We’ve long had Gramercy Tavern on our list simply because it’s a part of the Danny Meyer/Union Square Hospitality family of restaurants that includes Shake Shack, The Modern, and formerly Eleven Madison Park. With the Shake Shack burger being my favourite in NYC and Eleven Madison Park my third-favourite restaurant in all of NYC, my expectations for the $58 lunch tasting menu were high and were met both in the food and the service.
So citrusy, with a highlight of celery and a little crunch from the kohlrabi and fried onions.
So tender, with the crispy quinoa for contrast. I eat a lot of quinoa because it acts like a grain without actually being a grain, but its use here as a texture element and broth-thickener was one of the best I’ve seen. Despite the heavy flavor of the coconut broth, this was so well-balanced that everything from the shrimp to the bok choy came through.
A hearty fish preparation, with chewy barley and mushroom, that thick halibut steak, salty caviar, and the flavor that made the dish for me, onion. The sauce had just enough lobster flavor but not enough to drown the halibut.
Salty and black peppery, with a crispy-skinned duck, slightly al dente lentils, and that meaty, chewy mushroom. The whole dish had a rich, umami flavor where even the celery puree had notes of earthy lentils in it.
Sour notes, with fresh tangerine, creamy panna cotta, and the crunch of pomegranate seeds and meringue. I love overly-tart desserts, but my boyfriend, who does not, loved that this was more balanced than the palate cleansers we’re used to.
We loved the light, moist coconut layer in the center of this dense, rich cake. The toasted coconut marshmallows and salty butter pecan ice cream with caramelized nuts added extra-sweet and savory-salty notes.
Super-intense peanut butter flavor! The semifreddo was like a mousse in texture but with the temperature of ice cream. We loved the overall saltiness, the crunch of the caramelized peanuts, and the chewy macaron. Regular macaron filling without the hot fudge to dip it in won’t compare after this.
Coffee chocolate, coconut-cardamom macaron, cinnamon cookie.
We ate this lunch the day after our lunch tasting at Babbo, and I was left wondering after Gramercy Tavern why we aren’t lunch-tasting all of the time. $58 each bought us some really well-composed, really delicious plates of food, and everyone else seemed to be there for business lunch, so the staff doted on us as we talked about celery and butter pecan instead of exit strategies and being proactive. The restaurant has a very relaxed, American feel while looking like a room in a Medieval castle, and the servers’ attitudes match the vibe. With the way Chef Michael Anthony and the kitchen at Gramercy Tavern seem to know just the right little touches to complete a dish–crispy quinoa here, onion there–I’d love to go back for the full tasting at dinnertime.
Our first trip to Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich’s Babbo was way, way back in 2010, before we had visited NYC’s Italian heavy-hitters like Torrisi Italian Specialties and Del Posto. At the time, I said that Babbo was doing Italian food better than anyone in its category in my usual superlative-laden way, and three years later, my boyfriend and I wanted to see how it’s holding up.
This is the four-course lunch tasting menu at $49 with an extra pasta course each for $20 and $35 for wine pairings:
Very appetizing thanks to the bright vinegar notes. Just a touch of sweetness, with chilies that were just spicy enough. Contrast between the tender eggplant slices and the crunch croutons. Relatively simple yet very complete.
Very green and spring-like. I loved the heartiness of the thick pasta and thought the cheese added a necessary depth but wished they hadn’t left off the salami that comes with the full-price version of this dish to give it even more of a bright/robust contrast.
So buttery with that hint of browned-butter sweetness. Little packets of tender, buttery lamb topped with sweet and sagey butter sauce. Did I mention butter?
Buttery pockets of tender beef that tasted as if it’d been slowly cooking for hours, with a fresh hit of parsley and the crunch of the truffle shavings.
Despite the sweet and sour preparation that made these cranberries even more flavorful than usual, it was the pork that really shone. This was JUST how a pork loin should taste, with that smoky edge and so much natural sweetness. The fennel gave the dish a little crunch and added to the sourness.
I’m an olive oil cake fiend, and this one was perfection. The crunchy exterior was soaked with butter, and the interior was asking to sop up the oil on the plate. The sorbet was pretty funk-laden, but Batali’s creme fraiche gelato is one of the best frozen things I’ve ever eaten, so I don’t shy away from funk. The candied lemon mimicked the candied texture of the cake and gave the whole dish a brightness.
