Saturday, March 5, 2011

Tofu with Soba Noodles, Shiitake Mushrooms & Spinach

I can almost understand why people are afraid to eat tofu. Meat eaters can easily have chicken or pork or beef for protein and probably aren’t all that thrilled about consuming cubes of soy that, at their worst, can be tough and unappetizing in their tastelessness. But I think tofu-haters might be missing out on its possibilities because of bad experiences. When cooked properly, tofu has the ability to absorb the flavors of that with which it is cooked and create elevated textural nuances that, if I dare say it, are rather pleasing. Tofu will never be a real, indiscernible meat substitute, that’s for certain, but it can be a palatable option for those otherwise afraid of it. 



The key, from my limited experience, is to use extra firm tofu and ensure it’s relatively fresh. When incorporating the tofu into the dish, it’s best to let it speak for itself instead of dousing it with sauce and hoping it’ll just blend in. Coat it with a light sauce that still allows the muted flavor of the tofu to shine through. Also, be sure to avoid overcooking the tofu and making it tough. Few foods are worse than overcooked tofu. Bad memories. 



My tofu experience didn’t really start well.  As a kid, my mom, the healthy eater and obsessive exerciser in the family, would trick us into eating it.  She’d call it “chicken” but we knew better.  If I remember correctly, she attended a tofu cooking class with a friend and attempted the new recipes at home. I must’ve been about 12 and, naturally, was too cool for this tofu nonsense. For years I avoided it but I’ve now branded myself a member of the tofu appreciation camp. I’m fairly certain that tofu and vegetable Thai curries helped get me there.

The recipe I’m sharing today is one I made recently, and it was inspired by various different tofu stir fries that caught my eye. The problem, when choosing which to use, was that none of them really peaked my interest completely. Instead, a combination of a few recipes formed one that I was really happy with.  In this dish, the soba noodles are deep and earthy and even subtly sweet at times.  The tofu, which is seared and topped with tamari, and then vegetable stock, is tender, juicy, and hearty.  As you eat a plate of this dish, you can feel your body filling with warmth and slowly becoming full.  It’s hearty, healthy, and an easy bet for a weeknight meal. 



Tofu with Soba Noodles, Spinach & Shiitake Mushrooms

Yield: 4 servings

2 tbsp. canola oil, divided
½ lb. shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, caps cut into quarters
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp. minced fresh ginger
6 scallions, white & light green parts only, diced
1 tsp. red pepper flakes (or to taste)
1 15 oz container of extra firm tofu, patted dry & cubed
1 cup vegetable stock
2 tbsp. tamari (or more, to taste)
12 oz soba noodles

Bring a large pot of water (for your soba noodles) to a boil.

In a large, heavy bottomed skillet or seasoned wok, heat 1 tbsp. canola oil over medium high heat.  Once the oil heats and begins to ripple, add the mushrooms and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Reduce the heat to medium and add the scallions, ginger, garlic and red pepper flakes.  Cook for just a minute until the mixture is fragrant and then take it off the heat and store in a separate bowl.

In the same wok as before, which is now empty, add 1 tbsp. canola oil and heat over medium high heat.  Add tofu and cook until lightly browned, about 3 minutes.  Lower the heat, add the vegetable stock and spinach and cover, allowing to cook for 5 minutes.

Add the mushroom mixture back to the wok and let it simmer for 5 more minutes.  At this point, add the soba noodles to the boiling water and cook them for 5 minutes, too.  Once they’re done, add the noodles to the tofu/mushroom/spinach mixture and combine.  Then serve warm.

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Friday, February 25, 2011

Another Tomato Sauce

I know..I know…this is the third tomato sauce I’ve posted here.  It’s just too good not to share, though!

