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Fat Guy

Gramercy Tavern 2007

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(For discussion of Gramercy Tavern under the former chef, Tom Colicchio, please see here)

Gramercy Tavern used to be one of my favorite restaurants. More importantly, it was a restaurant I felt totally confident recommending to other people -- for example, to friends coming into the city for one big meal, perhaps their only splurge of the year. I always knew Gramercy Tavern would deliver, and that people would thank me for the recommendation.

Then something happened. Over the past four or five years, Gramercy Tavern started to slip, first in small ways barely noticeable to anybody but a regular customer familiar with the restaurant (I'm particularly sensitive to the vibe at Gramercy Tavern, having spent time in the kitchen as a participant-observer -- my first and only James Beard Award grew out of the story I wrote about that experience), then in more overt ways. In addition, it got boring. Whether all this was because Tom Colicchio, a brilliant chef in my opinion, was distracted by other projects, or because the relationship between Tom Colicchio and Danny Meyer was strained, or because the restaurant just generally moved into a period of complacency on account of good revenues and no motivation to better itself, I don't know. But I stopped going.

Then, in September, the news came out that, first, Tom Colicchio and Danny Meyer were getting a divorce, with Danny Meyer's Union Square Hospitality Group to retain control of the restaurant surely at an astronomical price, and, second, that Michael Anthony and Nancy Olson would be coming on as the new chef and pastry chef, respectively.

Michael Anthony is best known for his work at Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns, however before that he worked at many of the top restaurants in New York and France, including Daniel, March, L’Astrance and L’Arpege. Anthony's arrival at Gramercy Tavern continues what I see as a transformation of the Union Square Hospitality Group -- a handing over of the kitchens to a young, exciting generation of chefs including Floyd Cardoz, Daniel Humm and Gabriel Kreuther. I had confidence in Anthony's skills as a chef, but wasn't entirely sure how he'd adapt to the large format of Gramercy Tavern, which I believe can do 300+ covers on a busy night.

From September 15 through the end of the year, Anthony worked largely within the framework of the old menu -- a major menu change at a restaurant like Gramercy Tavern, right in the middle of the holiday season, just wasn't an option. On January 2, finally, Anthony's menu was put into play.

I've now been in to Gramercy Tavern, both the main dining room and the tavern room, and tried quite a few dishes. Friends, I'm pleased to report that Gramercy Tavern is back.

Tonight we had an extraordinary dinner in the main dining room. It felt like the good old days of Gramercy Tavern, but with more contemporary food. If I had to sum up Anthony's approach to cuisine, it would be that he works the flavors of his main ingredients to their logical extremes. So, while his braised beef short rib with red cabbage and puffed potatoes is one of the most richly beefy dishes I've had in years, his "lightly smoked" lobster with fennel puree and pomegranate sauce is one of the most delicate. You'd almost think they came from different menus at different restaurants, except that they're linked by that common sensibility.

Anthony's tuna tartare with a salad of sunchokes, radish and beets is just one example of a readily apparent commitment to seasonality that runs through the menu. Given that it's January, it's amazing how much great local stuff Anthony has worked into the menu with total credibility and no feeling of deprivation. Radishes -- watermelon radishes I believe they said -- also work their way into a wonderfully delicate salad of snow crab.

The "lightly smoked" approach can be seen in a few dishes, including the Spanish mackerel with scallions, leeks and cilantro, which we were able to grab from the tasting menu, to an appetizer special of the day of lightly smoked trout. These dishes are hot-smoked for just a few minutes to finish them. They have only a hint of smokiness -- not enough to compete with the delicate ingredients; more of a seasoning, a flavor enhancer.

A special of venison today was moist and medium rare, just gamy enough to be venison (it's farmed of course), served over some lovely Italian beans. Suckling pig with Swiss chard could have been improved a little bit by being crisped up somehow. An appetizer well worth ordering is the broccoli soup. Yes. It contains sweetbreads, shiitake mushrooms and a quail egg that oozes around all the other ingredients when you break it.

