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.
I know it’s not couth to admit this, but I don’t care much for Chinese food. I love the ponzus and wasabis of Japan. I love the chilis and kaffir leaves of Thailand. I love the, well, everything of India. I love Vietnamese, Cambodian, Iranian, and Korean. But when I think of Chinese food, I think of brown sauce. To me, it’s bland and sugary and does nothing to make plain chicken any more exciting. If I’m eating Chinese, I’m going to avoid the brown sauce by ordering sweet and sour chicken–because breading automatically makes things 100% more delicious–but I know that sweet and sour chicken is the last thing Chinese people want representing their cuisine.
So when my boyfriend kept trying to push Congee Village onto me, I was understandably resistant. And then we went, and it was wonderful, and I liked it so much I’m actually the one trying to convince him that we need a whole garlic chicken for dinner every night. Here’s a compilation of most of the dishes we’ve tried so far.
The decor at Congee Village is, while a little cheesy (see wall mural above), so much nicer than most cheap Chinatown joints. The lack of fluorescent lighting is a lot of it, but the fact that all of the furniture is wood and wicker makes it automatically seem nicer. The upstairs is bright and open, while the lower level is darker and cozier. A girl wouldn’t be horrified if you took her on a date here. Just don’t order her the fish head in broth unless you know she’s that kind of girl.
The service is neutral-to-borderline-hostile, but the food makes up for it.
This is easily my favourite dish here. XO is made of dried scallops, shrimp, and fish but mostly tastes like chilies and garlic. Since I had it first at Momofuku Ko a few years ago, I’m always excited to see it on a menu, and its natural deliciousness is only enhanced when its spread on something carby and comforting like these chewy fried rice rolls. The egg, chives, sprouts–it’s all complex and texture-ful.
Here’s a bad iPhone photo of it that gives you a better idea of what the rice rolls look like:
Otherwise known as soup dumplings or xiaolongbao. You bite the tops off of these, slurp the soup inside, and then eat the ball of pork inside. I’m sure any Chinese person would tell you that the skin of these is too thick and the soup isn’t plentiful enough, but at least you don’t have to deal with the long waits and gigantic communal tables of Chinatown soup dumpling favourite Joe’s Shanghai to get your fix. (And these are cheaper, too.)
a.k.a. char siu bao. Mostly a cloud of squishy carbs but with a tiiiiiny dollop of hoisin-flavored pork in the center. Not for the diabetic. I probably could’ve eaten twenty of these but mostly just to finally get enough filling. They’re only $1.80 for two, though, so it’s not like I was expecting a pig feast.
Think sausage patties but with big cubes of lotus root in every bite. The minced pork with salted fish is actually the more oft-recommended dish, but the recommendation usually comes with a caveat like “it’s an acquired taste” or “you would most likely hate it”. This was a pretty familiar taste, but the texture was an entirely new thing with the addition of the crunchy/starchy lotus root.
My boyfriend is half-convinced that he should live like a Buddhist monk and avoid anything with too much flavor, so this dish was totally his doing and his responsibility to eat. I appreciated the sheer number of different vegetables and fungi in it, but it mostly just tasted like soy sauce.
Brown sauce! This is a simple, belly-filling sticky rice with chicken, mushrooms, and vegetables. I wanted the salted chicken one, but our server told me it’s salty and recommended this one instead. I think he was worried about my blood pressure. Another time, we had the rice baked with two kinds of Chinese sausage, which I would more be likely to order again. Not only did it not have the dreaded brown sauce, but the sausages were very distinct and a little bit funky.
Apparently this is a luxury item served on special occasions in China, which explains why it was so expensive (and by that, I mean $15). We innocently ate this before learning that sharks’ rights groups are trying to get it banned because hunters will shear the fins off of sharks and throw them back into the water, where they’re unable to swim. In the U.S., though, shark fins can’t be imported without the rest of the shark attached, so . . . at least we force people to kill them completely? I guess we prooooobably wouldn’t order this again, knowing now what we do, but I’m not going to pretend it wasn’t an interesting bowl of soup. The flavor was mostly the crab, but the texture was gloopy and gelatinous and unique. I liked it, okay? I’m a bad person.