If you’ve been trained to believe that any good tomato sauce requires an entire day to cook, I’ve got an interesting development to share with you. You know those nights when you really want a large bowl of spaghetti with tomato sauce and can’t imagine simmering sauce for an hour and a half or opening a *gasp* jar? Well, Heidi at 101 Cookbooks posted a sauce recipe nearly four years ago upon which I only stumbled within the past month. It is absolutely genius. And it really only takes 5 minutes to prepare.  Seriously.  It’s a dream of a sauce for when you’re pressed for time and want something homemade.  It’s especially useful if, like me, you require a pasta fix every few days and don’t have the patience to slave over a hot stove to make something acceptably good.

I can even offer more praise.  In addition to the short amount of time it takes to make the sauce, there’s also the added benefit that there aren’t many ingredients required.  Extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, red pepper flakes, garlic, crushed tomatoes and lemon zest: all ingredients you most likely have waiting in your pantry to be used at this very moment.

I’ve used this sauce over pasta, on pizza and as a sauce for roasted vegetables (I’m partial to spooning it over brussels sprouts).  Every time I make it, it’s faultless.  While the recipe, in its original form, is perfect, there can be modifications made.  For instance, if you’d like to cut the oil down a bit, instead of using ¼ cup of extra virgin olive oil, 1/8 cup will work fine.  In addition, the amount of lemon zest you add can be tweaked, depending on your personal taste.  I’ve tried it with both the recommended amount and with a little less, and every time it has tasted flawless.

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Julia’s Brownies

 
If boxed brownies aren’t the biggest travesty out there, I don’t know what is.  As a kid, we ate quite a lot of those things, and they always tasted so disappointing, greasy and superficial. I never knew there was an entire world of scratch made brownies out there waiting to be explored. Unsurprisingly, it turns out that the “real” brownies put the boxed stuff to shame, and they’re actually not as difficult to make as you might think.

Until I saw the recipe for these brownies, which are said to be Julia Child’s favorite (and I can understand why!), I’ve never made them from scratch, and I was so excited to try them.  They were fairly easy to make and pretty much just involved pouring ingredients into various bowls, mixing them up, adding them to each other, and then baking them. The most difficult part for me was beating the eggs and sugar by hand since I didn’t own a Kitchen Aid or hand mixer when I first made these.  If you do have either of these tools, the mixing process will be a cinch. Also – in case, like me, you tend to rush through things, make sure you read the recipe through first (I know that might sound obvious, but sometimes it just doesn’t happen automatically) because there are a few different bowls being used at once and you wouldn’t want to accidentally pour one mixture into the wrong bowl…(woops.)


These brownies, once cooled and sprinkled with a generous amount of powdered sugar, are just incredible in texture and flavor.  They’re moist and delicate, and, surprisingly, not overwhelmingly chocolately.  There’s a great balance between the sweetness and the cakey texture.  Neither overpowers the other and the blend is perfect. Paired with vanilla ice cream or some whipped cream, these things are deadly (as in, you’re going to eat far more of them than you want to!), but they’re such a decadent, special dessert.  I guess that’s not too much of a surprise.  Anything that was Julia Child’s favorite couldn’t possibly be anything less than perfect. Even after sitting in a platter covered with foil for a few days, the brownies were still perfectly moist as if they’d just been baked.  I’m actually surprised they lasted that long.
I had a bit of a problem with the baking time, and my brownies needed 10 more minutes than the recipe suggests.  I think my oven has issues, so I’d stick to the recipe with this.  Either way, just keep an eye on your brownies, and know that they shouldn’t be firmly set when you take them out of the oven.  They’ll be done when they are moist and the slightest bit runny.

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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Restaurants: ilili

From the front sidewalk of ilili, a tremendously attractive Lebanese restaurant located in Manhattan’s Flatiron district, the restaurant presents itself as quiet and rather unassuming.  From outside, the restaurant is sturdy and understated, offering little else besides a mostly black façade, covered front windows, and rose colored signage.