This was served with Moscato d’Asti, Brandini 2010, which is the only wine pairing that matched what was printed on the menu. The other pairings were from the Bastianich wineries, and I kind of liked the idea of both of the owners being so well represented in the food and wine.
A dense, dark, moist flourless cake with the texture of a brownie. We were both convinced there were chocolate chips inside until we were picking nuts out of our teeth afterward. (Sorry.) The thick whipped cream on top had just the slightest hint of chocolate and was complemented by the sweet, barely-there fruitiness of the sticky vincotto.
With the way our lunch started, I was pretty skeptical that my feelings toward Babbo were going to remain consistent with my first review. We asked ourselves at one point if the place was actively trying to make sure we had a bad time. The service was polite but not anywhere close to polished, we had been seated at a table shoved up against a wall next to the door, and we saw all of the tables around us get the chickpea bruschetta amuse bouche we ate on our first visit but never got one ourselves.
But the food at Babbo more than made up for the otherwise so-so experience. From the very first course, we kept stopping mid-chew and saying, “Hey, this is really good.” It kept surprising us again and again, even after having been to the Torrisis and Del Postos of NYC. We wanted to be mad at the place for not having Michelin-quality service and decor like they do, but we couldn’t help ourselves. And I can’t wait to go back.
Tom Colicchio is special to my boyfriend and me, and not just because we’ve considered basing vacation plans solely on being able to visit the restaurants of “Top Chef” contestants. (Really just Michael Voltaggio’s.) Not only did we spend our last anniversary at Craft, but our first tasting menu there held the title of The Best Meal of My Life for the longest time. My first Craftbar pork belly is the standard by which I’ve judged all others, and we celebrated Valentine’s Day 2010 at Colicchio & Sons shortly after its opening. (My pictures from that were used in an NPR article making fun of food bloggers’s awful pictures. YES!) Since Chef Colicchio has expanded his empire, like, tenfold since then, we decided to go back, this time to try the tasting menu at $135 and $95 for wine pairings.
Loved the sour uni with the char of the puffed rice. A feast of textures and acids in an unexpectedly interesting dish.
The beginning of this meal was really fast-paced, so we can’t remember much about this aside from the fact that we really liked it. We think it was a cucumber custard topped with flying fish roe. There may have been some wasabi in there. Trust me.
Can’t go wrong with sprouts and crazy-crispy pork, especially when the sprouts are shaved this way.
The buttery, salty, sweet rolls calling to me from across the table.
Creamy, starchy, sweet soup, a crispy little chickpea cake with the dark flavors of black truffle, and a very cheesy gougere.
As regulars of Momofuku Ko, we’ve had the tube of potato souffle with caviar amuse bouche more times than I can count, so this was very familiar in a way. Except that it was cold. The fluffy potato and cream were so texturally good with the burst of brine from the caviar and the crunch of the fingerling potato chips, but I sure wished they had been warm.
This take on carbonara was so rich and homey with its barely-cooked egg that spilled all over the plate and its smoky hunks of pig face. We unfortunately didn’t get any flavor of the barolo it was soaked in despite the barolo wine pairing for reference, but I still have no complaints about this dish thanks to its very al dente pasta and that sprinkling of chives and cheese.
A really well-composed dish where every forkful revealed more and more interesting components. The blood orange reduction was SO SWEET to complement the natural sweetness of the well-seared scallop but was balanced by the spicy sliver of jalapeno. The salty slices of heart of palm on top added seasoning that the scallop needed, as well. I’d come back for this.
This was a dish rich in savory flavors and umami. The crisp edges of the oyster mushrooms mirrored the spicy crispy skin of the almost beefy duck. The springy chew of the plump farro and juicy, pliable huckleberries in their jus seemed made for each other.
So tender! And that stiff sear! The kale underneath was made memorable by the salty rock-hard slabs of pork lardon, but the salsify and kabocha were just okay.