In both the main dining room and the tavern room (the Tavern is again one of the great mid-priced restaurants of New York), Anthony is to be commended for his use of sturgeon, a wildly underrated fish that's ready for a comeback. Why isn't there more sturgeon in restaurants? I mean, they're killing plenty of them as part of the caviar business, so what happens to them (I have the same question about what happens to all the duck eggs, but that's for the Casa Mono topic)? They can't all be smoked for appetizing shops can they? Sturgeon as a fresh fish is a meaty, firm yet tender, white-fleshed marvel with a subtle but complex flavor profile -- it's great. In the dining room, the sturgeon is served with salsify, cipollini onions, fingerling potatoes and lemon-fennel sauce. In the tavern it's served with cranberry beans, shiitake mushrooms and a sweet garlic broth. They're two of the best fish dishes going right now.

There are plenty of other good dishes in the tavern room, many of which come off the wood fired grill. Grilled sea scallops are served with braised red cabbage, celery root puree and crisped prosciutto. I can't decide whether the rabbit loin and sausage with spaetzle, cauliflower (heirloom cauliflower, no less), roasted chestnuts and apples, or a special of braised lamb shanks is the best dish I've had in the tavern so far.

The servers seem psyched about Anthony's menu -- the restaurant has energy like it hasn't had in years. All the other great things about Gramercy Tavern are still in place: a very good cheese program, an eclectic and fairly priced (for a restaurant) wine list, some of the best restaurant cocktails in town and the new vintage beer menu (from which I've only thus far tried two selections -- there's a lot more exploration to be done here).

Nancy Olson's desserts are good, but she hasn't come out swinging the way Michael Anthony has. Many of the desserts I've tried still need work. It's a question of the combinations and overall compositions, not the components. Everything I've tried has been technically excellent, especially the ice creams, however the overall effect of, for example, the chocolate peanut butter cake with frozen milk, which I've now tried twice, is too sticky and dry. The desserts I can recommend unequivocally right now are the coconut tapioca with passion fruit sorbet and cilantro syrup (this is also the dessert that seems to fit most seamlessly with Anthony's cuisine), the chocolate coconut tart (an extreme version of an Almond Joy) and, as mentioned before, the wonderful ice creams (especially the rum raisin).

And the bread at Gramercy Tavern, still, after all these years, is just not particularly good. I've been complaining about it for something like a decade, and I guess I need to keep it up.


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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This has been one of my favorite places in NYC since the first time I visited almost 8 years ago. I am so happy to hear that Chef Anthony and his team are doing great. I can't wait to get back and try it myself!


Graham Elliot

@grahamelliot

www.grahamelliot.com

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Fat Guy, the descriptions of those dishes really appeal to me. But I was surprised to see you call the restaurant "mid-priced." I have previously had the impression that Gramercy Tavern was expensive. $76 for two courses for dinner [warning: PDF] (that is, not including dessert), for example, exceeds my definition of mid-priced (which would top out around $130 including tax and tip for two people). But then I looked at the tavern menu [warning: PDF]. If that menu is good for dinner as well as lunch, it's less expensive.

Here's the restaurant's website for everyone's reference. I love the looks of the dishes that are being shown on the site! I may consider this place for a special occasion, though I was burned in my last trip to 11 Madison Park, which has gotten so much love.


Michael aka "Pan

 

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I have never eaten at the Grammercy Tavern before, so can’t speak for it compared to the past, but did eat there last month with Little Miss Foodie and Tall Drink of Water. (in the tavern part)

Yes, the cocktails were great and I was impressed with the vibe – it was busy, buzz-y and fun. The food was also good. While we were in NYC, we did have better meals, but we also paid significantly more for them. So, on the whole, I was very satisfied with this experience: atmosphere, good food, well made drinks. Our server, I can’t remember her name, but it was her first night, was friendly, helpful and a real pleasure.

The only thing I was slightly disappointed by (and not even really disappointed, just thought it could have been better) was the sommelier/wine steward.

But, I would definitely go back and recommend it to others based on my one recent experience.

And, Pan, since I wasn't in the main dining room, I don't know about that - but I'd definitely say the tavern part is mid-range in price.


52 martinis blog

@52martinis

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FG above referred to the Tavern, specifically, as mid-priced, with which I'd agree.

Thanks for the review! Definitely on my 'try' list.