Upon entering the restaurant and venturing beyond ilili’s masked appearance, an immediate transformation takes place that’s very similar to a deep red curtain being drawn.  In this case, one side represents quiet curiosity, while the other makes way for a tall, boldly colored, modish scene that could almost be confused with a European disco if it weren’t for the chic, well dressed, young hostesses asking if you’ve made a reservation. Oh right. You’re here for dinner.

Fast forward to your short wait in the lounge where the long, vibrant bar is bursting with attractive female patrons (and a few men, too, but…mostly women) sipping enticing cocktails.  These people clearly aren’t at this restaurant to eat, which is an awful shame, because the food here is some of the best in the Lebanese/Middle Eastern category you’ll find in Manhattan.  While the bar scene stirs with liveliness, the dining scene, which is why ilili remains so fashionable these days, flourishes because of its superb, palatable Lebanese fare.

The main dining room is long, open and vastly rectangular shaped.  It’s crowded, loud and full of eager diners. The atmosphere remains clubbish and trendy but if you’re lucky, this isn’t where you’ll be eating. There’s also a smaller, more intimate dining room upstairs that’s quiet and simple. It’s unadorned, chill, and gives the diners the opportunity to enjoy their meals, taste their food, and appreciate what ilili is there to do: feed people a phenomenal meal. (Be sure to request sitting in this dining room if quiet meals are your taste.)

the main dining room

ilili’s main attraction, the food, is prepared with a perceptive attention to detail and wonderfully balanced combinations of flavors. Lebanese food is fresh, bright and dominantly forward flavored, and ilili highlights the cuisine in a way that features its different ingredients and spices with refinement and aesthetic appeal.  Most importantly, the food here overflows with intense flavors that strike a complex, symphonic chord that’s exquisite and curiously unique. The menu is, from beginning to end, a mouthwatering delight to read.  The flavor combinations and use of ingredients is so appealing that it’s almost impossible to not order everything.

One hot mezze item that’s not to be missed is the brussels sprouts ($14). It’s quite possible that this dish has the power to convert people from brussels sprouts haters to people who heartily embrace the vegetable.  Perfectly roasted and caramelized brussels sprouts are glazed with gooey honey and sweet fig puree and then are combined with bursting sweet grapes and sturdy, toasted walnut pieces, which add a much needed crunch and distinction to the dish. This is all bound together by light, refreshing mint yogurt.  Another high point is the Rkaykat bil Jibneh (cheese rolls with feta and fresh mint, $9).  These half cigar-like cheese rolls are layered with a light, crisp shell of toasted phyllo dough and, with each bite, the warm, velvety cheese oozes out. The falafel ($8) here is done perfectly.  Upon first bite, the flavors of cumin and coriander burst from the falafel yet these chickpea and fava bean dumplings, despite having been fried, have a buoyant, refreshingly light quality that nearly makes them float.  Other favorite dishes are the grape leaves ($10), the duck shawarma ($17), and the velvety, smooth, cool labne (strained yogurt with olive oil and fresh mint and spices, $8), served with pita-like chips, which are also seasoned.

brussels sprouts
falafel
 
 
grape leaves
 
Rkaykat bil Jibneh
duck shawarma

To finish your meal with a sweet note or two, desserts range from ilili’s signature candy bar, to a hot chocolate cake with cashews, to baklava. Don’t deny yourself the Awaimat (Lebanese beignets $9), though.  Picture fried balls of dough similar to, yet lighter than, zeppole. Topped with sweet, floral, orange blossom simple syrup, each bite transports you to a dreamier, more sensual place. It’s breathtakingly good.

Awaimat

Could you still possibly be in Manhattan? Oh yes.  It’s extraordinary.

ilili
236 5th Avenue
New York, NY 10001
212-683-2322

Subway: N or R to 28th Street
              6 to 28th Street

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Butternut Squash Gratin

The recipe I’m sharing today is one I made for Christmas.  I wish I could get my act together and actually post the things I make within a reasonable period of time, but, alas, I’m just not that good.