This dish was the entire reason we made our Colicchio & Sons reservation. A few years ago, our friend Anthony introduced us to Époisses de Bourgogne cheese, and it quickly became our go-to for stinky creamy washed-rind goodness. This creme brulee did absolutely nothing to mask the pungent flavor of the cheese and instead made this a true cheese course with mostly savory flavors and then just an inkling of sweetness from the layer of caramelized sugar topping and the sticky pecan crumble on the fennel-rich shortbread pieces. This was better than a normal creme brulee, though, because as soon as you took a spoonful of the creme, the huckleberry puree underneath filled the bottom of the vessel.
We liked this so much that we were taken back to the kitchen to tell pastry chef Stephen Collucci to his face. But even more than the creme brulee, we loved the dessert that was still to come.
(Very nice but not quite sweet enough for the dessert it was paired with.)
I’m usually impressed by the skill behind fancy desserts but don’t usually gape and gasp at them. Not because I don’t love dessert but because I love dessert too much, and no one ever gives me the big sugary gloopy gloppy affair I’m looking for. But this. Dessert. Was. AWESOME. My boyfriend said it reminded him of a Christmas ham with its pineapple and cherry flavors, but the point of the dish was the brown sugar cake, which actually had a sugar center so buttery that it was making the cake translucent from the inside. It was the texture of heavily syrup-soaked pancakes. The sticky cherry sauce, extra-sweet crispy-chewy pineapple shards, and milk chocolate ice cream were just the cherries on top. So to speak.
I gave my boyfriend the bigger pate de fruits, because that’s how love works. Also because he pays for dinner.
There are two ways of thinking about Colicchio & Sons:
1) It doesn’t have to be as good as it is. It’s owned by Tom Colicchio, so it’s automatically going to be packed. It’s in the Meatpacking District, so it’s automatically going to be packed. It’s dark and romantic and has a separate Tap Room full of cheaper options, so it’s automatically going to be packed. And yet the restaurant never acts like you need it more than it needs you. All of the employees seemed flat-out excited to be there the night we dined, and our server might have been embroiled in a full-on love affair with most of the dishes from the way he described them. Every plate was really good and some were really excellent.
2) It’s price is on par with some of the better tasting menus in town–Momofuku Ko, Atera, Le Bernardin, wd~50, Torrisi–but the level of creativity isn’t quite there. The soundtrack sometimes ventured into 80s glam, and the decor is more cigar bar than sleek. It’s not quite refined, not quite boundary-pushing.
That said, the food at Colicchio & Sons is nothing short of delicious, and the familiarity will actually be a boon to those who love the idea of a tasting menu but don’t want course after course of unpronounceable ingredients. They’ll still have a little uni and puffed rice forced on them, though, and that’s a good thing.
Stepping into Minetta Tavern, you can’t help but feel reminded that this is New York City you’re in. The bar is packed for Sunday brunch, with fortysomething women turned backward on their barstools to flirt with fiftysomething men. The floor is that classic checkered black-and-white, the ceiling is hammered tin, and the walls are covered in a mural that looks like it’s been there since the 1800s. Only the Minetta Tavern of today opened in 2009. It was opened by Keith McNally of Frenchy favourites Balthazar and Pastis, though, so you can bet it’s the perfect mix of the used up Minetta Tavern of the 1930s and sparkling new, classic and newly-conceived. And nearly impossible to get a reservation at.
My boyfriend and I went solely for the Black Label Burger, which is mostly talked about because of its $26 price tag. And also because it’s really, really good.
A mix of different meats from famed purveyor Pat LaFrieda, this thing is dry-aged for weeks like a fine steak is. The New York Times review that gave Minetta Tavern three stars said, “It’s without question a riveting experience, because burgers seldom pack the discernible tang and funk of aged beef. But for that same reason, it’s unsettling and arguably too intense.” MAYBE FOR A PANSY. For me, biting into this thing with its caramelized onion topping was like sipping a cup of French onion soup. Beefy French onion soup. Except better, because it was on a bun. The meat was so dark and had such deep, rich flavors that it tasted expensive, gentlemanly, and refined. Served with a side of slightly crispy, slightly curly fries to soak up all of those beef juices.
Neither fried nor green, these tomatoes were a big broiled disappointment when they arrived at our table. But once we got over the menu lying to us, we found that these were perfect to spread over our burgers like natural ketchup. Of course the burger was perfection on its own and didn’t need them, but at least we found something to do with them aside from throwing them onto the floor in anger.
The bacon was your steakhouse staple, with that just-right chewy-melty combination of meat and fat.
