42 East 20th Street, New York, NY
212.477.0777 (reservation made by Open Table/adjusted by calling)
Thursday, December 9th, 2010
Dining at Gramercy Tavern has been a goal ever since we, as newbie East Coasters, flipped through a Zagat guide in 2007. The entry, written in caps (indicating a “Top Spot” based on popularity and importance) was rated an impressive 28, 26, 27 for food, decor and service, respectfully. It is also the restaurant that can boast Tom Colicchio as its founding chef. Michael Anthony now runs the kitchen and as the guide said, “this Flatiron classic just gets better and better.”
Expensive? Obviously. It would have to wait for a special occasion. December was the perfect month and would become a Christmas gift to each other. The popularity of this restaurant is apparent in the fact that reservations are only available up to 30 days in advance and even then they get snatched up quickly. Exactly 30 days prior, we jumped on Open Table and made a request for December 9th. But the only availability was a four-top. With no other choice, we confirmed and were left with the fun task of finding another couple to join.
Whether due to timing or money, there weren’t any takers. Maybe an expensive dinner wasn’t the best idea right before Christmas shopping commenced, and after some back-and-forth, we let fate decide: if the restaurant was willing to accommodate our smaller party we’d go, if they didn’t, we knew it was not meant to be. But the manager was beyond polite, changing our reservation with a professional elegance that made us even more eager for the 9th.
With the holiday spirit in full swing, winter hats and scarves adorned, we make the three-block walk down 20th Street to Gramercy Tavern. Our table is not quite ready, so we saunter to the no-reservations bar amid convivial diners enjoying the pop art mural that circumnavigates the bar with Christmas decorations complementing the wood beamed ceiling. It is easy to understand why this place is so well-regarded.
After a short wait, we follow the hostess to the back of the dining room and are seated a comfortable distance from the adjacent table. The lighting is a warm glow and the other diners are well-dressed with a certain wealthy casualness. Do we fit in? It doesn’t matter–with a friendly greeting from our server we are right at home.
Without much deliberation, we opt for the six-course autumn tasting menu and ask if they have a wine pairing option. “Absolutely!” and before long, a 2009 Riesling from Mosel Valley, Germany is being poured…and so we eat!
Confession-time: we actually do not remember every dish in detail and forgot to take note of the menu, which has now changed to the winter menu online. But the Sommelier left us with a list of our wine pairings, which were each a beautiful extension of every dish and transformed the meal into a transcendental dining experience.
With savory taste buds fully satiated, we ask our server, who we now know as Alvaro, for Spanish coffees to complement the impending dessert course. He looks perplexed and 20 minutes later breathlessly delivers two steaming mugs, apologizing for the delay and explaining that he had to nip ’round the corner for a key ingredient. This last part – we admit – does seem farfetched, but we swear it’s true. Or was this just a bi-product of our wine-buzzed imaginations?
Regardless, from the second we arrived to the moment the staff handed us complementary muffins for the morning on the way out, Gramercy Tavern was 100% class. Just when it couldn’t get any better, an e-mail arrived two days later from Chef Michael Anthony himself, thanking us for coming. Whether it was truly him typing or not, the finishing touch made us feel very special. This was a Christmas gift that won’t soon be forgotten.
EXPERIENCE = 8/9