Many of my family members don’t eat meat regularly if at all, and my contribution to the dinner table on Christmas was a meat-free entrée.  It took me about 5 minutes to decide I wanted to make something involving butternut squash since I’d never worked with it before and had always wanted to try it. Something about the squash’s vibrant orange color, sweet sturdiness and its seemingly endless possibilities intrigued me.  All of those factors, plus the fact that the squash is hearty and very reminiscent of winter and warm, comfort food, sent me googling for the perfect dish.  The recipe I chose, from Bon Appetit, was a Butternut Squash Gratin. 

The list of ingredients is unusually intriguing. Roasted butternut squash mingles with butter sautéed leeks and fresh sage.  It’s then topped with soft, creamy goat cheese, and toasted hazelnuts.  This mixture is layered twice and then, finally, sprinkled with heavy cream.  The combination is astounding and subtly luscious.  While the flavors and textures combine marvelously, there’s still a clear distinction between the ingredients.  They’re all individually recognizable and maintain their proper shape, texture and flavor.  Married together in the gratin, though, the combination is perfect.

The gratin is very simple to make and manages to add a novel dimension to any ordinary Christmas dinner.  You can actually put together the entire dish (minus the heavy cream and hazelnuts, which you’ll add right before putting the gratin in the oven), a day before you eat it.  Then, just cover it in aluminum foil and give it a spot in the refrigerator overnight. It’ll be perfectly fine.

Bon Appetit suggests you drizzle an entire cup of heavy cream over the top of the gratin, but this amount really isn’t necessary.  You can add half a cup and the dish will still have a rich, creaminess throughout.  Imagine the combination of sweet roasted squash, tender, slightly oniony leeks, tart, creamy goat cheese, the occasional crunch of a toasted hazelnut and then a touch of velvety cream.  Imagine all of that with a light layer of warm steam billowing out of the casserole dish as you pull it out of the oven. That’s some good food right there.

One note in case, like me, you’re not familiar with preparing butternut squash: Before you start peeling and cutting, put the squash in the microwave for 5-10 seconds to make it slightly tender.  This will make it easier to cut. Then, cut off the round bulb part so you have a better grip on the squash when you peel it with the knife. 

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Thursday, February 10, 2011

Homemade Oreos

Occasionally when I journey through the food blog world to see the interesting things people make, I stumble upon a recipe that is not only immediately starred on my Google Reader, but that stalks me for days. Thoughts of these particularly delectable dishes/desserts pop into my head as I sit at my “beloved” desk job, while practicing arias in the evenings, or while jogging on Saturday mornings.  Then, after a few days (or weeks, in this case…I’m not sure how I managed), I acquire all of the necessary supplies and get into the kitchen to make them.

The following recipe, which I found here (not a surprise), makes a cookie sandwich that tastes infinitely better than the “original” boxed kind.  Despite the flavor disparity, though, just looking at these homemade “oreo” cookies evokes feelings of youth and childhood, and for that, the recipe is utterly wonderful. Chewy, sturdy outer cookies are filled with a rich, creamy filling. Each bite screams comfort and familiarity the same way that a big bowl of spaghetti, meatballs, and a well made tomato sauce reminds many of drawn out Sunday night meals with all kinds of family around. There’s no logic to why we love the food, it’s just an innate feeling.  That’s what the best food is made of, I think.

Feel free to add food coloring to the filling in order to make these cookies part of some festive celebration.  For those of you who celebrate Valentine’s Day, perhaps red and pink versions would be fun?

Many of the people who have made this recipe make notes regarding the amount of sugar added to the cookies.  Some say they like a sweeter cookie, and therefore add 1 ½ cups of sugar.  Others feel that the filling is sweet enough to warrant a cookie that should offset that sweetness a bit, and they only add 1 cup.  I’m part of that camp. I think the cookies come out better with only a cup of sugar, but feel free to make them either way.