The bloody mary list is five-deep and ingredient-thick here, and this one had green tomatoes, Tito’s Handmade Vodka, and Southwestern spices. Tex-Mex in a glass.
With fresh coconut in the cream and toasted coconut on top to make it extra coconutty, and a nice, balanced amount of sweetness. There are rumors of rum being added to the cake, which would explain how moist it was.
Living in a city so crowded, I have a preference for sparse, modern, clean-lined dining rooms, but I have to admit that I was charmed by the hubbub and ballyhoo of Minetta Tavern. It felt like half of NYC was crammed into the restaurant that afternoon, all of us sipping cocktails and listening to the conversations of the people next to us.
Despite being a hick from the heartland, I’ve never cared a lick for fried chicken. We didn’t eat it when I was growing up on the farm, because we were too busy enjoying the beef and pork we raised, and then I became a princess who liked all of her meat already off the bone. But after visiting California a few years ago and forcing myself to order the eponymous dish at Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles, I realized that maybe it was worth a little bone to have a juicier, more flavorful chicken.
And then I became blogfriends with Han of Handi-Eats, whose every other blog post is about fried chicken in NYC. She recommended the year-old Bobwhite Lunch and Supper Counter most recently, and I couldn’t stop thinking about the pecan pie bread pudding the menu promised, so I fought against my natural desire to not leave the house before 8 p.m. on Saturdays and met my boyfriend and our friend Nik there for brunch.
My first impression of the place was all about relief. The reviews online had made it seem like some divey place with no tables and a wait that would make lesser women gnaw on their hands for nourishment. Instead, it was this rustic-looking open room with white walls, dark floors, plenty of sunlight, five or six tables lining one wall, and a counter for eight or ten diners in front of a bar on the other wall. And people, the bathroom smelled good. I was immediately in love and daydreamed about myself living in Alphabet City and coming every Saturday morning to sit by myself at the counter, eat some bird, and chat with the super-friendly waitress.
The three of us ordered the fried chicken supper for four with ginger ales and sweet teas all around, and here’s what we got:
Twelve pieces of white and dark meat spread across two platters that sort of overwhelmed us when they arrived at the table. The skin was so well-seasoned and crisp, and the meat underneath juiced all over my hands. The huge, perfect pieces of breast were my favourite; peeling the skin back and revealing the smooth white meat felt like unwrapping a gift, and even the very centers of them, so far from the bone, were still succulent.
For the three sides included in the meal, we (I) chose macaroni and cheese, potato salad, and cheddar grits. Each of them was better than expected, with little extras like the crunchy topping on the mac & cheese and the scallions on the grits that made them special. We all loved the potato salad with its chopped peppers, agreed that the tangy cole slaw was too good not to be mentioned on the menu itself, and couldn’t get enough of the warm biscuits with honey.
We were way too full for dessert (and had enough leftover chicken to feed a fourth person), but we bravely forged ahead and ordered the pecan pie bread pudding and the banana pudding. The bread pudding truly was reminiscent of pecan pie, right down to the nuts that don’t get stuck in your teeth and the sweet, sweet caramel drizzle. But truthfully, I liked the banana pudding even more. My boyfriend thought it was too thin and soupy, but even he couldn’t deny how delicious it was. Even the whipped cream on top was something special.
From what I saw of its uncrowded tables at prime brunchtime on a Saturday, Bobwhite Counter is one of those rare New York City restaurants that’s doing everything right without anyone noticing. Maybe it’s the Avenue C location far from the subway, or maybe it’s just that East Village kids can only go out at night, but whatever it is, I’m sorry for Bobwhite and happy for me. I’m going to take all of my friends here in groups of four until I’ve had every combination of fried chicken, sandwiches, sides, and desserts that exists. Your invitation is in the mail.
5 donuts: transcendent experiences
4.5 donuts: extremely awesome meals
3.5 donuts: good eats
2.5 donuts: food I could have made
1 donuts: dinners not fit for the dogs
• Daniel (2)
• Eleven Madison Park
• Eleven Madison Park (2)
• Eleven Madison Park (3)
• Le Bernardin
• Per Se
• Per Se (2) (extended tasting)
• Per Se (3) (vegetarian tasting)
• Per Se (4)