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Gage & Tollner (Closed)


Suzanne F
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First: I want to say first that it was absolutely terrific to meet cyber-acquaintances in person; I look forward to more such opportunites. What a wide-ranging set of interests member have!

Okay, here's my full report:

At the suggestion of SobaAddict, who wanted to try the Soft Clam Bellies at Gage and Tollner in Brooklyn, a few of us had an early dinner there last night. The group comprised SobaAddict, Jason and Rachel Perlow, and yours truly plus my husband, Paul (who loves to eat but is not a fanatic like me). To give the “TV Guide” version of our experience: Stick to the classics. A good, possibly even great, time was had by 80% of us, so take heed.

The place is gorgeous: landmarked inside and out, with tooled leather walls, gaslights (more on them later), and the comfortable feeling of a fin-de-siècle fressers’ palace. It opened in 1879 – even before Luger’s – and in spite of some tough times and intermittent closings is a generous place to visit. And the service, after an initial glitch, was just fine. It didn’t appear that any of the current waiters had been there since birth (they wear insignia on their sleeves indicating length of service), but they did their jobs quite well. Of course, it helped that we ordered a lot, discussed the food and wine a lot, and in general were the kind of delightful, APPRECIATIVE customers any restaurant would just love to have. BTW: until almost the end of our dinner, no one mentioned eGullet, although the maitre d' kept asking if we (well, Jason in particular) were in the food business. Jason did tell him about eGullet before we left.

The menu is a combination of classic dishes (some updated, most not) and attempts at trendy stuff. The table’s consensus: stick to the classics. Jason was impressed with the wine list, and the wine knowledge of Nicola, the manager/maitre d’. I didn’t see the list, but the choices Jason made with Nicola’s information were excellent. I would like to thank Rachel and Soba for drinking little or none of them; more for the rest of us. :biggrin:

And now: what did we eat? Of course, the fried Soft Clam Bellies. Although not quite as soon as we’d hoped (this was the glitch with the silver lining). When Nicola conveyed the instruction, “double appetizer portion of SCBs,” the receiver of that information goofed. Soon thereafter we were brought Fried Calamari, with a spicy tomato sauce lightened with a touch of vodka and/or cream. Hey, clam bellies/calamari – anyway, when we pointed out the error, Nicola graciously let us keep the calamari gratis. We were all very glad he did that: tender, crisp, fresh, (to me, just a touch greasy, but not enough for anyone else to note) – quite a lovely version. When the correct clam bellies arrived, the few remaining calamari rings were removed – but returned to us when we protested their loss.

The Fried Soft Clam Bellies were served with remoulade, on which no one commented. The clams had been dipped in egg and crumbs and greaselessly fried, then placed back on half-shells atop a mélange of brunoise vegetables and a touch of cream. An unnecessary touch, but mostly appreciated. Four out of five of us fell in love: the clams were fat, big, delicately melting; #5 thought they could have been fresher. But on the whole (on the half-shell?), a winner. “I could eat these all night.”

With these apps we drank a Dr. Konstantin Frank Finger Lakes (NY) 2000 Johannisberger Riesling. To me, it had all the good characteristics of a Riesling (fruit plus acid) and none of the negatives (that bitter grapefruit-rind taste). All who drank it liked it.

We shared one more app, because it called to all of us so loudly: the Pan Roast of Oysters. A unanimous winner. Oceanically saline oysters, barely cooked, in a light sauce of tomato and cream – well, light on the tomato, anyway. If we’d had straws, we would have just sucked up that sauce despite th consequences. As it was, some of the breads were perfect for dipping. (I did not check out the bread basket – a rarity for me – but there was a nice variety of white and dark, light and heavy.)

A couple of individual apps were also ordered: Caesar salad, and she-crab soup (a classic from when Edna Lewis, the doyenne of Low-Country cookery, was chef there). We were all surprised that the salad was served already mixed and plated; we expected the whole tableside production. But the “Caesar dressing” was delicious, heavily- but not overly-supplied with anchovies. The soup, however, was a disappointment. Those who tasted it said it was more like just a bowl of warm heavy cream, with little or no discernible crab flavor and no hint of roe.