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Friday, February 4, 2011

Restaurants: Pó

Restaurants like Pó in Manhattan’s cozy, chic magnet West Village don’t really need a seal of approval from a young, excited food blogger who spends her free time filling her head with all kinds of food related thoughts, ideas, plans and revelations. This restaurant, which has been open for more than 17 years and which was open, in part, by a chef you’ve all heard of (time and time again), is consistently packed, serves a great array of food, and is studded with friendly, warm staff members who genuinely seem to enjoy working there.

We arrived at Pó for our 10PM reservation a bit early, hoping we could snag a table.  Our attempt was laughable; the small, 20ish table restaurant was not only full to capacity, but it seemed to be overflowing and spilling out onto Cornelia Street. 

We eased our wait with a glass of Prosecco Veneto (which turned into two glasses when we were made to wait longer than our reservation; the extra glasses were comped) and merely sat and watched the crowd.  The lighting, extremely dim, was surprisingly fitting as an eclectic variety of R&B then slow jazz, then light rock, played softly on the stereo system. The dining room, entirely white with layered, sleek paneling throughout, was full of mirrors, giving the restaurant a larger, more open illusion. The crowd, a mixture of laid back hipsters looking for a good meal and regulars who clearly dined there often, gave off an air of complete contentment and fulfillment.  While waiting to be seated, we felt like outsiders in this small, intimate world of Pó diners.  The minute we sat down, though, we became a part of this story.

Should you visit Pó and find that your waiter does not immediately bring you a small appetizer of white bean bruschetta, you should consider ordering it off the menu.  This bruschetta, which is one of the buzz dishes that Pó-goers mention is a favorite, took white Tuscan beans and used them in a way that highlighted their creamy texture and subtle flavors. They were combined with fruity olive oil and mixed with a bold, laudable amount of garlic. The dish found its success in its ability to fill the entire palate with a richness that beans don’t often possess. Supported by a medium-thick, toasty piece of crostini, this was the perfect appetizer to warm up the palate for what was to come.

Pó’s wine list, while not overwhelmingly long, boasted several reasonable Italian bottles and three choices of both red and white wines-by-the-glass. 

The appetizers, which included clean, fresh dishes such as tuna with white beans, artichokes & chili-mint vinaigrette, steamed clams & mussels with green chilies, and tomato and mint and meatballs with tomato sauce, were indications of Pó’s motivation as a restaurant.  The dishes seemed familiar and contained fresh, simple ingredients, yet their preparation set them apart and gave them uniqueness and a taste of novelty. One appetizer that had this quality, in particular, was the goat cheese & black olive tartuffo in a salad of radicchio, endives and red pepper sauce.  The dish offered a tangy, briny sharpness that was mellowed by the endive and radicchio, and sweetened carefully with the red pepper emulsion, and attempted to take familiar ingredients and make them new.  Unfortunately, the flavor, should you eat too much goat cheese and olives in the same bite without the off-setting of the salad, tended to be too pungent, but the overall dish was commendably interesting and somewhat addictive.

goat cheese and olive tartuffo

Some favorite dishes at Pó were the fettuccini amatriciana (a special, which you should order if it’s available when you visit), served in a spicy, classic Italian sauce, usually containing pancetta. This version was made with pork jowl, a particularly dense and rich cut of meat, which gave the sauce a unique richness. This meat along with the spicy sauce and tender, thick fettuccini, provided a warm, hearty pasta dish. The cavatelli with fresh broccoli, toasted garlic & bread crumbs was another stand out.  It seemed, initially, to be too simple and unexceptional, but turned out representing that which Italian cuisine tends to express so well: uncomplicated, good quality, fresh ingredients that aren’t beaten to submission or worked with to the point that they’re unrecognizable.  The cavatelli pasta, which was voluptuously thick and chewy, created a solid base for the tender, mouthwateringly buttery broccoli florets that were scattered generously throughout the dish.  The breadcrumbs and garlic added a deeper, more earthy flavor to the dish, and the whole thing, while starting without flaw, got even better as I ate it.

 
fettuccini amatriciana
cavatelli with broccoli, toasted breadcrumbs & garlic

Pó’s signature dessert, the Pó’ Sundae, a clean, fresh take on a classic, has a base of luscious mint gelato that’s topped with oozing chocolate sauce and sprinkled with cinnamon spiced pine nuts.  It was a refreshing way to end the meal. The rest of the dessert menu looked like that which you’d expect from an Italian restaurant; panna cotta, ricotta cheese cake and affogato were all there, and they all showed up at the table looking rather appealing.

