Are You Tasting the Pith? - 22nd September 07
The first thing you need to know about the Gramercy Tavern; it's not really a tavern. It's many things, but the traditional notion of a tavern, as a slightly rustic place to eat and drink, with an apron-wearing landlord? Nope. That's not a criticism, though; it's a lovely, open, high-ceilinged space, with soothing mustard walls and bold art thereon. And it's perpetually busy. We opted to eat "up front", there being a restaurant space "out back", which meant showing up and waiting for a table, as no reservations are taken. However, this is no hardship, given the long, well-stocked bar.
In fact, we get seated pretty quickly, and opt for a couple of pints of beer to go with the food. I plump for Stone IPA, a bright, spritzy ale with a spicy orange pith twist in the finish, knowing that it wil cope both with the spicy-hot merguez (lamb sausage) with greens and squash, and the soft gaminess of the rabbit sausage, spaetzle and squash to follow. Yes, I know they're both sausages. I like sausages, and I was on holiday. My partner plumps for a pint of a crisp, dry Victory Prima Pils, to go with her soft-shell crab starter, and seafood chowder (it's pronounced "chowdah") main course .
The vibe is really enjoyable. It's quite smart, but unpretentious, and the staff are all on top of their game, with a great understanding of the food and what to drink with it. Everyone is attentive, but not intrusive. It has a buzz, but is relaxed. You know, it's hard to explain, but it all just feels right.
The food is great, a nice example of top quality, unshowy cooking, the food arriving exactly as described on the menu, constructed with the kind of precision that makes it seem effortless, and having done some time in a kitchen, it takes a lot of work to make food seem effortless. The only odd note was the chowder (chowdah), which is a lighter, Asian-inspired take on the dish. It was good, but it wasn't chowdah.
The dessert of chocolate banana cream tart with hazelnut brittle ice cream was great, a salty-sweet symphony of textures and tastes that excited and satisfied. Always one to put beer before anything else, I opted for a trio of cheeses, which allowed me to order a bottle of 1998 Gales Prize Old Ale to go with it. The cheeses were excellent; Pleasant Ridge Reserve, a hard, unpasteurised cows cheese from Wisconsn, that had a nutty, herbal quality; Vendée Bichonne, a medium-hard unpasteurised cows cheese, which appears to made exclusively for the Gramercy Tavern; and the legendary Epoisses, a soft, unpasteurised cows cheese from France, fabled as being the stinkiest cheese in the world. But what a beer. It's hard to know how much of this wonderful elixir is actually still in existence. I have a little stash of more recent vintages, but this is a little bit of history that seems destined to fade away into legend. Time had rendered this bottle almost totally flat, and the aroma had developed a luscious prunes-in-armagnac note, and a soft, silky texture. It was just starting to develop some slightly meaty, savoury notes (to which I'm indifferent, but others love) which made it a great foil for the strong cheeses, going particularly well with Epoisses and a dab of clover honey. The honey was a nice touch on a cheeseboard, one that I've not seen before, but would certainly recommend.
Overall, a good meal and a good experience. Going there and not trying something from the beer list would be a wasted trip; the beer is what it's all about. So perhaps it's more like a tavern than a restaurant after all. Just look out for the chowdah.
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