We finally got around to entrées. From the sublime to the ridiculous: Crabmeat Virginia (one of their classics); a Veal Oscar special (seasonally adjusted and slighty modernized); Striped Bass special with olives and cherry tomatoes; and the regular sautéed Striped Bass with Asian veg and flat rice noodles. The last dish was another big disappointment: way out of balance, with too little fish for too much other stuff. And the noodles were considered overcooked. On to happier memories: the bass special was excellent: a sweet, fresh fillet over a mound of mashed potatoes, with sliced olives and tomatoes in a light but buttery sauce. Accompanying carrot batonets and haricots verts were a little overcooked (I thought), but buttery and garlicky. The veal Oscar was updated: the meat was lightly grilled au natur, rare, and actually had flavor; sautéed spinach instead of the classic but out-of-season asparagus; a ton of sweet lump crabmeat (YES!!), and just a light glaçage instead of a glob of Béarnaise. The same side vegs, and a molded cake of smashed potatoes with herbs, yum. Now at last, the big winner: pure lump crabmeat packed into a ring-mold about 2 ½ inches in diameter and 2 inches high, topped with crumbs, soaked with butter, and baked. Simple perfection, served over sautéed spinach on top of a potato galette. There was a light cream sauce with it. But the emphasis was the CRAB. Wow.

We also shared a side order of creamed spinach, which should have been called lightly spinached cream. Delicious, just the right amount of nutmeg, but far too much cream for that amount of spinach. Have you noticed a recurring theme here? Can you spell, c-r-e-a-m?

With the entrées we had an Umbrian Sagrantino di Montefalco 1998, Cantina Terre De’Trinci. Rather tannic at first, but it mellowed out over time and worked quite well with the food. Oh, and Jason ordered a glass of a sparkling white from Piemonte – I didn’t catch the name – which was full-flavored and delicious.

On to dessert and coffee. Dessert? Oh my god. No one really had room but we pressed on valiantly in the interests of research. I made a point of asking which were house-made (sorry, that’s the former pastry chef in me). The overall selection included cheesecakes (ricotta and cream cheese), chocolate mousse, a chocolate cake creation,and crème brulée, among others. But we lit on the house-made Apple Crisp and the Pecan Tart. Unbeknownst to us, the orders went in for “à la mode.” A decent, not-too-rich vanilla ice cream, but talk about gilding the lily! (Oh well ant least no whipped ream in addition.) The pecan tart had an excellent nut-to-goo ratio, and the goo actually had more flavor than just sweet. Apple crisp was the better of the 2, though – a cinnamony, crisp cakey topping over tart apple slices with some bite left. We should have ordered another so that SobaAddict wouldn’t go home hungry. The double espressos were very, very good, too: strong but not bitter, with good crema.

Oh yeah, the gaslights: all the light fixtures have electric bulbs at each end, but mostly the original gas fixtures. At 7:00 pm, there’s a big ceremony when they put candles on the tables, turn down the electrics, and someone goes around with what looks like a long-necked oilcan, lighting the gaslamps. (Then they turn the electrics back up.) Kind of impressive, but mostly hokey, And it gets considerably hotter in the place with the flames going. Still …

(Personal note: this was my first encounter with other eGulleteers "in the flesh," and I must say it was terrific. What a multi-faceted group we are. Thank you, SobaAddict, for making this happen. I definitely look forward to future good times. Oh, and Paul had a great time, too; but Jason, it's good you didn't mention missiles until almost the end; Paul could go on FOREVER. :blush:

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I don't think we've ever had a "watch this space" post before (unless you count all my empty promises to update my cross-country log). Kind of like "save the date," I guess. Another eGullet first!

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I must say, it was a much nicer dining experience than I thought it would be -- I expected the cuisine to be tired, whereas it turned out to be a fine example of old-fashioned "grand hotel" or cruise ship type of food. There's nothing inventive at this place, but thats OK -- its not what you come here for. Here's my short synopsis, as I didnt take heavy notes like Susanne did.

Here is the dinner menu, in PDF format (you need the Adobe Acrobat reader to view it, from adobe's web site at www.adobe.com)

http://www.gageandtollner.com/MenuDinner.pdf

We started off with Calamari -- lightly fried and cooked to perfection, with a spicy marinara dipping sauce. It turned out we got them by mistake, but the restaurant gave them to us on the house -- they were delicious nonetheless.

We followed up with the fried belly clams, which were served on the half shell on top of a light cream sauce with a brunoise of mierpoix. These were excellent as well, and they did not need the tartar sauce on the side which accompanied them.

