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Is Tavern on the Green Really That Bad?

I moved here from Chicago back in June.

My mom is coming into town, and as a treat to me for my birthday, and to experience it for herself, she chose Tavern on the Green. I'll be turning the ripe old age of 28. She's 57 and we'll be accompanied by my younger brother (23) and my boyfriend (27). None of us are country mice by any means, but we're also not big city spenders.

I don't know much about it, other than it's considered some kind of New York City institution.

I've read things that have ranged from "excellent" to "the worst dining experience of my life". That may be true of most places in terms of people having a range of opinions, but I'd like your Chowhound-opinion.

Of course I realize there are probably hundreds of other places that serve up better food and just out and out haters of the place that feel it's a tourist trap.

What I want to know is: are most people's feelings towards it strong enough to recommend I cancel our reservation and choose something else?

TIA.

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  1. It's fine, don't cancel. (But it used to be terrible years ago.)

    There is better food out there, but if your mom wants Tavern, go to Tavern. Just avoid fish dishes. These suffer the most, I find, at places without expert chefs. Also, avoid bottled water. Ask for "tap water" and you'll keep the bill to a reasonable level.

    2 Replies
    1. re: NAtiveNewYorker

      Native NYer, with all respect, when you have to worry about the fish not being very fresh or well-prepared, doesn't it stand to reason you might also worry that the chicken or meat or greens are not up to snuff? I left there ANGRY the last time I went. What they charged for inedible food was an embarrassment to them, and they didn't get the concept of pride of product or service.

      1. re: sing me a bar

        "Surf" is, in my opinion, more sensitive to mediocre preparation than "turf." When I eat at college and social clubs, this rule has helped a lot. And TOTG is similar. Special place...basic food.

        It's not that bad. Fun to make fun of, but really not that bad. And an historic place. (Used to hold the sheep that roamed Sheeps Meadow. Many films have been shot there.)

        I feel the same about Sardi's, BTW...

    2. I have a friend who waits there and laughs about "taking money from tourist".

      1. I would definitely cancel your reservation. I went for the first time about a year and a half ago with someone from out of town; it was mediocre food with poor service. If you want to have a good time, please check this board for some highly recommended restaurants. Tavern on the Green is definitely a tourist trap.

        1. Please cancel the res. You will feel like you just wasted $200+ on a meal for 4.

          1. I went there for vday several years ago and the meal was TERRIBLE and a rip-off

            1. It was "the worst dining experience of my life" that I specifically remember. (OK, there was one worse, but it occurred before you were born).

              1. If you order correctly, the food is fine. In fact, if you start with their excellent crab cake and follow that with a HUGE slice of prime rib, you'll be very happy. Jim Leff correctly wrote once that Tavern on the Green is best regarded as a catering operation. Caterers seldom screw up crab cakes and prime rib. It *is* a pretty dazzling setting.

                1. Also, for those who think I should cancel, if you wouldn't mind, have any suggestions for the same price range?

                  It will be a Sunday evening and we don't mind going early. I'd prefer something that will take a reservation for 4.

                  As far as suggestions go: seafood is probably the only thing we're not terribly interested in. Also, this is supposed to be a semi-upscale celebration without attitude...(if that's possible) and something that you consider unique to New York. Coming from Chicago, we're not looking for places such as Japonais, Sushi Samba or McCormick and Schmick...if you get what I'm saying...

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: carlywood

                    Well, if you don't mind traveling a bit into the boroughs, one thought would be River Cafe in Brooklyn. I think prices would be similar, but food and service would be much, much better, plus you'd have that spectacular view of the NYC skyline and bridges. One caveat: they require jackets for the males in the party...

                    Another thought would be the Sea Grill in Rockefeller Center. You could look out onto the ice rink and you'd be getting your Only In New York experience, and the food and service again would be superior to TotG.

                  2. how about lupa? i'm not sure if it's more casual than you'd like, but it has wonderful food and a great, buzzy atmosphere. it's very easy to tailor a meal to your budget preferences, as well. you can check out the menu online to see if it's your kind of thing.

                    1. It IS all the things you said about it. The only time I'm aware of that TOG had great food was when the late Patrick Clark was the chef. When he died, everything went downhill very quickly.

                      Unfortunately, except for Peter Luger, most of the "New York Institutions," diningwise, have pretty awful food, especially for the prices they charge.

                      I can imagine someone who's never been to New York wanting to see Tavern, but Id suggest going for a drink, and dining somewhere else.

                      FWIW, I just checked Zagat, and TOG has just about the lowest food score in the whole book, a dismal 14 out of a possible 30! San Domenico and Café des Artistes are in the same neighborhood (Central Park) and both are good choices, also

                      Picholine is at 35 West 64th, and it is tons better than TOG. They've a French/Mediterranean menu and the food and ambiance are wonderful.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: ChefJune

                        Not sure what you consider to be "New York Institutions," but I would put Keens in that category (been in its 36th St. location since 1885), and the food there is excellent!