I have no memory of the type of porridge I ordered (knowing me, the salted chicken or roast duck and meatball one), but it doesn’t really matter. I know there’s a variation of this dish in, like, every Asian culture, so there has to be something to it, but for us it was so flavorless we found ourselves mixing every condiment on the table into it. I guess that’s why it’s for sick people and babies. I can see how it’d make a decent side dish for the more flavorful main dishes (RICE ROLLS WITH XO SAUCE), but I probably don’t need to eat a whole bowl by myself again.
I don’t even want to talk about this.
Crispy outside. Doughy inside. $1. With icing-like condensed milk for dipping on the side. This and a bubble tea (ask to see their separate drink menu for the bubble teas and fruit drinks) is simple perfection in starch form.
This is a terrible iPhone photo of a really great dish. The most important dish, really. A whole or half chicken, crispy skin saltily glazed, big slivers of fried garlic, and juicy, flavorful insides. There were big pieces and small pieces, white pieces and dark pieces. The more we ate, the more there seemed to be on the plate. Any time we go here and don’t order this, I feel like we wasted the visit.
My love of Per Se is much documented and includes an overusage of superlatives like most and best. Accordingly, my Valentine’s Day gift from my boyfriend this year was a lunch reservation that included all of the caviar and foie gras and general over-the-top-ness you want and expect from this restaurant that somehow ends up coaxing an entire paycheck out of you by the time you leave.
Our server tried to tell us that there’s no set wine pairing, which was either a change from our other visits or a very strange falsehood. The only time we’ve had to give any input on the wine was when we had the extended menu, which required extra glasses if we wanted one with each dish. This time, we had to tell her how much we wanted to spend ($200-$250 each), and the sommelier chose a selection of glasses and half-bottles for us. I want to feel like my sommelier has thought long and hard about the pairings (even though, you know, the menu changes daily), so this spur-of-the-moment tell-us-how-much-you-want-to-spend stuff didn’t work for me. That said, the wine was excellent, and the sommelier took great care of us.
One perfect bite of pastry stuffed so full of smooth cheese that immediately disperses and coats your mouth. And of course I love that giant handle-less spoon they’re served on.
I also liked these new mounts for the salmon cones, which weighed approximately fifty pounds each. The cone was better than ever, with so much citrus flavor in the salmon and so much red onion in the creme fraiche base.
The signature Per Se dish, where the main flavor is butter and the main texture is buttery and the main desire is for a piece of bread to sop it up with.
This supplement to the tasting menu is one we’d never think of skipping. Past iterations of the foie gras have included strawberries and creme fraiche, pistachio and turnips, and celery and leeks, but this banana version was the most surprisingly delicious. The hazelnut-banana cake base made it like eating candy; I couldn’t quite pick out the hazelnut and banana flavors when I ate them along with the creamy foie gras, but they instead all formed this amazing new flavor all its own. The nutty balls of banana were a textural pleasure, the tart of the yogurt cut through the richness of everything else, and the mizuna was just a nice little peppery juxtaposition to all of that sweetness.
A roll to spread the foie gras on, replaced at regular intervals to ensure sustained warmth for every bite.
A tasting of salts from around the world to top the foie gras. Amidst all of the pink Himalayan and the black volcanic salts, my favourite was the less-exotic fleur de sel because of the evident crunch it provided.
See those well-cooked carrots flanking the halibut? They’re red pepper piperade! And they were the best part of this dish that was my overall favourite of the day. I love red pepper for one, and the playfulness of the presentation delighted me. Sauce ravigote is meant to “reinvigorate” a boring protein, but this version of ravigote was itself reinvigorated with the addition of the sour, acidic squid ink and the most wonderful minced orange. The La Ratte potatoes (little guys from Denmark) seemed as if they had been soaked in olive oil for two days, and the halibut was firm, flaky, and succulent.
My boyfriend said the smoked foie gras sauce tasted like a Slim Jim and made the lobster taste like pastrami. (donuts4dinner.com can be counted on for the most high-brow descriptions, eh?) The crumbly texture of the chestnut was a standout, as was the bitter, tender, acidic radicchio. I always associate lobster mitts with Per Se and wasn’t let down by this surprisingly complex dish.
I don’t believe I’ve ever called a rabbit “creamy”, but this one was. The dish was a combination of salty bacon, a rich sticky sauce, the crunch of almond, sweet carrot, the unique texture of the sausage next to the loin, and that tender baby bunny. The perfect lead-in to an even richer beef dish.
The view out of the windows of the Time Warner Center, onto Central Park. Note the “beautiful” white NYC winter sky.