We also shared a main-dish sized portion of pan-seared oysters in a sherry cream sauce -- this was excellent, but extremely rich, and having just one oyster was more than enough. I would find it difficult to eat a whole plate of these.

Rachel and I both had Ceasar salads -- while not prepared at table, which was a slight disappointment, these were obviously freshly prepared in the kitchen and the dressing had a very strong anchovy flavor, which I actually like. A fine example.

For main dishes, I had the signature dish, the Crab Virginia, while Rachel had the Veal Oscar special. I will note that these two dishes had similar preparations, using a light cream sauce with spinach as a base. The Crab Virginia is essentially a huge mound of lump crab, with a breadcrumb crust on the top, served on top of a layer of scalloped potatoes and spinach with a light cream sauce. This was probably one of the best lump crabmeat dishes I ever had, it was cooked perfectly, and quality of the crab was excellent.

I ordered a side of the Creamed Spinach for the table, which was probably overkill considering how much cream we've already had, but it was a excellent example, although it was probably more cream than spinach. I prefer Maloney and Porcelli's version, which is more spinach heavy, but this was nothing to scoff at.

I finished up with a slice of their home made pecan pie, served warm with vanilla ice cream, which had a perfect nut to filling ratio (it was nut heavy) and was very caramely-tasting. It was more like a pecan tart as it was flatter than your typical pecan pie (which usually have a lot of glop).

They have a stunningly good wine list and a very knowledgeable and personable Maitre'd, Nicola, who helped us match appropriate wines to our selections and made very pleasant conversation with us about food and wine -- he knew right away we were serious. We had a very nice, very acidic NY finger lakes Johanisberg Reisling, as well as a Italian "Sangantino" from Umbria which is a Sangiovese-offshoot of medium body and tannin, which had very earthy, olivy undertones similar to a Cabernet Franc although not as in your face. Both of these went very well with the food and were quite reasonably priced.

All and I would say we had an excellent meal, but it was very rich and not the kind of place I would go to all the time, you might want to try finding out in advance which dishes use heavy butter and cream, so you can match accordingly. The current managemnt obviously knows what its doing and they know how to please -- but stick to the traditional dishes. SobaAddict tried one of their non-classical entrees which was their attempt at an Asian-flavored dish, and it was a huge disappointment.

I will also note Gage and Tollner, which is the second oldest operating restaurant in NYC (While not as old as Fraunce's Tavern which opened in 1719, it predates Luger by 8 years, opening in 1879, Luger in 1887) is the only restaurant that still has operational gas lamps, which they light in an impressive ceremony at exactly 7pm every day. Definitely something worth coming early for.

Gage and Tollner

372 Fulton Street

Brooklyn, NY 11201

(718) 875-5181

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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We followed up with the fried belly clams, which were served on the half shell on top of a light cream sauce with a brunoise of mierpoix. These were excellent as well, and they did not need the tartar sauce on the side which accompanied them.

Jason, were the clams really fried, or were they the broiled rendition? Were they crisp outside, or tender? If fried, this seems like a pretty prissy treatment of what's basically New England street food. I think I'll start a separate fried-clam thread.

BTW, I used to visit G&T occasionally, before and during the Edna Lewis regime, and really liked the place. (I used to do my bellies broiled.) It's been a while, though, especially for a Brooklyn boy.

The gas lamps also gave them a competitive advantage during the power blackouts of the '60s and '70s.

"To Serve Man"

-- Favorite Twilight Zone cookbook

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We followed up with the fried belly clams, which were served on the half shell on top of a light cream sauce with a brunoise of mierpoix. These were excellent as well, and they did not need the tartar sauce on the side which accompanied them.

Jason, were the clams really fried, or were they the broiled rendition? Were they crisp outside, or tender?

They were really fried, and crisp outside and nice and tender inside.

I agree about the prissiness, but damn they were good.

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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I had had a heavy lunch, and wanted something light (ok, well the she-crab soup wasn't light, but I'm also a big fan of soup. she-crab soup, done the authentic way, South Carolina style, is something worth ordering....but not in this instance. it seemed more along the lines of a warmed bowl of heavy cream, with an over-accentuated helping of sherry, and the token shreds of crabmeat floating in the bowl). When I received the bass, it was a 180 degree turn around from my expectations -- a little dry and overcooked; the bass rested on a bed of noodles and stir-fried vegetables surrounded by a tasteless pool of brown goop (their attempt at a lemongrass-ginger emulsion). I had expected something light -- the fish as a main centerpiece, the vegetables and noodles as sideshow players, but that's not what I received.

