Report on Gramercy Tavern, Atlas and Local (long)
- Adam Stephanides
I'd picked out three expensive places to go visit during my two-week trip to New York. The first was Gramercy Tavern, which I chose because after I'd left New York, what I found I regretted most food-wise was that I hadn't eaten there more. Perhaps it was because my expectations were so high, but I wound up being a bit disappointed. Not that it wasn't a very good meal, but it didn't knock me out like previous meals I'd eaten there had. The best thing I had at that meal the short ribs (half of a sirloin and short ribs dish). As my waitress had promised, they were meltingly tender. I wasn't that impressed with the sirloin, but the short ribs were good enough to make up for it. For an appetizer, I had the bacon-wrapped sweetbreads. They were good, but could have been more flavorful, I thought.
The second was Alain Ducasse, which I've already written about. The third was Atlas. As with Alain Ducasse, I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. And you can call me a foodie, but I like to try unusual juxtapositions of food, just as I like to try the sort of "exotic" dishes that chowhounds seek out. In fact, my first meal at Atlas was the best meal of my trip.
The amuse bouche was a cube of clam jelly with a crayfish and "lilibo" soup (a cool sweetish soup), and very good. My appetizer was a bloc of foie gras and smoked eel with leeks and a thin white chocolate wafer. The combination of foie gras and white chocolate didn't work for me (though it's not as bizarre as it sounds, since both are mostly fat), but it was easy to set the wafer aside, and the rest was very nice.
Then came a between-courses palate cleanser, not on the menu. This was a dollop of apple-wasabi sorbet with a drop or two of banana-infused olive oil, served in an abalone shell. This was actually the highlight of the meal. I know this is the sort of thing all chowhounds are supposed to abhor, and I know that it's so over-the-top it sounds like a parody. But the combination of flavors and textures worked wonderfully.
My main course was a rognonnade of rabbit: rabbit loin wrapped in poached (I think; my notes aren't always as legible as they should be) sweet Maine shrimp. This was another memorable dish: the rabbit, perhaps because of the shrimp, was very tender and flavorful, far more so than any rabbit I've had previously (not that I've had it that often). It came with "croquant of radish, vanilla, beer/ginger jus."
Dessert was a mille-feuille of dulce de leche , with balsamic ice cream and hibuscus sauce: again very good.
I enjoyed this meal so much that I decided to go back a second time. In fact, I had to eat two dinners in one day to do so, since the only day available was the last day and I already had a dinner with a friend planned. As so often happens when I love a place on my first visit so much that I hurry back, the second meal wasn't as good as the first. Not that it was bad, but I wasn't enthusiastic about it like I had been about the first. This time the amuse bouche was avocado royale with avocado ice cream. This was another weird-sounding dish that worked: the avocado flavor was intense. For my appetizer I ordered (as my third choice, my first two being out (it was late at night)) langouste. Despite the cucumber-beet gelee that accompanied it, it was disappointingly pedestrian. Then the apple-wasabi sorbet as a palate cleanser again, just as good as the first visit. My main course was poularde chicken baked in a salt and hay crust. The chicken was very juicy and flavorful for white meat (which isn't my favorite). The accompaniment was red camurge rice, lychee and 'Rissole'. (It was written in single quotes like that on the menu. I have no idea why.) For dessert (again, my second choice after my first choice was out) I had black cardamom cake with date chiboust and green apple granita. While it was more restrained than I prefer my desserts to be, it was good.
I wound up going to one more expensive restaurant, though not for a whole meal: Local, in the Times Square area. I happened to be in the vicinity late at night and got the urge for something sweet, and recalled that the desserts there were supposed to be good. So I went there and ordered dessert. It was a "banana toffee dome," and was very good indeed, probably the best dessert I had on my trip (although the word "dome" made it sound larger than was the case). A nice touch was that with the check they brought me a plate of very good homemade cookies (iirc), even though I'd only ordered dessert.
"I enjoyed this meal so much that I decided to go back a second time. In fact, I had to eat two dinners in one day to do so..."
We appreciate your dedication to the cause. Calvin Trillin would be proud of you.
I wonder if your disappointment with the second meal at Atlas stemmed from the fact that you had already eaten? Or did you do Atlas first?