                      2. This might be off-base pricewise, since i've only been to TotG for two Bar Mitzvahs, a wedding, and some Film Society receptions, which is to say, I've not paid and have no idea of the cost... Anyway, what about something like Gotham Bar and Grill? We've never found any attitude there and the food is delicious. Might be more than you want to spend, though. Or, maybe the Bar Room at Gramercy Tavern? I know some people on the board think it's not what it was, but we had a great lunch there about 6mo ago, so maybe dinner is still tasty too.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: brownie

                          GramTav has a new Exec Chef since October, and his food is sublime. Chef Michael Anthony has also cooked at March and Blue Hills both in NY and at Stone Barns...

                        2. Perhaps a good compromise would be to go there for drinks only. That way you can see the place & enjoy the atmosphere for what it's worth. I would avoid spending any money on food there. You're just about guaranteed to be dissatisfied with the quality and the service. Don't waste your money. Have your drinks and jump into a cab! Maybe head to Balthazar in SoHo, Pietro's in the East 40s, or how about Florent? You could have a terrific meal & save some cash!

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: Foodboy

                            You could look into Telepan - which is relatively close to Tavern on the Green - not sure if they are open on Sunday evenings. Lots of recent reviews on the board of it.

                            1. re: MMRuth

                              We went to Telepan a couple months ago. The food was fine, from pretty good to very good, but nothing amazing we thought. Everything looked interesting on the menu but I can't say everything worked. We also didn't find the decor particularly impressive. Overall, I think there are better choices for the price.

                          2. I made this mistake when my parents came to town. Food, service, everything was awful. My dad was less than happy. I agree that you can go for a drink but then on to elsewhere. Maybe the enoteca at Del Posto. 4 courses for $41 I think. Nice space.

                            1. I ate there under similar circumstances about a year ago. Visitor from out of town chose it and the food is terrible. It's like eating at a Holiday Inn restaurant in North Dakota. There are plenty of amazing places in the same price range. I think Lupa would be great. I had my birthday there a couple years ago and had a blast. I think early on Sunday you should be able to get in without a problem. You can also check Opentable.com to see what's available for that night and then ask again on the board to help narrow it down.

                              I'm sure you'll have a good time no matter where you go. I would imagine even TOTG can make a decent martini. : )

                              Enjoy!
                              Jeremy

                              1. It seems like the consensus is to stay away from the restaurant. We are considering having a wedding there. So, is it fair to say that a wedding reception there would be equally bad as their restuarant, food-wise? Since its hard for any caterer to do an exceptional meal for a large group, is it significantly worse wedding food than most other venues that host weddings?

                                1. It is dair to say that...there are some GREAT caterers in NYC (Glorious Foods). If I was looking to do a wedding in some really NYC venue, I would choose the Rainbow Room over TOG, the food by Cipriani is great, and the view is stupendous....

                                  1. "Since its hard for any caterer to do an exceptional meal for a large group, is it significantly worse wedding food than most other venues that host weddings?"

                                    I'd have to disagree. I went to a 400+ wedding this weekend with a sit down dinner reception (with passed hors d'oeuvres during cocktails) and it was excellent.Not excellent by wedding standards, but actually excellent. The caterer was Feasts et Fetes. (Daniel Boulud's company)

                                    1. Yes, it is! Have a drink there, then flee for somewhere nearby where they serve actual edible food.

                                      1. I'm a native New Yorker from Hell's Kitchen and really frown upon touristy places but, contrary to what other Chowhounds feel about Tavern on the Green, I think the space is kind of magical. This is especially true from Spring through the cooler months when the garden is open. Tavern is a landmark that opened in the 1930s and is smack in the middle of Central Park with a terrific view and lots of shimmering lights when evening falls. It's kind of charming to see the horsedrawn carriages pull up to the door and drop off or wait for customers.

                                        The indoor Crystal Room is also very pretty. This is not to say that I recommend the food as a destination - but it's better than wedding or Bar Mitzvah food - and I never had a problem with the service or really had awful food. Plus it sounds like your Mom has her heart set on visiting the restaurant.

                                        My suggestion is to go with the simpler dishes and they also have a prix fixe menu to keep the costs down. I really didn't find them much higher than other celebratory restaurants.

                                        The last time I was there in the warm months, they also had a live band in the garden and people were having a good time dancing to various music. It wasn't stuffy either.

                                        Here's a website to describe them a bit more as a landmark. Right below is a link directly to the restaurant itself.

                                        http://www.expedia.com/pub/agent.dll?...&

                                        http://67.59.176.121/tg1003/newsite/i...

