Farm to Table has become a catch phrase that many restaurants claim to do, however, few do it with the commitment and excellence of Chef Michael Anthony of Gramercy Tavern in NYC. I have run into Chef Anthony at the Union Square Green Market and know that he sources from a number of farms near where I live including Mack Brook Farm's Grass-fed beef. Chef Anthony doesn't just talk the talk, he also walks the walk and he does so within the confines of the beautifully appointed Gramercy Tavern. It is not difficult to understand why this restaurant is perennially one of the most popular in the City.
For a variety of reasons, this report has been delayed well beyond the time I normally prefer to report on a restaurant, as it occurred in late September, but better late than never. I dined with my son, my sister and one of my brothers. Dining with my siblings always leads to an interesting meal and this was no exception, especially as my sister has very distinct preferences when it comes to food. We ordered a tasting menu. We received two different progressions for the table. Since we were family, I got to taste everything :-).
We all received the same amuse trio, Pate de Compagne: pork terrine on a marinated cucumber, Tomato Water with Last of the Season Nectarines (local) and Corn Custard with Caramelized Corn and Aji Dulce Peppers. All three tastes were excellent though the refreshing tomato water and the rich corn custard were the table favorites.
Two chilled soups both elicited raves from the table. Corn Soup with Lima Beans and Crab and Zucchini Soup with Lobster were pure of flavor and completely seductive. The table could not choose a favorite between them. A pairing with 2004 Loibner Traminer from Weingut Knoll, a slately, dry but still fruit heavy, relative of Gewurtztraminer from Austria was ideal.
NYC is a port town. Though it doesn't harbor much if anything of a fishing fleet any more, at one time it was one of the biggest fishing ports in the country and the center of the world's oyster trade. Today, when it comes to seafood in NY, local generally means Eastern Long Island. The next course was comprised of two fish dishes. One was Atlantic Striped Bass that was pan-roasted and served with pan-seared artichokes and served in a broth made with sun-gold tomatoes, lima beans and finished with orange juice. The other was Pan-roasted Halibut (I did not catch whether it was Atlantic or Pacific) served on wild rice with pole beans in a bouillabaisse reduction thickened with a little whipped cream and accented with American caviar. Once again, both dishes were outstanding, featuring perfectly cooked seafood with well-balanced accompaniments. While the bass was local, it was not clear if the halibut was. In this case, though, local would not necessarily be better as The Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch lists Atlantic Halibut as "Avoid" due to declining stocks, while Pacific Halibut is considered a "Best Choice" and sustainable due to low impact long-line fishing techniques used to catch them.
I had asked for "interesting" wines to be paired with our meal and the sommelier oblige, especially with the fish course. We were served Santa Chiara, a white-rosé blend from Umbria from the 2007 vintage. The wine is composed of five different grape varieties in roughly equal proportions including Chardonnay, Malvasia, Garganega, Sauvignon Blanc and Grechetto. Light pink in color the wine was bone dry with a bit of a fermented apple cider quality to it. My brother and I felt that the wine worked well with the fish as well as the following course. It was "interesting," a quality my sister did not fully appreciate, but I generally enjoy new and unusual tastes, while she does not. While not a wine I would necessarily seek out again, it fit the bill and hit the mark for the courses it was paired with.
Of the two pastas served the one that was universally delightful was the Spinach Fettucine with Sauteéd mushrooms, garlic confit, spinach and pecarino Romano in a mushroom gravy. The other, Spelt Spaghetti with sungold tomatoes, basil infusion, basil and capers was very tasty, but a tad salty for some of our party, probably from the capers. The wine was even better with the pasta course than the fish as it had opened up a bit more.
The meat course followed. Since neither my brother nor my sister particularly enjoy lamb, they received the Rack of Veal and Braised Deckle with String Beans and Sun Gold Tomatoes, while my son and I had the superb boneless rack of lamb. The meats were very good, but the element that stood out on the table was the inclusion, once again, of sungold tomatoes. Now this was late September and the end of the tomato season (such as it was this past summer) and the sungolds were quite marvelous, but they were included on too many dishes. It was literally too much of a good thing! None of the plates that had the tomatoes were less than very good (The salt in the spaghetti notwithstanding), but I was surprised that there wasn't a greater variety of produce utilized. The meat was served with Anima Negra, a red wine from Mallorca.
Bon Vivant an aged goat's milk cheese from Bedford Hills , NY, Tarentaise, a Swiss Alpine style cheese from Vermont and Stichelton, a raw milk Stilton style cheese from England were served to the table to be shared. Served with bread and truffled honey, the cheeses were satisfying. Unfortunately, I forgot to photograph the plate before everyone dug in! Of the three, my favorite was the Tarentaise, which surprsed me, as I'm generally more partial to goat or blue cheeses.
Before the desserts, we were brought a palate cleanser of strawberry and tomato soup garnished with hazelnuts. This was unique, delicious and not particularly sweet. I didn't even mind that there were more tomatoes.
For dessert, we were each served something different. These included a Peanut Butter Semifreddo seated on a chocolate macaron made with almond flower and served with a drizzle of fresh caramel with fleur de sel, chocolate sauce, whipped cream and candied peanuts; a fig crostata with mascarpone, hazelnuts and cherry sauce; a molten chocolate cake with cacao nib ice cream and a Blueberry Corn Sundae with corn ice cream, blueberry compote, black pepper whipped cream and toffee popcorn. All were excellent culminating a generally superb meal.
Gramercy Tavern deserves it reputation for excellence. The room, the service, the food and the wine were all excellent. The only part of the meal that I would consider a "flaw" was the over reliance on certain ingredients in our meal. The sungold tomatoes were certainly the major culprit. They were good, but a little more variety would have improved the overall tenor of the dinner. To a certain extent this is a danger of farm to table dining as the restaurant relies on what is good at the market and an infatuation with specific ingredients. Considering I am writing this in January, I wouldn't mind a few of those sungolds right now!