Also, a bit of news as reported by the NYT last week. Local has closed due to a fire and the owners are not sure if they will reopen. My one meal at Local was enough to insure that I wouldn't be back. The food was good, not great (although I do remember the desserts being the highlight of the meal). However, they had problems with the temperature in the upstairs room where we were seated. It was so cold that we had to ask for our coats back from the coat check. We repeatedly asked our waiter to see if he could do something about the temperature and although they said that they turned up the heat, nothing changed. Also, our table constantly vibrated. I think it may have been the subway that runs under the restaurant, but whatever caused the table to vibrate made for a wierd meal.
Thanks for the detailed reports.
re: Mike C
"I wonder if your disappointment with the second meal at Atlas stemmed from the fact that you had already eaten?"
It could have been, but I don't think so. I ate with restraint at my first meal (unlike my usual practice in restaurants), and my meal at Atlas was several hours later. And my recollection is that I did indeed have my appetite back by the time I got to Atlas; I don't recall feeling stuffed at all.
A shame about Local closing; the Times Square area doesn't have that many even good restaurants that it can afford to lose one (though I'm sure the pastry chef will turn up someplace else if they don't reopen).
I went to Gramercy Tavern for the first time 2 months ago. I think I had the same thing you had. I don't remember the bacon wrap, but I did have sweetbread for an appetizer. I remember thinking that the clear "membrane" around the sweetbread was strangely resillient. I had problem cutting them apart! Not sure if it was some batter, or really membrane of some sort.
For main course I had the short rib. When I read in the menu that there's bone marrow, I knew I had to get it. To me, the bone marrow was the essential ingredient that rounded off the texture of the beef for me, like whip creme on a dessert. It resolved the tension of eating the otherwise a bit oversalty beef. Don't get me wrong, the beef was very good. It would've been just that, though, without the bone marrow.
In March I went to Atlas. Asked if they had a tasting menu. The waiter went to the kitchen and came back with a proposal.
1)8 course tasting menu(for higher than the going rate) or
"What's that?", we asked. Menu Spontane(e) is where they just keep bringing you whatever the chef comes up with, until you say "Enough!" How tempting! But... No, we couldn't. We would have been... well, I couldn't stop seeing that restaurant scene from Monty Python's "The Meaning of Life"(is that the movie? someone correct me if I'm wrong, please) in my mind. Besides, even with the 8 course tasting menu we were going to have to go without eating for a few weeks:
Our 8 course meal:
compliment of the chef,
pear gelee dusted with anchovie on a chickpea stick/Tomato compote with parmaggian crisp.
1)Cucumber bouillon, sea urchin, Pekin duck gelee, pistachio crouton and bacon sorbet. (bacon sorbet is brilliant because you get the best of the bacon, which is the smoky flavor, but you lose the greasiness. It was like bacon essence that left your palate cleansed)
2)Needle fish(Sayo) with duck prociutto shavings, Hyssop&vanilla sauce/raspberries.
3)Seared sea scallop, pickled anchovy over a bed of fava beans, golden raisins/creme cheese & paprika foam/red pepper sauce.(love the tender fresh fava beans with the perfectly seared scallop, which could have stood on its own.)
4)cannoli of cuttlefish and rabbit with nettle broth & shisho garnish, and some very nice olive oil. I could be wrong, but I think the wrapping IS the cuttlefish, with rabbit as the filling. The star of this dish strangely enough is the olive oil.
5)Black Cod, sweetbreads, green apples with paprika foam. W/side dish of ginger bread, foie gras& carrots with shiso leaves. (The Cod, like the scallop, was so well prepared, that it was impossible to go disappoint.)
6)Squab breast coated with cocoa crust. w/romaine puree, and gnocchi. (the squab was tender and sweet. one of my favorite dish)
7)green apple wasabi sorbet drizzled with banana infused olive oil. (very effective yet delicious palate cleanser)
8)rabbit loin wrapped around sweet shrimp, over enoki mushrooms, chanterelle, pearle onions with parsley & licorice foam. w/a side of pekin duck gelee over red pepper crisp, raspberries, and shiso baby greens.
10) chilled honeydew melon soup and kaffir lime panna cotta, w/a caramel stick. (I can have this dessert everyday!)
11)dolce e leche millefeuille, w/Habiscus sauce, balsamic ice creme.(tart ice creme!)
12)corander spice cake with mystery creme(didn't catch the name), apple sorbet and apple confit & date sauce.
At one point we thought they'd misunderstood and were serving us the Menu Spontane(e), but our bill confirmed the 8 course tasting menu. Maybe, just maybe, they were trying us out. We held up pretty well. What a sensory overload, though. A fantastic way to overload your senses!