A Michelin-starred Tavern? Well I never…
Gramercy Tavern is less like a Tavern as the Brits would know it, and more like a modern restaurant masquerading as an alpine lodge with a well stocked, buzzing bar to the front. It is quintessentially NEW New York – clean, sophisticated and confident. I visited for my wife’s birthday, managing to book a last minute table for two one Friday lunchtime. We opted for the tasting menu with wines, assuming that we would never be able to afford to come here again.
It was the right choice but the wrong assumption; after tasting the carefully presented selection paired with wines, I know for sure that I will definitely be coming back – as long as I can bag a table the second time around. For some people the portions might seem a little sparse – and certainly I could have done with a drop more wine for each pairing – however, the skill displayed in each mouthful is enough to fill the soul with joy. Plus, at $65 for food and $48 for accompanying vino at lunchtime, this is pretty good value for this kind of quality.
The Beverage Director, Juliette Pope, was recently voted 2016 Wine Person of the Year by the wine trade’s Imbibe magazine, and you can see why: the wine pairings for this menu were daring, interesting and pretty damn perfect. Personally, I could have done with a bottle of something not-so-good on the side just to quaff in between courses, as I ended up sipping away at the wine before each course arrived, leaving very little to go with the food.
For starters we had Lobster with Celery Root, Apple and Horseradish paired with a non-vintage Brut Rosé from Languedoc’s famous Mas de Daumas Gassac. The light bubbles lifted the creamy horseradish and accented the bite of celery and apple; the hints of wild strawberry and cranberry in the wine perfect with the meaty lobster.
The next course was Smoked Arctic Char with Sunchoke, Pistachios and Preserved Lemon served with a blend of Viognier and Marsanne from the Sierra Foothills of California called La Clarine Farm, Jambalaia, 2014. Being a bit Euro-centric in my wine knowledge, it was an eye-opener to taste such as classically structured wine from California. The clean, crisp lines of the peach, lemon and honey-scented white were a lovely match for the smoky fish and bold moorish accompaniments.
A pasta course of Cauliflower Tortellini with Salsify, Parmesan and Black Trumpet Mushrooms was matched with a dry 2012 Hungarian Tokaji made by Királyudvar. The light-as-a-feather pasta was complemented beautifully by this sprightly, lightly aromatic white; though it’s interesting to note that the current wine listed online with this dish is an Oregon Pinot Noir – a good reason to go back!
The Lamb Loin & Shoulder with Carrots, Kale and Sunflower Seeds was next, a joyous celebration of intense meaty flavors, with vegetables that even a fussy teenager would devour. The pure lamb-iness of the dish went fantastically with the Goubert Gigondas 2011 from France’s southern Rhone. The wine was bretty, but its gamey, leathery aromas went down a treat with the high octane, lamby flavor.
Sadly, the final course on the tasting menu was a bit of a let down. The Caramel Flan with Maple Syrup, Toffee Popped Sorghum and Cara Cara Orange was just a too sloppy in texture and was the only plate to be left half finished. However, our waiter came into his own when suggesting wines to pair with the pudding and a cheese plate I ordered as an alternative to the sweet.
Elderton’s Barossa Valley Botrytis Semillon was advertised as the match, but our server treated us instead to the best wine of the meal, Schloss Schönborn‘s 1993 Berg Schlossberg Riesling. This fabulous wine was as fresh as a daisy despite being over 20 years old, full of burnt orange, caramel, lime citrus and hazelnut notes which complemented the sweet perfectly. The cheese plate was matched with a wonderfully labelled madeira from the Rare Wine Company, their New York Malmsey bottling. Not the most mind-blowing madeira you’ll try, but a nice walnutty, honey and citrus accompaniment to the blue, brie, goat and hard cheeses on the plate.
As a tasting menu, this was the perfect introduction to Gramercy Tavern’s dedication to quality and flavor. I look forward to sampling the rest of the menu very soon and even popping in for dinner in the bar area (the Tavern proper). You see, this is a kitchen and dining space capable of many things and I could quite happily come here for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Maybe not with matching wines at all three services, though.