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Seasonal Tasting at Gramercy Tavern: a Special Birthday

August 6, 2012

Gramercy Tavern is one of those grown-up restaurants that I always hoped to be able to grow into one day, especially for the chef’s tasting in its dining room.  Last week was a rather big birthday for MD, a perfect time to pull Gramercy Tavern out of my secret stash.  It was a humid and sticky night, nothing foreign this summer, and a storm was just visible in the periphery of the sky.  We made it to the corner of 20th and Park Avenue 30 minutes ahead of our reservation and right before the storm.  Our table was ready for us and our stomachs were growling so we abandoned the plan to grab a drink at the bar and headed straight into the dining room.  The space was cavernous, dark and warm.  It was a bit dark for the summer but we were glad to be inside, comfortably in a climate controlled room.

The dining room at Gramercy Tavern offers two menus, a seasonal chef’s tasting and an abbreviated 2 course dinner menu.  We chose with the chef’s tasting and settled into a leisurely long dinner.

A sliver of raw scallops with cherry tomato jus and rice crunchies started the meal.

The first real course was a red snapper with shiitake mushroom, trout roe, and jalapeno.  The mushrooms were deliciously pickled and the spicy jalapeno was just punchy enough to the snapper.

I was still savoring the shiitake mushrooms and the jalapeno jus when the next course, soft shell crab appeared.  We each received half a crab that was perched on top of a bed of sucrine lettuce and pickled green tomatoes.  A handful of raw sweet corn kernels were nestled in the midst of the crispy crab.  I am not sure what the chef’s obsession is with the the pickles but I was loving it in this dish as well.

Next was a beautifully cooked piece of halibut that sat on top of a bed of fresh zucchini and lobster sauce.  The olives were a great salty addition to the dish.  MD was still pining after the soft shell crab so the halibut didn’t quite win him over but I really enjoyed the simplicity of the fish.

With the halibut, we wrapped up the lighter courses and moved onto the heartier dishes of the night.  This was perhaps my favorite dish of the night.  Two pieces of squab was served with barley, tomatoes and sunchokes.  The slices were cooked to a medium rare that yielded perfectly tender bites all the way through.  It was my first time having squab and I can only hope that it will be this beautiful each time.

The final savory course of the night was a veal loin and braised deckle with baby eggplants and creamy polenta.  It was also beautifully executed but something was missing compared to that lovely squab.

We move onto the sweets with a palate cleanser.  That night it was a few ripe raspberries with fresh ricotta and a crispy fennel biscuit.  It was two great fresh bites, so representative of summer.

For dessert, we were offered a choice between two as well as a cheese course.  MD chose the glazed strawberry with pistachio ice cream served on a bed of chocolate whipped cream while I decided on a trio of cheeses.  The strawberry and chocolate dessert reminded me of a fancy neopolitan ice cream that was a great light end to the meal.  For my cheeses, I went with an Ascutney, raw cow from Hartland, VT, a Valdeon, goat and sheep blue from Castilla y Leon, Spain and finally a Casatica, buffalo from Lombardy, Italy.  The buffalo was the best surprise, a tangy and smooth cheese that was perfect for enjoying sans bread.

Of course, the restaurant was very thoughtful and brought out a little something special to celebrate MD’s occasion, a lovely soft and fluffy chocolate bread pudding with ice cream.  If I remember correctly, we were both diving in spoons first into it after the very first bite.  This could be the best bread pudding I have ever had, even over my own!

The treats just keep coming at Gramercy Tavern.  A few bites of petite fours to end our meal.  The first plate consisted of chocolate peanut butter cup, strawberry macarons and a lavender honey chocolate and the second plate held thin pieces of almond chocolate brittle and two tiny mint chocolate truffles.

And just when we thought this wonderfully grown-up meal had come to a close, our waiters showed up with two little coffee cakes.  Something for us to enjoy the next morning he tells us and with those tucked into our bags, we headed out into the now slightly cooler night post storm.  Gramercy Tavern was indeed a delightful place to not only wait out a storm but also celebrate a special occasion.

And yes for the record, I did quite enjoy my coffee cake with a bowl of Nespresso latte the next morning!

Gramercy Tavern | 42 East 20th Street, New York, NY 10003 | http://www.gramercytavern.com

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