There are some restaurants you go to eat; others you go to dine. It might seem like a simple distinction, but the radical differences between the two restaurant experiences change the course of a meal. For my Mom’s birthday, she deserved the best. After much debate, I decided on Gramercy Tavern, a New York institution and a place that my New York native of a mom had never been. This Michelin Star restaurant is the ultimate special occasion spot, making anyone, especially my Mom’s birthday feel extraordinary.
According to an old New York Times review, “Is there a restaurant in this city more beloved than Gramercy Tavern?” There’s a reason why this lovely, almost dreamy restaurant fills every table at 6pm on a Sunday night. We entered inside to a restaurant festively decorated for the fall season. Beautiful displays of pumpkins, herbs and seasonal flowers dressed up the space to feel almost like a secret garden.
The hostess led us towards the back of the restaurant, to the nicer dining area. There’s a more causal eating ‘tavern’ in the front with wooden tables, bar area and rowdy crowds, which is first come first serve. Instead we entered a simply decorated room with white cloth tables, a single large, 3d star painting and carefully placed containers overflowing with beautiful colored pumpkins. The service is fantastic with knowledgeable wait staff, willing to explain every dish and offer suggestions. We joked that the second you drank an eighth of water, it would be refilled. They were attentive and thorough without being overbearing and awkward.
When my mom and I asked about glasses of wine, we were given honest answers without the waiter pointing to the most expensive options in hopes of upping his tip. My dad glanced over their extensive list of hard cider, which is a cross between beer, champagne, and apple cider, before deciding on a glass. The waitress came around pouring sips of each of our selections, living up to our approval. Amanda, curious about the cider, even tried a little sip, before declaring, “I hate all alcohol.”
We each debated what to order off the prix fix menu, wonderful creations of Chef Mike Anthony’s imagination. There are six selections in the first course section, and an additional six in the second course. We would decide on our desserts later in the meal. While we tried to decide what dish would be best to order, one of the servers came around with two options of bread; sourdough and a crisp, french roll. Amanda and I smiled when a small container of sea salt was placed adjacent to the butter, to be sprinkled on top of the bread. We have a weakness for sea salt.
We each ordered our dishes; with each one of us ordering something different for appetizers, and my dad and I both deciding on the lamb for our main course. Each of the dishes are simple, yet elegant. I anxiously awaited to see how each would be presented and the complexity of flavors that would be sure to stay on my minds for days, even weeks.
But first, a little amuse-bouche of a simple profiterole with herbed ricotta started off the meal.
Sweet and simple, the profiterole crunched with a subtle lightness, breaking through to the delicate flavor of the ricotta. This little bite evoked memories and stories, as my mom talked about she used to make dessert versions of profiterole’s when her and dad first married. While we spoke, the waitress placed appropriate utensils in front of each of us, a fish spoon and fork for me, soup spoon for Amanda, and so on. Shortly after, our dishes arrived. Two waiters, holding two dishes each, placed each dish in front of us simultaneously. It felt like we were in a ballet of dishes, with everything choreographed to perfection.
The sweet, subtle complexity in flavor made this soup one of my favorite dishes of the evening. There is something so elegant about a seasonal soup without being overdressed. A subtle spice came through the richness of the soup, adding a unique dimension of flavor. The simple crunch of the brussel sprouts, sweet lobster and pieces of squash added layers of texture to an otherwise silky soup. It was divine, making me realize all other butternut squash soups will hail in comparison.
My Mom absolutely loves pasta bolognese, so it was no surprise when she ordered this dish to start. It might seem a bit odd to have such a heavy dish as an appetizer, but this was quite the opposite. The fresh pasta seemingly melted in your mouth, with the wonderfully flavorful sauce of beef, pork and tomatoes.; a wonderful rendition of a classic, Italian dish.
Silky, decadent cauliflower custard mixed with sweet pieces of trout roe made this one of the unique delicious dishes of the night. My dad kindly shared bites of this creamy, luxurious custard. Cooked and pureed to mix all of the flavors, then chilled before service, the custard had such a richness of flavor. It seemed almost deceiving at first sight. The wonderful trout roe and beautiful pieces of purple and white cauliflower added necessary texture and flavors to an already rich and elegant dish.
My smoked trout melted in my mouth with each bite. I didn’t even find a need to even pick up a knife to cut into the silky piece of fish. The dish is simple in presentation, with the fish almost appearing to be grilled at first glance. The trout comes on top of a creamy cippollini puree, which has a similar texture to mashed potatoes. The pickled onions and puree added an element of acidity and flavor to the simple dish. At first glance, and maybe in the spirit of the holiday season, it felt like an upscale version of Thanksgiving in color and texture. It was simple, yet absolutely delicious. One of my favorite dishes of the night.