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(For discussion of Gramercy Tavern under the former chef, Tom Colicchio, please see here)

Gramercy Tavern used to be one of my favorite restaurants. More importantly, it was a restaurant I felt totally confident recommending to other people -- for example, to friends coming into the city for one big meal, perhaps their only splurge of the year. I always knew Gramercy Tavern would deliver, and that people would thank me for the recommendation.

Then something happened. Over the past four or five years, Gramercy Tavern started to slip, first in small ways barely noticeable to anybody but a regular customer familiar with the restaurant (I'm particularly sensitive to the vibe at Gramercy Tavern, having spent time in the kitchen as a participant-observer -- my first and only James Beard Award grew out of the story I wrote about that experience), then in more overt ways. In addition, it got boring. Whether all this was because Tom Colicchio, a brilliant chef in my opinion, was distracted by other projects, or because the relationship between Tom Colicchio and Danny Meyer was strained, or because the restaurant just generally moved into a period of complacency on account of good revenues and no motivation to better itself, I don't know. But I stopped going.

Anthony's arrival at Gramercy Tavern continues what I see as a transformation of the Union Square Hospitality Group -- a handing over of the kitchens to a young, exciting generation of chefs including Floyd Cardoz, Daniel Humm and Gabriel Kreuther. I had confidence in Anthony's skills as a chef, but wasn't entirely sure how he'd adapt to the large format of Gramercy Tavern, which I believe can do 300+ covers on a busy night.

I think all of the USHG restaurants have needed a shot in the arm for a while now. the've all gone stale. Which is not to say they aren't good- it's just the vibrance that they had has dissapated and a complacent hum of high quality without energy has been the most resonant sound. It's a shame because, these places were awesome, and just fell asleep at the wheel. I realized I hadn't been to Tabla in forever, and that the only place I was going to consistantly was EMP-because of Humm. If Grammercy is back, I'm happy. Hopefully, it's second in the "spring cleaning" of Danny Meyers restaurants.


does this come in pork?

My name's Emma Feigenbaum.

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Yes, Gramercy Tavern terminology can be confusing, because the restaurant is "Gramercy Tavern" and the more moderately priced front/bar room is the "Tavern" or "tavern" as opposed to the "dining room." The formal dining room offers a $76 prix fixe (three courses plus all the extras you'd expect at a fine restaurant: an amuse bouche, pre-dessert amuse, and petits fours/mignardises) and a $98 tasting menu (seven courses). Those numbers are a little lower than they could be, but certainly not cheap. In the tavern part of the restaurant, however, the price point is firmly midrange. Appetizers range from $8.50 to $13. Entrees are in the $16 to $18.50 range, except for a $24 ribeye steak (which for its size and quality is a good value at that price, considering you pay $39 at most steakhouses today for something not a lot bigger and not likely better, not to mention the tavern ribeye comes with two vegetables, at present roasted beets and grits).

Forest, just to be clear, if you dined at Gramercy Tavern last month, as in December 2006, you were eating from the old menu. There were a few of Mike Anthony's dishes added over the course of November-December, but when the restaurant opened in January after New Year's it launched a completely new menu -- I think almost no old dishes have survived. So, it's probably worth another look, even if you liked the menu -- the current offerings are really interesting.


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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FG - thanks for the clarification - if it's improved over what I had before, which I enjoyed, I'm sure it would be even better.


52 martinis blog

@52martinis

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I think that's going to be a tough sell, Marc. Frank Bruni is positively offended by GT's style of service. It's extremely friendly and familiar. I see it as totally genuine, and I think I'm right about that -- I've socialized "off campus" with a few members of the staff there (including a former staff member who's one of my best friends) and the I've never heard or seen anything to indicate that the hospitality is an act. But Frank Bruni thinks otherwise. If we can generalize from his early review of Eleven Madison Park ("Although the dining room is flooded with those smiling servers, their dance is less a ballet than a military drill, glaringly mechanized.") and from his recent swipe at Danny Meyer for having the gall to display his book at the USHG restaurants (by the way, the display of Danny Meyer's book at Gramercy Tavern is totally unobtrusive, off to the side on a low table -- not glaringly commercial or egomaniacal in the least), he's not going to be receptive to the Gramercy Tavern style of service. He'll focus on whatever technical flaws he sees, and assume it's all fake. He may like the food -- it's going to be hard for him not to, especially after giving Mike Anthony such a strong review at Blue Hill at Stone Barns -- but he could easily latch on to all sorts of other perceived flaws. I can already envision a soliloquy about how the room isn't to his tastes.