At the end of the meal, as I sat and contemplated my experience, I understood why everyone who had dined there before us seemed so content and satisfied.  Something about Pó’s subtlety and attitude offered much more to the diners than food alone possibly could.  That is, perhaps, while Pó has had such a successful run and why it will continue to remain one of the West Village’s long standing, most popular spots.

Notes:
Prices are $$
Reservations recommended for peak times (can be made a few days in advance)
Tables near the window are the most coveted


31 Cornelia Street
New York, NY 10014
212-645-2189

Subway:
A C E to West 4th
1 to Christopher Street

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Goat Cheese Ravioli

What kind of meal do you consider to be “special?”  Is it one that you ate growing up and can’t seem to forget?  Or is it something fancy and out of the ordinary – a dish you wouldn’t cook if it wasn’t meant for a specific, important occasion?  Or maybe both? 



A few weeks ago I wanted to cook something special for dinner to pre-celebrate Christmas since I wouldn’t be around for the actual holiday.  It was a lovely night filled with wine, our favorite cheeses, some leftover chocolate pie, presents, and partially homemade ravioli. (I almost wrote “semi-homemade” but realized that would create an uproar and make you all think I color coordinate my outfits to my kitchen. Not so!)

Why partially homemade?  Well, I didn’t have time to make my own pasta dough (and, let’s face it, I’ve never done it before and want to experiment a bit first), and had to resort to using wonton wraps from the grocery store. The filling was homemade and we stuffed those babies ourselves, boiled them up, and topped them with this sauce. (Can I reiterate how wonderful this sauce is?)

This ravioli recipe is from The Farm to Table Cookbook and I found it on one of my favorite blogs to read: Dana Treat.  The filling has textural components that are atypical for the ravioli you might be used to eating in restaurants; in addition to the multiple cheeses in the filling, there are also hazelnuts and fresh basil ribbons, both adding contrast and even an element of the unexpected. Each bite begins with the tenderness of the boiled won ton wrap followed by the creaminess of the cheese, the freshness of the basil and, last, the subtle crunch of the hazelnuts.  Each of these nuances contributes to the gentle heartiness of the ravioli and, combined with the creamy, rich tomato sauce, give the dish warmth, depth, and an element that something special and worthy of celebration is definitely taking place.

This recipe is definitely worth a try for a special occasion, or even just for a regular lazy Sunday sort of meal. 

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Apple Crisp

For some reason, I have always been intimidated by the thought of making apple crisp.  I’m not sure if that’s really dumb, or sort of understandable.  Think about it: you have this dessert which so many people have been eating for many years, and which represents American food culture in its most recognizable form. Everyone has some recipe for it, and you can google and find a whole bunch more on the internet. Which ones are reliable?  Which won’t totally flop?  Will I be able to feed this to people?

I guess those are questions you ask any time you make anything that’s out of your repertoire.  And they’re the questions that prompt you to experiment.

In the end, the apple crisp turned out better than I would’ve hoped.  The version I made had a little too much lemon, so I think I’d try and tone it down a bit next time.  Otherwise, it was a hit. The apple mixture was gooey and caramelized and the apple pieces were perfectly tender.  The topping was crispy, sweet and buttery, remaining sturdy above the looser apple filling.  The recipe, adapted by The Parsley Thief, is one of Ina Garten’s.  It’s a keeper, and it’s easy to make, too.

