Since I’ve started working in NYC, my nights off have become infrequent and much more valuable than they once were. Rocky, though her hours aren’t as late as mine, has found herself in the same situation. So when our free nights match up, it’s cause for celebration.
Leading up to our most recent such night, I presented Rocky with a list of six dining options for the evening and asked for her for a preferential ranking. It turned out her first choice was the same as mine, so dinner at Gramercy Tavern it was.
We arrived plenty early and had a couple espressos at the bar and dried off for a bit(the downpour was immense enough that even under umbrella cover we were half soaked). On the way in, we ran into our hometown friend the ulterior epicure, who was in town doing his usual fooding. Before long, we were comfortably seated at a great corner table and ready to see what 2012 James Beard Best Chef: NYC, Michael Anthony, and his team have been up to.
To get started, we ordered up a couple glasses of Diebolt-Vallois Blanc de Blancs from Cramant, Champagne. I was unfamiliar with this producer and shocked at how great the juice was for the price. Light citrus, orchard fruit, a little floral, mild yeast, light-medium body, delicate finish. Balanced subtlety, sublime elegance, clean cut, pure, delicious. It worked wonderfully to get us started and is what Rocky stuck with through the meal.
After looking over the menu, we opted for the vegetable tasting, plus a couple supplements(big surprise).
For the welcoming bite we were given: Ricotta ‘Cheese Puff’. Warm, cheesy, and salty, which I love. For bread service: Farro Bread and Sourdough. We both particularly liked the grainy crunch of the toasted farro on top of the thick crust.
1st Course: Sweet Corn. King Crab, Shiso and Pickled Ramps. I imagine it has something to do with my mom growing up on a farm in central Nebraska and instilling an appreciation for ‘real’ corn, but I’m a fanatic(and a huge snob) when it comes to sweet corn. This dish, dressed in corn stock with lemon juice and white balsamic, certainly didn’t disappoint. Rocky liked the corn to crab texture and described the dish as ‘so juicy but not soggy; chewy[in a good way] but not tough’. And as I’m typing now, she just exclaimed: ‘Absolutely, 100%, the best dish of the night, hands down.’
2nd Course: Snap Pea Salad. Goat’s Milk Yogurt, Cucumber and Radish. The yogurt had a good tang, and a bright mint note. The peas, as always, I adored. The cucumber added freshness. The radishes added a subtle, pleasant bitterness. The vegetables, all lightly blanched, all had a great snap, and were tossed in an appropriately acidic dress.
3rd Course: Bok Choy. Broccoli, Black Soy Beans and Hakurei Turnips. Wonderful vegetable aromas here. The broth of bok choy, broccoli rabe, and veg stock had a balanced savoriness. The soybeans were fun to eat: tender outside, and textured like a braised peanut inside.
4th Course(Supplement): Sugar Snap Peas, Radish and Cucumber Gazpacho. This was listed as the setting for the Flounder on the prix fixe menu. I asked if the chef would be willing to make a small dish out of the setting for an extra course. So out came this. Aromatics of cucumber and dill. A great gazpacho livened with lime juice. Sugar snap peas, radishes, and turnips that echoed the sentiment from the 2nd course of the fresh vegetal snap. Micro celery greens added a slight tang and tartness. I’m sure this is a fantastic playground for the flatfish.
5th Course: Warm Bean Salad and Squash Sauce. A variety of beans with radish, squash, and pickled carrots, swiss chard stems, and curried turnip. The pickled elements were varied and interesting and broke up the starchy fricassee-like mix of legumes. Dynamically presented and flavored, a very sound dish. And Rocky’s choice for second best dish of the night.