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 think that's going to be a tough sell, Marc. Frank Bruni is positively offended by GT's style of service.... He may like the food -- it's going to be hard for him not to, especially after giving Mike Anthony such a strong review at Blue Hill at Stone Barns -- but he could easily latch on to all sorts of other perceived flaws.

That's what I was thinking. Bruni's history is that, once he's said something negative about a restaurant, it's a pretty good leading indicator of what the full review will say.

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At the same time, the Danny Meyer influence is powerful even with the most independent critics. Bruni's review of Eleven Madison Park and the Bar Room at the Modern contained clear elements of retreat ("I repeatedly found myself drawn back to the Bar Room, at first just worried, then persuaded, that I'd shortchanged it."). The pressure from readers and even colleagues is enormous when you take on an institution like Union Square Hospitality Group and take gratuitous swipes at someone of Danny Meyer's stature -- a stature that exceeds Bruni's by many fold. So the politics of that situation may force Bruni to consider his reactions more carefully than he has before. It's hard to predict. Happy to engage in further general Bruni discussion on the Bruni topic.


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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Steven, you were never a fan of Blue Hill -- far from it, in fact. Do you think that Mike Anthony wasn't able to express his style of cooking when paired with Dan Barber, or that Danny Meyer has pushed Mike? What is the source of the transformation?


Dean McCord

VarmintBites

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I haven't been to Blue Hill in a very long time and still haven't made it to Stone Barns, so I don't have a current view on the food there. The meals I've had at Blue Hill have never convinced me that the accolades were deserved. But I also don't think anybody contends that Mike Anthony was the driving force at Blue Hill (maybe at Stone Barns, I don't know). In any event, the sensibility of his menu at Gramercy Tavern seems to me to be spiritually related more to Daniel's urban contemporary rustic (if I may call it that), with some Bouley-esque sensibilities thrown in (did he work at Bouley ever?) than to the allegedly subtle, minimalist (I call it bland) cuisine Blue Hill has based its reputation on. I think -- maybe we should ask him if he agrees -- that until now Mike Anthony has been working mostly as a journeyman and that this is perhaps the first full-blown independent expression of what he can do.


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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Mike Anthony is, in my opinion, one of the most talented young chefs in New York City. GT is fastly becoming one of my favorite new places in New York City because the flavor combination and execution of Mike's tasting menu is so exciting. Even more, this is a restaurant where my vegan friends and my atkins meat eating friends can co-exist happily.

I was a great fan of Blue Hill when Mike was there, and now I am a great fan of GT. I've not been to Stone Barnes often enough to form an opinion, but I do believe that Mike brings to GT the same beautiful sensibility and finess that made the formerly Blue Hill one of my favorite spots in NYC.


Ya-Roo Yang aka "Bond Girl"

The Adventures of Bond Girl

I don't ask for much, but whatever you do give me, make it of the highest quality.

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with some Bouley-esque sensibilities thrown in (did he work at Bouley ever?)...

No, but Dan Barber did.

Mayur Subbarao, aka "Mayur"

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(For discussion of Gramercy Tavern under the former chef, Tom Colicchio, please see here)

Gramercy Tavern used to be one of my favorite restaurants. More importantly, it was a restaurant I felt totally confident recommending to other people -- for example, to friends coming into the city for one big meal, perhaps their only splurge of the year. I always knew Gramercy Tavern would deliver, and that people would thank me for the recommendation.

Then something happened. Over the past four or five years, Gramercy Tavern started to slip, first in small ways barely noticeable to anybody but a regular customer familiar with the restaurant (I'm particularly sensitive to the vibe at Gramercy Tavern, having spent time in the kitchen as a participant-observer -- my first and only James Beard Award grew out of the story I wrote about that experience), then in more overt ways. In addition, it got boring. Whether all this was because Tom Colicchio, a brilliant chef in my opinion, was distracted by other projects, or because the relationship between Tom Colicchio and Danny Meyer was strained, or because the restaurant just generally moved into a period of complacency on account of good revenues and no motivation to better itself, I don't know. But I stopped going.