Another sticky sauce made this round of calotte rich and lip-smacking. It looked way too red on the inside at first glance but was of course tender and perfectly cooked in the end, especially thanks to the crisp sear on the exterior. The short rib cube on the opposite side of the plate was a fell-off-the-bone wonder that might have been slowly cooked for two days straight. The raw radish was beautiful but not my favourite accompaniment, but my boyfriend said it reminded him of the fresh vegetables and herbs you eat alongside Persian kebab. The hen-of-the-woods, which is my favourite mushroom, was mostly flavored like deep-fried batter, but no one’s complaining about that.
Past cheese courses at Per Se have been so memorable, but this one was merely fine. (Which is to say much better than the cheese course almost anywhere else but not at the level I expect from Per Se.) There was very little punch to this cheese; the flavor that really came through was that of the pear slivers, which I mistook for olives at first. Imagine the delight of putting what you think is a salty, mushy olive in your mouth and instead finding that it’s a sweet, firm pear. Bliss! The stack cake was fruity, moist, and understated, but like the cheese, it was too understated for me.
So sour! I thought I loved the slimy strips of young coconut mixed in, but now I’m wondering if they were actually rambutan, which I didn’t even realize I was eating. Every time I visit, I need my Per Se waiter to say, “YOU SHOULD BE IMPRESSED BY THIS,” so I know to look out for an ingredient I haven’t had before. Hmph.
I always consider Per Se desserts pretty sparse, so this big ball of cheesy ice cream had me drooling like a wide-eyed kid. I loved all of the freshness of this but was surprised to find that what seemed like a boring, old apple cake was actually the most delicious part.
For a lover of chocolate and fruit combinations and a lover of plates that have so much going on I don’t know where to put my fork first, this was dreamy. I found pave niçoise on a menu from 1933 where fresh beluga caviar was $1.75 and filet mignon was $1.45, so it’s kind of exciting to see that Per Se is recycling these old techniques in a completely modern way. Working my way through the “paved” dollops of orange was so much fun, and I loved the crunchy chocolate circle encasing orange foam and orange segments, but the best part was the simple but oh-so-sour orange sorbet.
Looked like Golden Grahams cereal but was actually shortbread with an orangey flavor.
Per Se famously brings around a wooden box with individual spaces for approximately 30 chocolates in the most exotic flavor combinations at the end of the meal, and my boyfriend and I famously only take two or three each both because we’ve been eating for three hours at that point and because we care about keeping up appearances. This time, we did the same, but I asked the chocolate guy how many people ask for the entire box, and he said A FEW TIMES A DAY. He added that the only couple he’s actually seen finish it was the pastry sous chef and his girlfriend, so that means a few people a day are taking that whole foot-long box of chocolates and wasting it. It’s only fitting for a meal this lavish.
Coffee semifreddo, thicker and richer than any ice cream.
Doughnuts, so full of air the kitchen has to roll them in sugar just to make them heavy enough to not float away.
I forgot to take a picture of the mountain of mignardises this time, so here’s a picture of the usual three-tiered behemoth from our last visit. There was fudge, French macarons, and truffles, and of course we didn’t have the stomach-room to even begin on them, and of course they only sent us home with one of each thing when I asked to have them wrapped up. I’m going to get that whole box of chocolates next time, eat two of them, and then casually melt all of the leftovers with my hands and hot breath so no one else gets to enjoy them. Because I can.
To take home. To remind you of how a month of anticipating that reservation and the food that comes with it is over. Tastes amazing with a side of your tears.
It’s almost boring to talk about how good Per Se is at this point. The place is perfection. It’s the best super-fine fine dining restaurant in NYC. If you’re not eating here, you’re wasting your time elsewhere. Although once you do eat here, you’ll be ruined for everything else. Take heed.
When we’re not enjoying gut-busting tasting menus, I keep my figure girlish with a low-carb diet, while my boyfriend eats low-calorie to remain a bronzed glamorboy. And since we don’t cook, much of our evenings together are spent laboring over what to order for dinner. I want burgers on English muffins; he wants sushi. I want steak; he wants salad. I want comfort food; he wants adventure. It’s not fun. But luckily, his adventure-seeking led him one evening to find on our favourite delivery app, Seamless, a brand new restaurant called 7 Green and Grain.
I’ll admit that I basically had to be forced to order from the place. It seemed too light, too healthy, not at all comforting. In the end, it was exactly light enough, so delicious I forgot how healthy it was, and as comforting as a bowl of pasta. It’s not pretty, but it’s delicious.