6th Course(Supplement): Soft Shell Crab. Sugar Snap Peas, Pickled Burdock and Carrot Mustard Vinaigrette. This was listed on the menu as a course in the Seasonal Tasting Menu. Same as my tendency with dishes involving peas, it’s hard for me to pass up a dish with soft shell crab. The crab here had a super-light tempura-style batter and was cooked spot-on. Texture-wise: the natural crisp outside/tender inside contrast of the crab coupled with the snap peas still hidden in their chopped pods made for the
funnest most fun few bites I’ve experienced in awhile. The condiments of carrot vinaigrette and strips of burdock completed what for me was a perfect plate. Looking back, this dish edged out the sweet corn and crab for my dish of the night.
7th Course: Spinach Spaghetti. Tomato, Shishito Peppers and Basil. Well..I can’t say I didn’t like it. The pasta was almost textureless. The shishitos and toasted breadcrumbs added a little crunch to otherwise mushy bites. Flavor-wise, the tomato and basil were yummy, but didn’t hit as hard as I would expect for the final savory of the tasting. Rocky(who is a pasta enthusiast, and was dubbed the ‘carb queen’ by her grandma years ago) commented: ‘Isn’t it strange my least favorite dish is the pasta?!’
Pre-Dessert: Salvatore Ricotta(from Brooklyn), Raspberry, Fennel Cookie. Straight-forward, delicious bites to transition into sweets.
8th Course: Tasting Dessert. We were given a choice of two desserts to round out the menu. I don’t remember at all what the other one was, but Rocky and I both got this: Chocolate Whip Cream, Pistachio Ice Cream, Pistachio Crumble, Candied Pistachio, Strawberry, Strawberry Meringue. For as light as the whip cream was, it packed some great chocolate flavor. Likewise, the meringues tasted delightfully of strawberry.
9th Course(Supplement): Fresh Mint Ice Cream. Chocolate Stuffed Raspberries and Brownies. I wanted a broader scope of what Pastry Chef Nancy Olson has been up to, and Rocky wanted more sweets, so I ordered two more dishes to follow the tasting dessert. The mint in the ice cream struck the ideal balance of power and subtlety. The chocolate filling of the berries also had a crisp component that was a fun surprise. A beautiful, elegant dessert.
9th Course(Supplement): Peanut Butter Semifreddo. Chocolate Macaron. Caramel. Roasted Candied Peanuts. Chocolate Sauce. Whip Cream. The semifreddo was perfectly peanut buttery. The meringue texture was nice(and impressive for the size). A tasty dish, but in its entirety, much to rich for me. Though Rocky didn’t seem to have any problem making quick work of it.
Petit Fours: Chocolate Peanut Butter Tart. Cherry Hazelnut Macaron. Honey Lavender Chocolate(amazing). Chocolate Mint Truffle(think refined Andes candies). Almond Tuille with Chocolate(loved the salt).
Chef Olson seems to be a master of balancing the perfect intensity of flavor for each medium and context. I look forward to returning with my good friend BLT(the Beltless Tiger) for a full dessert flight.
During the meal, I ordered two more wines. First, from one of my favorite producers, 2000 R Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia rose. Not among my first choices for vegetable pairing, but a personal go-to for soft shell crab. Still drinking fresh, with light berry, warming spices, nuttiness, and brisk acidity. Next, 1999 Vigna Gattera Barolo by Gianfranco Bovio. Seemingly just through the front end of its drinking window, this by-the-glass prize was a pleasure. Dark fruit, black cherry, dusty tannin, wood herbs, and a powerful structure. This made me wish I had supplemented a meat dish as well.
Take home: Oatmeal Cinnamon Coffee Cake. These treats were presented with the check and we were told that the additional dishes I ordered as well as my BTG still wines were on the house. It was an unnecessary gesture. Big thanks to whoever was responsible for it.
Chef Anthony, though we learned he wasn’t in the kitchen that night, has a talent for bringing out the best features of beautiful ingredients and working them into a cohesive plate. I’m sure his list of accolades is just beginning.
Date of visit: July 18, 2012
Drinks while typing: Tito’s and soda, Leffe Blonde
Gramercy Tavern. 42 East 20th Street. NYC. 212.477.0777 http://www.gramercytavern.com/