It goes without saying that apple crisp (or pie, cobbler, crumble, etc.) tastes even better when accompanied by a large scoop of vanilla ice cream. (It seems almost wrong to eat the crisp without it!)  Apple crisp is a perfect dessert for winter and can be warmed up easily in the microwave or oven, although it’d be perfectly fine at room temperature, too.

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Restaurants: Gramercy Tavern

Gramercy Tavern is the sort of restaurant that practically glows with energy from its entrance on East 20th Street.  The moment you step inside, the room begins buzzing with activity.  There’s bustling, there’s a tolerable level of noise, there’s lots of people, and there’s a level of genuine delight emanating fervently from each patron. 

The scenery is a perfect match.  It’s old New York done tastefully with dark wood themes, sophisticated artwork and a clean, precise use of space. 

The walk past the bar and through the tavern room to the back dining room is like witnessing the lights go down in the theatre before a show; you’re in the same place, really, but you’re traveling to something more, something that’s meant to move you in a different way. 

The menu structure in the dining room is simple: order a 3-course prix-fix or do one of the two tasting menus.  As someone who chose a tasting menu, my advice is this: Don’t do it.  Seven courses sounds scrumptious and like a real eatable adventure, but the thrill will wear off, and you’ll find yourself sitting there in your booth staring at a plate of food that may look gorgeous and distinct but that makes you wonder exactly what you, a person who trusts your own palate a decent amount, are missing. Because it’s just not  as good as it looks.

Low points of the vegetable tasting menu are the King Crab salad with celery and radish. Where the dish attempts to be a crisp, light beginning of the tasting menu experience, it has the texture it needs and the striking lightness that make it seem like perfection, but the flavor stops right upon impact on the palate, and isn’t able to take the diner anywhere.  Another is the rabbit fettuccine with parsnips, brussels sprouts and white truffles.  It seems disjointed and droopy.

On the other hand, the warm squash salad is gloriously presented with color, finesse, and cleanness that is almost too pretty to eat.  The warm squash and lentils along with the yogurt sauce drizzled on top create a warm, satisfying plate that isn’t overwhelmingly heavy.

The best bet is something that isn’t even on the tasting menu; I made a soup substitution, and the choice proved to be in my favor because the soup was the biggest revelation of my evening. The squash soup with brussels sprouts and apples explodes with every bite.  The purity of the squash puree and the delicate presentation give the squash every bit of praise it deserves.  Where many soups seem muddled, this one is clean and warm — perfect, even.  The addition of the apples and brussels sprouts provides a texture contrast, but their presence does not detract from the glorious soup. It is very thoughtfully prepared and executed.

Other high points: smoked trout with cippollini puree and pickled onions and the warm beet and farro salad, served with a homemade cracker.

smoked trout
 
warm beet and bulgar salad
 
dessert, for good measure

Waiting between courses seems excruciating.  The pace of the meal doesn’t flow.  You will sit and agonize over the length of time between each course and be tempted to overindulge on the sourdough or ciabatta bread that is quite liberally offered to each table between courses. The service is fairly pleasant otherwise.  That is, if you don’t mind $90 bottles of wine inadvertently being added to your bill and having servers treat the male guests like some sort of higher power at your table.

For a restaurant so highly regarded as Gramercy Tavern, it certainly takes itself seriously.  The staff is trained to be effusively polite, and the dining room reaches a level of refined elegance that provides comfort and style to the meal.  Food, while gently prepared and served with artistic precision, is inconsistent.  Some plates deserve the highest marks possible, while others seem hasty and uninspired.  There is hope, though.  The 4-weeks-in-advance reservation policy and the constant bustle every night of the week make this a true destination, a real, memorable New York experience.  If that’s what you’re looking for, that is most certainly what you’ll find at Gramercy Tavern.

Gramercy Tavern
42 E. 20th Street
New York, NY 10003
212-477-0777
Subway: 6 to 23rd St/Lexington Ave