You start with one of their “Be the Chef” meals, a create-your-own-entree sort of thing where you select from proteins like cage-free chipotle chicken, char-grilled chile lime shrimp, turkey meatballs, and General Tso’s tofu. Next, you choose a base grain like couscous, wild rice, or quinoa. Then, you add what they call a “tasty texture”–stuff like roasted corn and edamame, hot pepper and onion relish, or dried fruit and nut chutney. You also get a side vegetable like steamed kale, golden beets, or caramelized cauliflower, and then you top it off with a dressing like ginger soy, yogurt mint, or miso peanut.
Here, I had the turkey meatballs with quinoa, hot pepper and onion relish, caramelized cauliflower, and the yogurt mint garlic dressing. It doesn’t look like much when it arrives, but once you stir it all together, it becomes this saucy, spicy, vegetal, meaty mix that’s interesting but comforting, hearty but not so dense that you’ll need a nap when you finish it. I have quite the appetite, but this always satisfies me and actually leaves me feeling good about what I’ve eaten.
My boyfriend and I agree that the turkey meatballs are the thing to get. They’re really well-seasoned–when you cut them open, onions and herbs stare back–and I like the way you can crumble them into the grain (or healthy low-carb seed, in the case of quinoa) and make sure every bite has meat in it. We also agree that the hot peppers and onions are the #1 Tasty Texture, because they’re finely chopped, mix in easily, and ensure that the grain won’t be bland. When you mix the spicy peppers with the cool mint yogurt dressing, it’s a delight.
Our second or third time ordering, my boyfriend decided to branch out and got the chicken with quinoa and kale. The chicken is flavorful without being too spicy and isn’t dried out at all. For me, the kale is pretty boring and needs salt, but he seems to be able to forgive that because it’s so healthy.
The vegetable bean chili is great when dumped all over the grain like a sauce, but it doesn’t cut it as a stand-alone dish. It’s almost entirely beans, and doesn’t have any of the deep, rich, developed flavor you expect from chili. They should probably call it a bean soup so you expect the brightness and thinness of the broth.
• Steamed vegetables are pretty awful when you know sauteed vegetables exist.
• The dinner portion is $13 to $17, which is waaaaay too expensive for what mostly amounts to grain or seeds. The lunch portion is much more reasonable at $9 but is also smaller.
• The number of choices in each category is bound to please nearly every palate.
• It’s healthy.
• It’s complex and delicious.
Regular readers will remember my first trip to Eleven Madison Park for the tasting menu last July and the resulting hullabaloo. We had a very good experience but not one that I put on par with the greatest dinners in NYC, and I gave the restaurant four out of five stars (er, donuts). Never a restaurant to rest on its laurels, however, EMP invited us back for a second tasting on the house, and we were so blown away by what the kitchen was capable of that I actually felt embarrassed about my first review.
A little over a year later–last August–we decided to repay their kindness by visiting once again. This time, we had proper expectations: it couldn’t be anywhere close to our over-the-top second experience, but we would ask for the things we needed to make it better than our first dinner there. This was our chance to see which of the two meals was the real EMP.
Chef-owner Daniel Humm has created a menu that riffs on some of the dishes most associated with NYC, much like the tasting at Torrisi Italian Specialties. This first amuse was a take on the black and white cookie, made savory with black truffle and Parmesan shortbread. The flavor was largely truffley with a hint of Goldfish cracker.
Delicate, barely-there acidity from the tomato with subtle herbal undertones from the steeping bundle. Paired with the Parmesan crisp, it was umami overload. In a good way.
On a horseradish chip with mustard that was the best part of the bite.
On a light-as-air hollow scallop chip with daikon and my favourite, yuzu.
I don’t want to call this a chickpea log, but it was. Lightly fried crisp on the outside, with a burst of dill and yogurt on top.
Frozen on the outside and creamy on the inside, with browned crunchy lentils.
I love a dessert in the middle of the savory courses. This was all nice and cold and melty with varying sweetnesses, but then the funk of the roe hit, and it became salty and gazpacho-like.
A hazy dome revealed a sturgeon just saturated with smoky flavor. I don’t even care for smoked fish, and it made me mmm out loud.
An amazing everything bagel crumble, super salty and oniony, so good with the celery leaves.