                                        1. I haven't eaten at Tavern on the Green for many years but my two experiences there have been forgetable.
                                          The first time they brought out a veal chop that was like shoe leather. When we complained they barely acknowledged it and since we had waited more than an hour in between courses, we had lost our appetites and energy.
                                          The second time we went there, a few years later, we were in traffic and told them we would be a little late. They arrogantly told us that they would hold our reservation for fifteen minutes. We got there on time and waited for well over an hour as they had over booked.
                                          The meal was ok, nothing to rave about.
                                          NYC is the food capital of the world. There are so many great restaurants. Why waste your time and money to go here?

                                          1. O.K. So, TOG is probably not the best. And, as many have mentioned, sort of a tourist trap. If you do want to do "quintessential NY" there are plenty of places that will fit the bill for you. Additionally, there are a number of NY restaurants listed in the "Historic" section in the back of Zagat's that get great reviews and could give your mom that type of experience. Perhaps not with a view of the park, but with even more NY flavor and hospitality.

                                            1. Where did you read the food was "excellent"? You'll notice that even the people who (inexplicably) defend this place give lukewarm reviews of the food. Please, please, please cancel your reservation and pick somewhere else. Someone suggested Telepan, which I haven't tried, but I was a big fan of Judson Grill. You might also check out Danny Meyers' restaurants (Gramercy Tavern, Eleven Madison Park, etc.).

                                              1. I dined there in the "crystal room"...Food was forgettable, but ambience was memorable...You go for the beautiful surroundings...not the food...MUCH better food elsewhere, though my dinner there was memorable, due to the surrounding....

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: jinet12

                                                  perhaps i'm just really hard to please, but i've been to two catered events at TOG and thought the dining areas were the tackiest things i'd ever seen. green and red chandeliers, mirrored walls, even a gift shop inside the restaurant! just awful. i was expecting a beautiful place, but was appalled. The garden is nice, i will admit that. and i noticed a room that seemed to be up a flight of stairs that looked cozy and nice. but the main dining areas were horrendous. and of course the food was almost inedible.

                                                2. Go across the street to Cafe des Artistes. The food is better, it's New York, thye will like it. http://www.cafenyc.com/cafedesartiste...

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: Ken J

                                                    At one time, Cafe des Artistes might have been a good suggestion. However, with food that's now mediocre, in my view, it's way past its prime.

                                                  2. Except for the garden in the summer time, I don't even think it is a good looking restaurant. I'd much rather Elaine's for a touristy destination.

                                                    1. OK, I have cancelled our reservation for Tavern on The Green and per my mom's request, chose Bobby Flay's restaurant, Bar American.

                                                      At least I've read some more positive things on this site about his place...

                                                      Thank you all for your honest opinions. I think in the end, it's more about good food and good company.

                                                      2 Replies
                                                      1. re: carlywood

                                                        While I think you made an escellent decision by canceling TotG, I'm sorry to read that you've substituted Bar Americain. As I've said before on this board, the food we had there was awful, and I would never recommend it. However, as you noted, there are Hounds who like it; indeed, to my dismay, some even rave about it. So, I sincerely hope your experience there far surpasses mine.

                                                        1. re: RGR

                                                          Reporting back on Bar Americain...I was disappointed. While the atmosphere and the service was nice, the food was only OK. We ordered new york strip, the rib eye and mom had a chicken dish. I wasn't into the homemade steak sauce because of the overwhelming horseradish flavor. The aspargus was overcooked and I have no idea why people rave about the Brooklyn hash...nothing special there. Desserts were a little better than the entrees, but I was caught off guard when mine was specially prepared with Jack Daniels. If I had known the toffee bread pudding sundae was going to have JD in it, I would have skipped it. I think for the price, I've had much better. While I'm glad we passed on Tavern on the Green, I was not at all impressed with Bar Americain and would not recommend it to other visitors.

                                                      2. Have been to Bar Americain on at least five occasions but one dinner and the rest brunch.
                                                        The dinner was good not great but I feel the brunch is excellent.

                                                        1. I agree with others that a drink there and dinner elsewhere would fit the bill as you have to see the place, it is beautiful in a rather kitschy way. Cafe des Artistes is a quick walk from there.

                                                          1. What about the Boat House? It's a real NYC experience and as I recall the food wasn't all that bad. Maybe you could have drinks at TOG, and walk thru the park to the BoatHouse for dinner? I'm just suggesting this because I think the mother is looking for an experience more so than food (like us (we) chowhounds. -:)

                                                            1. I was in New York a few years ago with my parents, and we went to both Tavern on the Green and the River Cafe in Brooklyn. The River Cafe beats TOTG hands down, in terms of food and atmosphere. However, my Dad (who was like 50 at the time) though TOTG was great - he still talks about it. I didn't much care for the food or the crowd at TOTG, but the atmosphere is OK....if you like that kind of thing....

                                                              1. Tavern on the Green really is that bad.