One has to wonder why you didn't write about your feeling about GT under Colicchio before today.


"These pretzels are making me thirsty." --Kramer

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This is very exciting news. I've enjoyed GT very much when I've gone and the Tavern is my favorite "bang for the $" in the mid-priced category. Look forward to visits to both the main dining room and the tavern room in the near future.

Thanks for the update! Was looking forward to the first reviews for Chef Anthony -- sounds like everything is very positive for GT!

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(For discussion of Gramercy Tavern under the former chef, Tom Colicchio, please see here)

Gramercy Tavern used to be one of my favorite restaurants. More importantly, it was a restaurant I felt totally confident recommending to other people -- for example, to friends coming into the city for one big meal, perhaps their only splurge of the year. I always knew Gramercy Tavern would deliver, and that people would thank me for the recommendation.

Then something happened. Over the past four or five years, Gramercy Tavern started to slip, first in small ways barely noticeable to anybody but a regular customer familiar with the restaurant (I'm particularly sensitive to the vibe at Gramercy Tavern, having spent time in the kitchen as a participant-observer -- my first and only James Beard Award grew out of the story I wrote about that experience), then in more overt ways. In addition, it got boring. Whether all this was because Tom Colicchio, a brilliant chef in my opinion, was distracted by other projects, or because the relationship between Tom Colicchio and Danny Meyer was strained, or because the restaurant just generally moved into a period of complacency on account of good revenues and no motivation to better itself, I don't know. But I stopped going.

One has to wonder why you didn't write about your feeling about GT under Colicchio before today.

I also don't understand Fat Guy's opposition to similar comments (about general complacency and slipping standards) made about GT on the Bruni thread. If the restaurants had slipped, why the opposition to a suggestion that its star rating should be revised downward?

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I also don't understand Fat Guy's opposition to similar comments (about general complacency and slipping standards) made about GT on the Bruni thread. If the restaurants had slipped, why the opposition to a suggestion that its star rating should be revised downward?

The issue on the Bruni thread was about journalistic responsibility. Bruni's comment was basically an aside in his EMP/Bar Room review. It was a throwaway—not anything that needed to be said. He acknowledged that GT was in transition, but the comment will be out there on web searches for many years to come.

Now, you could argue that any restaurant serving food to the public needs to accept whatever criticism (bad or good) that it gets. But given that Bruni can't go back and revise these reviews, a lot of us felt it was irresponsible for him to slam GT at the precise moment that he did.

Obviously, once the new menu is in place, he may go back and re-review Gramercy Tavern. If he finds that it's no longer a three-star restaurant, no one would quarrel with his right—indeed, his responsibility—revise the rating downward.

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Bruni was negligent in not informing the public about the changes taking place at GT. I agree with that.

However, the comparison was not entirely misplaced or wrong.

Having said that, I am really excited to hear Fat Guy's review of GT under Mike Anthony. I am also a fan of Blue Hill.


Edited by vivin (log)

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I had dinner in the tavern room (at the bar) last night, and was dissapointed. I started with the spinach salad, pecorino, lemon vinaigrette, squash and merguez sausage salad. It was ok. The sausage was well flavored but very grainy and not a great texture. The greens themselves were fine, with the exception of the squash, which had no flavor.

Entree was seafood chowder with clams. This was several pieces of a white fish, well prepared, one mussel, one clam, some beans in a broth. The fish was cooked well. The mussel and the clam were not (overcooked). The broth, unfortunately, should have had a nice flavor, but was intensely alcoholic, as though the wine hadn't cooked out.

I really wanted to like the meal. I love the tavern room, and hadn't been there in about a year. I also love the main restaurant, but on the strength of the meal I had last night, I probably won't go back to both for a while.

As an aside, the service was excellent, as always. As were the cheeses I had after dinner.

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The Richman review is one of several that have appeared lately. So far, I can't find anyone who thinks GT is as good as it was in the glory days.

I wonder if all the focus on the Modern and EMP caused his other restaurants to suffer?
It all begins in the kitchen, and it's sounding like Meyer got the wrong guy in Michael Anthony. The service lapses are harder to explain.

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