SA

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I last went when the "Sensation" show was on at the Brooklyn MoA, so I guess that's either last summer or probably the summer before. A lovely place, which needs to be preserved. The food can be a little rich - lots of butter and cream - but it's good to see historic dishes like Oysters Jim Brady actually being made and enjoyed.

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What they said.

OK, fine, my impressions:

Interesting variation on the Fried Clam Belly - the problem was they were Littleneck clams, not Ipswitch.

Excellent Veal Oscar, although I missed the asparagus, Suzanne is right in pointing out it is better for the kitchen to go with something else when they are out season and the spinach was just right.

The She-Crab soup should be renamed Cream of Cream soup.

It was an appetizer sized portion of the Oyster Pan Roast, that's why there was only one oyster for each of us. I last had a version of this dish in New Orleans. Hard to tell which was better. G&A's was certainly very very good.

If Brooklyn were my neighborhood I would stop in there just for the Apple Crisp. So Good.

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Yes, the apple crisp is tres excellent.

However, the dated piano music is most certainly not.

What can I say? I'll take wall-to-wall sound anyday over endless piano renditions of "Take 5". After the third go-around (in the space of an hour!!!), I wanted to throttle the guy behind the baby grand.

SA

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One of my Bosses at Nino's used to manage G&T...always wished Id had the time to have us sit and pick his brain about the place. I work about five minutes from the place. Always wondered if it had safe stuff on the menu for me.

Would they mind me calling up to check a couple of things out y'think?

If anyone replies to this, please do it via PM...cuz Im gonna forget this thread is here lol.

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  • 1 year later...

I was enroute from my firehouse to the subway this morning after work, picked up the local neighborhood paper...and staring me in the face is an obituary for G&T.

They closed last night, as I understand after dinner service.

The reason cited was they didnt get the business they expected with the development of Metrotech nearby. On another site I belong to, someone made the point that the location wouldnt draw the local residents. In light of the fact that Smith Street..alias Restaurant Row....is blocks away....somehow I cant stomach that concept.

I could kick myself for procrastinating about dinner or lunch there. Now I missed my chance.

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That's a shame...

We had Thanksgiving dinner there once. And enjoyed it. It was a mad late afternoon sitting, jampacked and all go, with a great decor and atmosphere, so-so food (well....) and we had grannies and grandchildren and plenty of chaos to add ourselves so I suspect not a typical dinner at G & T.

I did want to go back for a quiet dinner with my wife. The location wasn't great, a pretty downmarket shopping strip had arrived in the eighties and the street wasn't pretty. But the interior sure was.

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We have G & T to thank for introducing us to what is now one of our favorite wines: Dr. Konstantin Frank Dry Riesling. When we ate there with Jason and Rachel and SobaAddict, the manager there suggested it instead of a more-expensive riesling we were about to order, and it was love at first taste.

And now we'll have to find somewhere else for fried clams (the reason for that dinner).

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"Of course it makes you sad for the employees, but you can't say it's gloom and doom for the business,'' said Clark Wolf, a New York-based restaurant consultant. "In a sense, it's good news that a couple of dinosaurs are dead. More than ever, New York needs vitality more than it needs monuments."

What a bunch-of-crap.

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There were many classical seafood casserole dishes that should be attributed to "Gage & Tollner" that have stood the test of time.

"Lump Crab auGratin", "Crabmeat Dewey", several "Lobster Casseroles" and several Bakes and Sautés all originated at the Restaurant.

There were various articles in newspapers thru the years that wrote up the dishes origins.

I remember when I used to eat there during the late 1950's and 60's there were three very special Restaurants in downtown Brooklyn "Masion Foffee", "Original Joe's" and "Gage & Tollner" that were all quite special. Gage & Tollver had military type emblems or bars on the waiters jackets showing how many years of employment that each waiter had worked there were several who had worked there over 40 years.

They prepared almost everything to order, with even the Steaks being butchered and presented prior to being broiled.

It's a shame that this ambiance will be lost.

Irwin

I don't say that I do. But don't let it get around that I don't.

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