For our main courses, my dad and I both ordered the lamb, while my mom went for the whimsical chicken and sausage. Amanda ordered the grilled swordfish (not pictured). Amanda’s swordfish tasted like a rich meat, rather then a fishy flavor, an interesting revelation for someone who doesn’t eat red meat.
I only tried the sausage in this dish, as my mom enjoyed the wonderful combination of flavors. The sausage had a subtle spice of flavor, and sweetness from the apple. It seemed like the perfect fall dish. At first glance, my mom was nervous about the portion size, but after seemingly licking the plate clean, she realized any more food would lose the integrity of the dish. Every component served a purpose, with pieces of both light and dark meat, seasonal vegetables and the large piece of sausage. And once again, the presentation was impeccable.
The lamb dish was heavenly, cooked to the ultimate tender and juicy medium rare. Four different preparations of lamb made its way onto the dish; rack of lamb off the bone, lamb sausage, crispy skin, and a piece of lamb liver (or heart). Each different component highlighted the quality of meat, with the rack of lamb, melting in your mouth since all the fat had been rendered into the piece of meat. The juicy, tenderness of the lamb could only be achieved by an expert, someone so skilled in the art of cooking meat. The lamb sausage offered a playful take on the delicious piece of meat, with a more subtle complex flavors of spice and heat, reminding me of a Mediterranean dish. The crispy skin had the qualities of a peking duck skin, with a rich fattiness that I love. The liver or heart, I had a difficult time determining which, had a less fatty flavor, just highlighting the full flavor of the meat. The crescent potatoes on the side were the perfect counter part of the dish, reminding me of a classier play on steak and potatoes. Easily one of the best meat dishes I have had in my life.
By the time dessert menus were placed in front of us, we were content and full, but eagerly ready for something sweet. Each of us decided on our sweet dishes and anxiously awaited their arrival, and the oh so important birthday candle. However, there was a little interlude in between.
This sweet, tart panna cotta acted as the ideal palate cleanser between dinner and dessert. The necessary crunch of the granola and added sweetness of the cherry played off the lemony tart and rich flavor of the dish. The wonderful little transition into sweetness.
We saw the flickering light of a birthday candle out of the corner of our eyes, as we awkwardly began to sing happy birthday to my mom. With careful piping skills “Happy Birthday Lori!” was written in chocolate on her lovely cookie plate dessert.
After singing and wishes were made, the rest of our desserts arrived.
The last time I dined at Gramercy Tavern, I had this decadent, out of this world dessert. I had sent a picture to Amanda and her response was less then appropriate for the blog, but needless to say, I knew the smile that would cross her face when she ordered this dish. When it arrived she looked up at me and said “this is where you had this?!” Amanda has a weakness for macaroons, salted caramel and peanut butter, making this her dream dessert. Rich layers of peanut butter surround a rich center of caramel topped with sea salt. Roasted peanuts add a wonderful, sweet crunch that you could eat on its own. And of course, the wonderful, large chocolate macaroon rounds out the entire dessert of Amanda’s imagination.
I was barely able to take a picture before this dessert was devoured. My dad said it was delicious, but not the best dessert he’d ever had.
Easily one of the best chocolate bread pudding I have ever had. With a warm chocolate ganache on top, it seemed like a molton lava cake and bread pudding came together in one joyous harmony of a dessert. Then the cocao nib ice cream added the perfect contrast of warm and cold, melting into the bread pudding. A rocky pile of cacao on the plate added an additional crunch, while I munched on the chocolate cigar, dipping it in caramel and fudge for additional decadence. This dessert was not for the faint of heart. Chocolate lovers from far and wide when in New York should treat themselves to this wonderful dessert.
Just when we thought we couldn’t move or look at food ever again, the waiter brought over an adorable plate of petit fours to end the meal.
We could barely make a dent into the petit fours, adding them to my mom’s to-go box of cookies.
Then the waiter placed a little plastic wrapped oatmeal coffee cake in front of each of us, as a little gift for breakfast in the morning (which I thoroughly enjoyed at my desk). The perfect little farewell treat to a wonderful, decadent, unforgettable meal.
So Happiest of Birthday’s Mom! For the most amazing, unforgettable meal on a special occasion, Gramercy Tavern is the place for you. It will definitely put a dent on the wallet, but for an unforgettable meal with so many special components, for the food lovers alike, it is worth coming to at least once in your lifetime. Gramercy Tavern is truly something special, so if you haven’t been, find a memorable occasion and make a reservation. I promise your meal is sure to be memorable.
Gramercy Tavern – 42 East 20th St – New York, NY
Location: Gramercy/Flatiron, NY
Type: New American
Perfect For: Special Occasions, Date Night, Prix Fix
Reservations: Recommended via OpenTable
Favorite Dishes: Smoked Trout, Roasted & Braised Lamb, Cauliflower Custard, Warm Chocolate Bread Pudding