I was expecting the worst weather as is often the case when we take a weekend in the Big Apple. The forecast called for 100% rain on Saturday, not even 90%, to leave a ray of hope. Should have known. Didn’t rain, – unless you wanted to count the hours when a normal person would be sleeping. So I got to schlep around the whole day shopping, which is what my wife likes to do best in the world. She would rather go to Lord and Taylor than Atelier. We must have walked 100 blocks over the weekend, including a very nice stroll in Central Park.
Saturday evening we caught a cab at 40th and Park Avenue to 20th, and the Gramercy Tavern. Haven’t been there for at least six years. Before, I hadn’t paid much attention to the rustic, Adirondesque décor, because we didn’t have an Adirondack camp back then. Knowing about it in the back of my mind brought me back, though.
Be careful what you wish for, would be the apposite watchword. It was indeed Adirondacky, with big overhead rustic wood beams and lavish birch adorned with pine cones and faux forest underbrush – Lynn thought it was mostly supposed to be bittersweet vine.
At camp we are very careful of our woodstove, lest we liberate a pungent puff into the “tasting” cabin. It absolutely kills a fine nose. If that happens, and I am the culprit, there is hell to pay.
Entering the Gramercy dining rooms is akin to my worst wood smoke catastrophe. It almost makes your eyes water – as bad as cigars. The “ambience” is created by the wood log cooked fare for the throng in the bar dining area. I call it ambience because we were informed that diners claim they like it – kind of gives them a taste of the wilderness so otherwise lacking in The City.
Looking around, very few people appeared to be wine lovers. I saw only one other person in the entire fabled restaurant drinking a glass of red wine – not a bottle – a glass. The folks next to us drank Martinis and beer. I was so happy that I hadn’t somehow ordered expensive wine before noticing the smoke. Still we half enjoyed a bottle of 1995 Talbot (not cheap at $120, but not bad for New York) after chilling it in an ice bucket. They served it at a flabby temperature into the 70s, Fahrenheit. Casts suspicion on their storage. Rather bizarre. Their Bordeaux selection was quite limited, which I guess shouldn’t be surprising in an All-American restaurant.
The smoke also affected the food, in my opinion, but not as much, since it was pretty ass kicking as opposed to refined. My appetizer of sautéed sweetbreads with shitake mushrooms, bacon, pickled sunchokes and cipollini onions was still to die for. Really tasty. My second course of rabbit with shallots, garlic sausage, olives and potato puree was almost as wonderful. Artistically arranged rabbit ribs and little seared livers, left bleeding in the middle, added an extra note of rustic country elegance. The stock sauces for both dishes were as good as it gets, in my opinion.
Both of Lynn’s dishes came in a distant third and forth, unfortunately, – and I was partially to blame. I talked her out of ordering rabbit, too, which she wanted to do, convincing her that it would be more fun to share disparate dishes. Her Sea Bass in ragout of broccoli rabe, turnips and lima beans should have been better. The waiter graciously offered to replace it with something else when Lynn decided to be honest and describe her opinion of it to him as boring. But sending something back is even less inspiring than suffering a boring dish. Her sea scallops in sauternes with salsify, bay leaf and vanilla would have been okay if she had gotten more than two small scallops on an oversized plate. Maybe she deserved it after declaring that she enjoys shopping better than great food.
She did find some really neat stuff.
The restaurant is so popular that I can’t exactly pull a Yogi Berra and claim that nobody should go there; but our experience begs the admonition that Zagat’s high praise reflects popular opinion rather than critical. The service (all male, however – how does that sit with liberationists?) and attitude was great and relaxed. The brisk 20 block walk back to the hotel was bracing and fun, and, all in all, we had a really good time.