For the legions who regularly run the gauntlet for a coveted reservation at Gramercy Tavern, I have some good news: you won’t have to compete with New York Journal for a table. After our visit there last Friday, we believe we are finished with Gramercy Tavern.
It’s not that we had a bad meal here (far from it), but we think there are far, far better ways to spend $86 per person—that’s the current prix fixe, the cheapest ordering option in the dining room. For all that, Chef Michael Anthony serves unmemorable, timid food that resembles an average night at his original restaurant, the less-expensive Blue Hill.
Our last visit to Gramercy Tavern was truly disappointing, with one of our pasta dishes served cold. To the restaurant’s credit, the general manager emailed me to follow up, and after we spoke on the telephone, sent us a $150 gift certificate. That’s about as generous response to a mishap as you can ask for, and typical of Danny Meyer’s empire: they truly want to please you.
But when you have a meal without any obvious mistakes, what are you left with? I cannot tell you that Michael Anthony is doing anything wrong. We don’t particularly mind that the menu is uninventive: there are no greater fans than we are, of classics done well. But to us, Gramercy Tavern is a big bore, the flavor profiles unchallenging and bland.
The trio of amuses-bouches was very good: a small lobster salad (above left), a potato puff with olive tapanade (center), and a cauliflower custard with sea urchin (right).
But we found muted and under-seasoned flavors in Whole Spelt Spaghetti with cauliflower and broccoli rabe (above left) and Lamb Pappardelle with olives, lemon confit and swiss chard (above right).
Entrées were served in ridiculous frisbee-sized plates with only a tiny amount of food in the center. The server informed us that lobster (above left) would be served medium rare, whatever that is supposed to mean. Some things just aren’t meant to be al dente. This flimsy, flaccid imitation of lobster should be dropped from the menu.
Venison Loin (above right) had a hearty flavor, but the casing on the accompanying sausage was too tough, and once you got inside the flavor payoff wasn’t there.
Curiously, the potato pancake that came with the venison (left) was much heartiier than any of the appetizers or entrées. It had the rich flavor that so much of the food lacked.
Things improved markedly when we got to dessert. Pastry Chef Nancy Olson’s desserts are all classics, but they grab you in a way the savory courses fail to do. The pre-dessert, if I recall correctly, was a mandarin orange jelly with mascarpone (not pictured).
We then had the Pineapple Upside Down Cake with frozen yogurt (above left) and the Slow Roasted Apples with pecan crumble and vanilla ice cream (above right). Both were excellent. The petits-fours were very good as well, and we were sent home with complimentary muffins, also from Chef Olson’s pastry kitchen. She really should branch out on her own.
A cup of cappuccino had to be sent back (not enough whipped cream), and a cup of espresso tasted like motor oil.
The service? Well, this is a Danny Meyer place overall. We remain annoyed that neither bread nor canapés are served until after you have ordered, which the GM informed me is a deliberate choice. But it does mean that if you want to relax over a drink, you have nothing to nibble on in the meantime.
We do not expect our review to affect Gramercy Tavern’s overwhelming popularity, and it shouldn’t. If you’re one of those to whom this cuisine appeals, we wish you well. We’ll be dining elsewhere.