With Gramercy Tavern holding Zagat’s number one spot (not to mention Union Square Café and Eleven Madison Park which are also in the top five) and 23 other acclaimed restaurants to his name, restauranteur Danny Meyer presides over a veritable culinary empire. His restaurants run the gamut from casual, the immensely popular Shake Shack which Middle Eastern fans can now visit in Dubai and Kuwait City, to upscale. Earlier this month I had the pleasure of eating at Gramercy Tavern with one of my favorite families, the Fergusons. They were kind enough to not only recommend Meyer’s restaurant to a foodie new to the city but also to treat me to the vegetarian tasting menu. It was a fantastic evening filled with great food and great company.
I am writing this review a little bit late, so the elapsed time combined with the sheer number of things we ate and drank means that not all of my descriptions are exhaustive. If you want to see Gramercy Tavern’s current vegetarian tasting menu and other dining options (you will see that chef Mike Anthony updates his selections often) check out their website.
After cocktails (I went with the ginger tonic which I quite liked) we began with a darling amuse bouche of Cold Corn Chowder. This was a perfect way to start the meal; silky and smooth with just enough saltiness and incredibly fresh flavors.
A Salad of Beans, Carrots and Snap Peas with Mustard Vinaigrette was next. This didn’t knock it out of the park for me but the vegetables were good and the vinaigrette was really nice.
Asparagus Salad with Tapioca
This was a great salad. The crunch from the asparagus paired nicely with the creaminess of the tapioca.
Fairytale Eggplant with Heirloom Tomatoes, Sunchoke Puree and Fava Beans
We were all oooing and ahhing about the eggplant. I couldn’t get enough. Eggplant isn’t always my favorite because it often isn’t cooked properly but this was perfect. It melted in my mouth and went wonderfully with the rest of the dish.
Carrots with Barley
This was my absolute favorite course. As the scent of cinnamon and orange wafted up from the bowl I had visions of Christmastime. The grains tasted decadent and rich after so many veggie centric courses and the citrus and spice brought out the natural sweetness in the carrots. I’m not sure if they used a lot of butter in this dish but it sure tasted creamy and buttery. I could have eaten a huge bowl of this and been satisfied. It was so comforting. Just divine!
Grilled Cauliflower with Quinoa
The cauliflour was treated really unexpectedly and made for a very unique dish. The vegetable was cut into a flat almost steak-like preparation. It was cooked but still crunchy and the quinoa was sweet and nutty. I really enjoyed this course; never something I would have thought to make at home.
To mark the transition into dessert we were offered a Gingerbeer Float with Strawberry Ice Cream and a Coconut Cookie. It was really tasty. The cold tingly carbonation from the gingerbeer and the sweetness of the ice cream were a refreshing combination.
We were given the opportunity to pick our desserts, crafted by pastry chef Nancy Olson, and we struggled back and forth for a while before deciding against the Sesame Gelato with Chocolate Mousse. Our server witnessed our struggle and generously brought us the dessert on the house saying that we really should try it. The sesame gelato had a sharp and interesting flavor. I wouldn’t want to eat a lot of it by itself, but it paired nicely with the more familiar flavor of the chocolate mousse. I am very glad we got to try!
I selected the Chocolate Bread Pudding. This was my favorite dessert. It was incredibly rich and chocolatey (which I love) but not cloyingly sweet (which I hate). The pudding was moist and springy and the cacao nib gelato was creamy and subtle balancing the stronger flavors of it’s mate.
My friend Kelsey ordered the Lemon Pudding Cake with Sorbet. Though I prefer chocolate desserts, this was quite nice. It was light and airy with the right tartness from the citrus and the raspberries.
I have to say what impressed me most about my dinner was that this entirely vegetarian meal didn’t rely on pasta, cheese and other non-vegetable vegetarian staples. The vegetables, and there were many, were the stars of each course with dairy and grains being only an occasional accompaniment never an overpowering presence. Everything was immensely fresh, perfectly prepared and beautifully presented.
Extra touches like muffins to take with us for breakfast and plates of complimentary desserts that seemed to just keep coming made this meal into a true event.
I haven’t mentioned the wine because my current knowledge of varietals and vineyards is limited. With each course a friendly sommelier served us a hand selected glass of wine. Though I probably should have taken more notes, because they were outstanding, I didn’t want to be too rude by scribbling away at the table.
Here are some that we drank that I was able to jot down and look up later:
Chardonnay, Arcadian, Sleepy Hollow Vineyard, 2006, Santa Lucia Highlands, California
Sciacarello/Vermentino, Clos Sonnenta, 2010, Corsica, France
Caronne-Sainte-Gemme, 2006, Haut-Médoc
All in all dining at Gramercy Tavern is an investment of time and money but it is a great place to spend a special evening! I look forward to returning again and sampling some of their seafood selections.
To learn more about Danny Meyer (a St. Louis native like myself) check out his recent profile in the New York Times and be sure to visit at least one of his restaurants.