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Gramercy Tavern

February 22, 2008

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(Sorry have not posted in a while – tax season has completely sucked up my life. But only till April! And then…and then I get my life back…mebbeee :)

Don and I stopped in at Gramercy Tavern around 8pm last Thursday and to no surprise the place was completely full. We were told there was a 40 minute wait for a two-top so we saddled up to the bar for a bit, a Rye Witch for him and a Mint Tea Toddy for myself. I’ve always been told how beautiful the interior of this restaurant was, and it’s all very true – rustic and cozy, elegant, though far from over the top. It’s welcoming. The interior of my dream home would look somewhat similar…but with brighter lighting and an enormous bookshelf ;) Shame, I neglected to photograph the flower arrangements, easily the most beautiful I’ve seen at any restaurant.

It seemed but a few minutes, or maybe it was really 40, I don’t recall, but we were soon seated at a table next to the open kitchen…so close to the cheeses that I could have easily leaned over just a tad and sliced off a nibble or two for myself. Thinking back, I probably should have :)

Service here is, to say the least, extremely efficient and attentive. Alert without hovering, informative without being intrusive, and always very kind. Our server started us off with slices of a hearty wheat bread, a dish of salt and another with butter at that perfect spreadable room temperature.

Don picked out a bottle of wine for us to share (I know my pastries and desserts a bit too well, but I’ve yet to venture into the fields of wine…o_O!)

Two appetizers for the evening, first a charcuterie plate consisting of headcheese, mortadela, salumi. Pity, I can’t remember the name of the third one. (Actually, to tell you the real truth…I couldn’t remember the name of anyone…had to go bother Don on gmail chat today – thank you, Don! :) The headcheese was my favourite for the texture alone, easy and luxurious with a wonderful creamy fattiness. The apple compote on the side would later reappear in the dinner during the cheese course.

Chicken liver mousse served with swiss chard stems and baby turnips. The six lavishly buttered and toasted cuts of bread were most delicious vehicles, and I was rather tempted to spoon up all the mousse in one go and sandwich it between two cuts, buttered sides out.

Don and I were each debating between two entrees, and lo and behold, it turned out to be the same two entrees! Woohoo! So we ordered both and ate half of each – now this is my idea of teamwork. The Stuffed Meatball is the most popular dish here and justly so. One tennis ball sized baby, a charming blend of pork, beef and veal, is served split deftly down the middle, oooooozzzing innards of fontina cheese. The meatball ooozes cheese! zomg! zomg! Yes, yes! The velvety soft potato puree, and sweet onion marmalade nestled between the two halves does the dish great justice…though with my Hawaii upbringings, I could see myself happy with a great big bowl of white rice in place of the potatoes and marmalade ^_^

…Maybe throw a sunny side egg on top, ladle over rich gravy, steaming rice, and it shall be the haute loco moco. Ohlala!

My interest in the Smoked Kielbasa dish was more for the spatzle and butternut squash, as opposed to the kielbasa itself. I’ve only had spatzle once before, and that was at Balthazar way back in Spring of 2005. But I remember it quite well, gorgeously fried and browned niblets…it came with chicken, but alas, who needs chicken when you got spatzle?? The spatzle here at Gramercy Tavern was lightly pan fried with small sweet dices of butternut squash. I would have preferred it more crisp, to hold up better under the kielbasa…also thought there should have either been less kielbasa or more spatzle to balance out the proportions. Either that, or I just love starch way too much.

I was feeling quite full at the point, but I couldn’t argue the fact that Don did warn me to save room for cheese. Alas, no room was saved…but I can always make room! A wide selection of cheese is offered, in sets of three, five, and seven. We took the middle path and went with five. From left to right: hillman harvest(raw cow), tomme crayeuse(raw cow), vacherin mont-d’or(raw cow), bayley hazen(raw cow), and roquefort vieux berger(raw sheep). Don selected all the cheese (I kid you not when I say he knows his cheeses very, very well!), which were arranged from left to right in order of pungency. They started off on the mild end, moving to the creamy middle one, my favourite of the set, mostly because of the milky melt at touch texture, supple and so easily giving. The latter half was quite strong, and the last was near heady – a bit of the hillman harvest after the roquefort vieux berger would be nearly tasteless.

A trio of breads to accompany the cheese: raisin-walnut, white, and a plain walnut. I’ve always been a fan of raisin-walnut in any given assortment of breads, and only recently have I started to learn paring certain breads with certain cheeses, and oh man, there’s so much more I’m curious to learn. I suppose this is what keeps life exciting, no?

Cheese and bread snug in our tummies, we had a pot of Yrgacheffe Coffee, fragrant with hints of cinnamon and orange, with cardamom showing through most clearly. Every time I have coffee or tea served in beautiful pot, I’m always reminded that my apartment is long due for a pot or tea kettle of its own. Zabar’s has a pretty nice selection, as does the new T Salon in the back of the Chelsea Market. Okkkay, sorry going off subject. But yes. New tea kettle in the plans :)

And because drinks, a bottle of wine, two apps, two entrees, five types of cheeses, and coffee wasn’t enough, we called the night in with a duo of desserts. Narrowing down the selection was no easy feat as one must debate among the likes of smoked chocolate bacon tarts, earl grey creme caramels, butterscotch puddings and oh so much more. And I don’t if it was because I was overwhelmed by options or because I craved something simple, but at the moment the simply named “Cookie Plate” sounded perfect. Six different cookies, perfect for sharing, biscotti, soft peanut butter cookies marked with a shimmery disk of milk chocolate, checkerboard cookies, pistachio studded cocoa ones, vanilla shortbread rounds with bits of dark chocolate, rolled in sugar. A bit of this and a bit of that, you’re bound to make everyone happy.

With cookies must come ice cream, and these were a most delicious trio of flavours. Clockwise from top: vanilla, sesame-chocolate and gingersnap cookie. Texture was more akin to gelato than ice cream with its cream silky mouth feel, though it melted at an alarmingly fast rate. No less than a minute after the dish was set at the table, the gingerbread turned into a milky brown puddle, albeit a rather decadent puddle…which induced cravings for hunks of dense buttery pound cake (preferably from Liliha Bakery ;) to soak it up! The sesame-gingerbread was the most memorable, encompassing the toasted nutty flavours of the seed, studded with thin sharp dark chocolate shards melting at the touch of tongue.

We lingered a bit, post cookies and ice cream. The hour was nearing midnight, and still, the place was lively, though with a calmer crowd that Thursday evening. Four hours since we first set foot in the doors? Times does fly by when you have a good time.

Gramercy Tavern
42 E 20th Street
NY, NY 10003
(212) 477-0777



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