry, ripe plum, black tea and cranberry flavours. It finishes off with a wet strawberry kiss.

We were served a complimentary amuse bouche of asparagus custard ham, miniature croutons and shaved parmesan – simply delicious. I just love these little decadent bite-size complimentary gifts from the Chefs. It’s like the start of a story… you just know whatever comes next will be exquisite.

image36When the first dish arrived, they announced that this dinner would be unforgettable. The presentation of each dish was spectacular, as if Chef Michael Anthony was using the plate as a canvas. The first dish was the marinated scallops, served with asparagus, almonds and American caviar. Scallops oh scallops…fresh, perfect texture… one of my favourite foods on earth!!! I love them.

image37The smoked sturgeon with a beet dashi radish and Swiss chard was an amazing sea of colours – it reminded me of a Picasso. It is no surprise that the meat of this particular fish, also sought after for its precious roe, is equally irresistible. Delicate, velvety and sweet - a testament to impeccable hot-smoking. Non-foodies out there, Dashi, normally a Japanese stock, was infused with beet and radish that showed off this alluring red colour. It might take extra effort to make dashi, but good dashi make any dish worth the wait.

image38The ricotta tortellini with ramps and morel mushroom was the next dish up for savouring. The average diner, who likely had never heard of ramps before will learn what the great chefs have known all along: they taste awesome. Mild and sweet, with a unique aroma somewhere between garlic and onions, but with a pronounced “funk”—almost cheese-like on your nose. Unlike scallions or onions which soften and eventually turn mushy when cooked, ramp bulbs retain a pleasant snap, while the lily-like leaves rapidly inflate then collapse when seared in hot butter. Another star performer of this dish is undeniably the morel mushrooms. A favorite of foragers, morel mushrooms taste downright meaty and will turn even hardcore carnivores into fans.The next delight up for tasting was the warm lobster salad served with carrots, fingerling potatoes and watercress. The lobster was cooked to perfection, and simply delicious with delicate flavourings complementing this beautiful seafood delicacy. The presentation was just a complete work of art. Such joy.

The last savoury dish for the evening was the roasted duck breast with quinoa, celery root, trumpet mushrooms and hazelnuts. The duck was cooked to a perfect medium-rare and came with a bit of fat that was just out of this world. The hazelnuts added some crunch and nuttiness to the dish ensuring perfect balance, yet delicate and flavourful. Trumpet mushrooms are the largest of the oyster mushroom species, with very little flavour or aroma when raw, but when cooked, the taste has been described as being umami, with the flavour and texture of an abalone. I may or may not have licked the hazelnut sauce clean from my plate. Some flavours are just undeniably treasurable.

image39Before dessert we were treated to a delicious palate cleanser of strawberry yogurt panacotta with mascarpone and meringue. Almost too good to eat. I truly enjoy the fact that there are still restaurants out there that believe in the values of satisfying the diner from start to finish.

image40The lime meringue tart with rum ice cream was exquisitely presented, a real feast for the eye and absolutely delicious. Although I am not a huge dessert fan, this lime meringue was not just beautifully presented, but thoroughly tasty. Like licking your spoon until there is not a single drop left. Yummy!

Our choice of dessert wine was a glass of St John Commandaria, a unique wine produced from some of the oldest grape varieties in the world. It was named Commandaria by the knights of St John who made it famous throughout the kingdoms of Europe during the Crusades. It has a luscious taste of powerful bouquet, dried fruit, spices and oak wood.

image41The second dessert for the night was the Rhubarb cake with strawberry ice cream and mint crème anglaise. I am also not really a fan of rhubarb, which is actually very sour when eaten raw, but with strawberry ice cream it’s a different story. The crème anglaise (French for “English cream”) is a light pouring custardy creamy sauce used to decorate dessert plates. Not bad, but also not one of my favourites.

Then the petit fours (also known as mignardises) were served - three small confectionary tasters to finish off the meal complimentary by the chef. If I have to be honest and say they were to die for and I would happily have them again! Interestingly, the name is French for "small oven".

The attention to detail and importance of satisfying each and every diner was again demonstrated by the delicious cinnamon muffin take away to enjoy at home for breakfast the next day. A wonderful gesture.

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Opened in 1994 by legendary restaurateur Danny Meyer and having achieved several accolades from the likes of Zagat, Wine Spectator, The New York Times, Michelin and the James Beard Foundation, this restaurant is definitely worth the visit. Overall, I was tremendously impressed. While the food might not quite be “cutting-edge” by some standards, it is well-imagined and executed to perfection. A thumbs up from me.

As quoted by Lucky Peach Magazine…“The poster child of all that is good about American food today.”