February 21, 2008

Dark Days Challenge Week 7: Gramercy Tavern

I have wanted to go to Gramercy Tavern since, oh, I don't know, probably since I moved to New York City. Not only is it one of the best restaurants in the city, but they also rely heavily on foods from the nearby Union Square Greenmarket, elevating it to the status of food heaven for me. (Hence why I am including it as part of my Dark Days Challenge). As they describe it so wonderfully on their website: "Committed to local produce and inspired by the seasons, Executive Chef Mike Anthony cooks from the heart with a blend of fresh greenmarket ingredients, bold flavors, and refined presentation."

But it always seemed like I needed a special occasion to go. There was one horrible Sunday when Jesse and I were wandering hungover around Flatiron and Gramercy and thought we might as well give Gramercy Tavern a try, but alas it was closed. After that, I plotted for months to take Jesse there for his birthday. Except when his birthday finally rolled around, he, being the Manhattan-snubbing/Brooklyn-snob he is, wanted nothing to do with a night out in the big city, so we ended up at an old favorite in Brooklyn, Flatbush Farm, instead. A delicious meal all the same, but still, Gramercy Tavern remained elusive.

Until my coworkers were chatting about going to Gramercy Tavern and we all decided to bite the bullet and just make plans to go. We headed over right after work and got there early enough that we didn't have to wait for a seat in the Tavern Room. (You can make reservations for the Dining Room in the back, but why would you do that unless you were a bazillionnaire who could afford to shell out $88 for a prix fixe, not including drinks, extras, tax, tip, etc.)

I forgot to bring my camera, so I apologize for a lack of pictures. Picking out a drink was easy - a pint of Brooklyn-made Sixpoint IPA of course (also luckily one of the cheapest drinks on the menu). For my entree, I had trouble deciding between pulled pork and scallops, but eventually I went with the scallops because it sounded healthier. It was elegantly plated, simple, fresh, and well executed - grilled scallops over roasted beets thickened with a little yogurt dyed deep red from the juice of the beets, and dotted with flecks of bacon. The scallops were nicely charred from the grill, and it was fun to run them with my fork across the plate and coat them in rich red sauce. I realized I could make this at home with ingredients from the Greenmarket - and I probably will before the winter is out - though it probably wouldn't taste as good. It is nice when eating out actually inspires my home cooking.

I also had a chance to try the stuffed meatballs, which I've heard is considered one of the restaurant's signature dishes, and I would agree that the meatballs were worthy of the title. I took a bite, expecting an ordinary meatball, but suddenly there was an explosion of spices in my mouth, followed by a rich, velvety texture from soft fontina cheese. Wow.

I was glad the portion size of my entree was filling without overstuffing, because I actually had room for dessert without feeling guilty. We split the apple crisp, which I definitely recommend. Warm baked apples with a sweet crunchy crumb topping, all coated in balls of cinnamon and vanilla sour cream ice creams that melted over it into a sweet gooey and delicious mess.

What a night. So the moral is - you need not be intimidated into thinking that you need a special or romantic occasion to dine at Gramercy Tavern. Just gather your lover or friends, show up early (before 6:30 or so) on a weekday to get a table without waiting, and enjoy a good meal with good conversation.

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