I blame the Notorious B.I.G. Whilst others siphoned their vision of New York from ten seasons of Friends, my view of the Big Apple came directly distorted from the music videos of Juicy and Big Poppa. I knew very little of the city other than pimped out vehicles and sweaty clubs where promiscuous ladies cavorted in hot pants, whilst men sipped on fancy cognacs and flashed wads of one hundred dollar bills.
Gramercy Tavern is nothing like that. Well, maybe the bit about cognacs and large currency, but certainly nothing like the rest. It’s a civil place where civil people go to enjoy civil food in a civil surrounding. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing; the meal would have been very different if we sat to the soundtrack of Puff Daddy and the Family. Instead we took central position on a dressed circular table in a dimly lit room with white-washed walls, long, arching dark wooden beams, and spectacular floral arrangements. It’s a pretty place to spend an evening, but then I knew that already. I also knew we could expect seasonal American dining from a kitchen which has held a Michelin star for a decade. Perfect surroundings for a meal early on in a celebratory trip to the city. In principal, at least.
We start with a tiny morsel of lobster salad on toast, which we all agree was delicious and left us wanting more. Up next was a pretty looking beef tartare with a salad of tomatoes and peppers that overpowered the slightly under seasoned meat, whereas a well flavoured carrot soup livened with hits of pickled onion was a little on the thin side. Better would be a bolognese with coarse pork and folds of ribbed pasta which clung to the deeply flavoured cooking liqueur.
Mains were protein heavy with all meat options offering two cuts from the same beast. Duck breast would be served atop of a mix of cabbage and confit meat. The cooking of the protein was faultless, though the plate would be dominated by acidity thanks to the heavy glug of vinegar that ran throughout the cabbage mix. Lamb loin came pink as requested with a slow cooked shoulder. The accompanying aubergine, pepper and yoghurt taking the dish for a stroll through the Middle East. It was well conceived and equally well received.
The pick of the mains was arctic char, gentle cooked and whizzed through the smoker at the last second, with the unusual paring of drupe, corn, and pepper. The fruit offering a refreshing sweetness against the fish. It felt balanced and original, unlike the conventional pairings which dominate the rest of the savoury menu.
We play it safe with desserts because no amount of wine is going to make me crave a combination of plum, potato and sorrel, or butternut and cranberry. Instead we take the recommendation of a silky chocolate mousse cake, positioned on a thick smear of blackcurrant jam with flecks of wild violet and coconut ice to discount the richness. Its the sort of dish that finishes you off for the evening and with the clock hands well passed midnight, we are glad for it. For the same reason we should have retired to bed with the cookies and cream plate boxed up for the following day, though we don’t because they are too good – in particular a peanut butter cookie which I unsuccessfully beg for more of.
A word on the service. I found New York in general to be a rushed, tip-orientated culture that frequently boarded on being rude. Not here. A team that was polished and knowledgeable, patient and understanding – even when one of the group came down ill minutes into our meal. And no automatic service charge. We well exceed the £65 a head for the three courses here because we are celebrating and still it feels value even if the we found the food a little off the mark a bit too frequently. Gramercy Tavern is considered a dining institution to many New Yorkers; long may it continue to be so.