This was an interesting experience for me – I visited a Danny Meyer establishment and wasn't completely blown away. GASP. For those of you who know me and my culinary preferences, I have a minor obsession with Danny Meyer's restaurants (Shake Shack, Maialino, Union Square Cafe), so this was a little disappointing on some levels. That said, it was also a true testiment as to how much great service really makes a difference in the dining experience. This meal went a little something like this: good, weird, great. I guess it's good that it finished on a high note.
Gramercy Tavern is one of those places that FEELS like it's been around a really long time, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. It kind of has that old New York charm to it that I really like; and by "old New York charm" I mean older business men and wealthy families dining alongside their wealthier friends and spoiled children. Whatever – ambiance only takes you so far anyway. Onto the food, I say.
The menu changes all the time here from what I gather, so there were a lot of seasonal ingredients (butternut squash, pumpkin, apples). I heard wonderful things about the lamb pappardelle, but one of my fellow diners already ordered it, so I tried to be different and went with the calamari salad with pine nuts and lemon zest. "Sounds refreshing", I thought, and it definitely was – but there was a little too much lemon zest which made it kind of bitter. I also don't eat the tentacles on the calamari, so that was an ordering fail on my part. The butternut squash soup and the lamb pappardelle were the way to go here for sure…see below.. (sigh)
Time for the bad news. The chicken. Ok, I know I shouldn't be ordering the roast chicken at Gramercy Tavern, but the other options were mostly fish, which I just wasn't in the mood for (though apparently the flounder in cucumber/yogurt sauce was good). They had the lamb papardelle as an entree too, but I wanted something classic and a little on the lighter side. And I'm sorry – it shouldn't be a challenge to make a simple roast chicken taste good. The waitress was selling us on three things: the sea bass, the chicken and the smoked trout. I'm not a big fan of either fish, so she sold me on the chicken. "It's cooked sous vide, so it's really moist." Sous vide chicken? Well…ok? Let me explain what that means: not cooked enough.
The actual process of sous vide (French for "under vacuum") is sealing your food (usually a protein) in an airtight bag and cooking it in water for a long time. The chicken looked beautiful and tender, but as I cut into it, I noticed it was ever so slightly, a little pink inside. In my head I'm thinking, "maybe it's the lighting". Negative. It was kind of slimy and had that not-totally-cooked taste. Ew. Not good. Maybe some things shouldn't be cooked sous vide. When the waitress came by and saw I barely ate it, she asked if everything was ok and I couldn't even lie. Sometimes if I'm disappointed I'll just assume it's a matter of opinion and say it was fine, but another person at our table had the chicken too and he thought the same things. And in this case, the chicken wasn't really cooked enough which is a health issue as opposed to a taste issue. Therefore, I felt they should know that their chicken kind of blows. Of course I used nicer words when describing it to her. "It wasn't what I expected" and "the texture was weird" were a few of my choice phrases. The waitress seemed utterly shocked and moments later came back to tell us that the chef wanted to send out a complimentary dish or two. Who am I to deprive the chef of that joy?
We received two brand new plates: one from the regular menu, the smoked trout with a trio of onion sauces, and one from the Tavern menu, sausage atop black lentils, and roasted carrots and parsnips. A+ on both. She was right about the smoked trout – very tasty fish and the onion sauces were a nice, mild addition. Personally, I thought the sausage/lentil dish was better. Earthy and full of flavor, the vegetables were roasted perfectly and the lentils were nice and creamy. Yum.
And last but not least, the chef sent out some bites of dessert too. Sorry no picture here – we gobbled them up too fast. They were pumpkin macaroons, peanut butter and chocolate truffles, and chocolate ganache tarts. I could tell the chocolate was high quality and the truffles were melt-in-your-mouth delightful.
The Maitre d' came over to see if everything was "to our satisfaction" and we said yes. I didn't expect one complimentary dish, let alone two, dessert, AND they took the chickens off of our bill as well. I guess it's no wonder Gramercy Tavern is still around; the food IS solid, but I really think the service has a lot to do with it. In this case, I will also partially blame my ordering – next time, if I get an inside tip on a particular dish, I'll go with it.