Lemony caviar over cream cheese
with rye bagel chips to spread it on
and full sour and nearly naked pickles to accompany it all. This was the Russ and Daughters course, a nod to NYC’s nearly 100-year-old appetizing store known for its bagels, smoked fish, cream cheeses, and caviar. (If you don’t know about appetizing, as I didn’t before I moved here (I think there are exactly two Jewish people living in Ohio), this is great.)
The famous bread course, served in a coarse sack with cow and goat butter. One of my food friends has chided me after both of my EMP visits for not asking for a second round of bread, so I made sure to this time, and our server never brought it to us! He also refused my request for a souffle for dessert. If the kitchen couldn’t make one for me, he should have made it himself, AM I RIGHT?
Strong tomato and herb flavors with a funky little ball of goat cheese and an olive crumble. Fresh and Mediterranean.
Cold and hot foie courses:
In my notes, I call this a “foie beet salad”. I would love to know what that means. I would’ve never thought of foie gras and the mint flavor of the nepitella going together but love being surprised, and then there was the crunch of the blackberry seeds. I liked the flavor of the slab of foie in the hot dish more than this torchon, but I sure did love the composition of this.
The hot preparation included thin, crisp slices of kohlrabi, a super sear on the foie hidden beneath the kohlrabi cover, a bite of ginger in the scallion broth, and very bacony caramelized onion.
A lemongrass-tinged fluke in olive oil with a dollop of coconut(!) cream and crunchy coconut flesh, topped with a tasting of cucumber that ranged from vegetal to pickled.
I love a lobster, but the sauce on this was clearly made using the shells and roe, and it was overall just a little too shellfishy for me. My boyfriend appreciated the effort, though. I appreciated that the other elements of the dish toned down the shellfish flavor, especially the green yuzu sauce and the nutty toasted amaranth, which was my favourite part of the dish.
The foie-gras-fortified jus on this made for such a sweet, sticky sauce. The skin of the chicken was crisp, and so was the quinoa. The oniony ramps were a real addition to the the plate.
A thick, lip-smacking veal bordelaise sauce accompanied this slab of veal and its melt-in-your-mouth slice of lunchmeat-like corned veal. I loved the effort of the tiny slices of green bean and the tomato confit that was surprisingly sweet and had none of the bitter notes that make me hate tomatoes.
We were shown whole rounds of fresh and aged chevre before our cheese course was served. I’m 100% convinced that they sliced a tiny sliver from each of these for our dishes and then threw out the rest of the round. I expect nothing less than that for $195 per person.
So much garlic! And it went so well with the berries.
The making of the New York egg cream:
With its orange oil and cocoa nib, this was like one of those Terry’s Chocolate Oranges you see at Christmastime.
Goat cheese powder sprinkled atop a layer of creamy cheesecake with a gelatinous raspberry topping.
I kind of wrecked this dish before I took a picture of it. These are my very poignant notes on it:
White stuff is chocolate.
Brown stuff is caramel.
This is what a $6 iced coffee looks like.
Sweet black and white cookies to reference the savory ones we were first served. These were more lemony that most I’ve had in NYC, and more lemon is always good.
In a word–salty.
The traditional liquid nitrogen cocktail as part of the kitchen tour. This time, we were given a copy of the Eleven Madison Park cookbook to sign. I’m sure I wrote something SO witty. Like, “Thanks for the free meal that made the entire Internet hate me.” I can’t remember for sure, because I had just DROPPED MY CAMERA ON THE FLOOR while standing up from our table and was still hyperventilating.
We had one good meal and one amazing meal at Eleven Madison Park, but I have a feeling that this was the meal that people are having there day-to-day. It was excellent. There’s really nothing to complain about. The service is top-notch, and the atmosphere is the kind of luxury preferred by gentlemen making business deals. But it’s not Per Se. New Yorkers love calling EMP the best restaurant in NYC these days–most notably New York magazine critic Adam Platt in 2011–but I swear it’s just because we’re tired of talking about how Per Se is perfection. While individual dishes at EMP are at times worth gushing over, the dish I don’t gush over at Per Se is the exception. EMP’s food doesn’t bubble and burst the way Per Se’s does. It’s not so buttery, so creamy, so inexplicably better than the sum of its parts. There’s a little bit of magic, for lack of a better word, that’s missing for me at EMP. I’m glad for the meals I’ve had here, and I’d certainly love to continue to visit, but the best part of this visit was finding out for sure that if I’m recommending one restaurant in NYC for the meal of someone’s life, this isn’t first on my list.
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)