On my life’s highlight reel, I have a good amount of cherished memories. One thing I find myself doing is (pathetically) replaying these events in my head and setting them to 80’s music in cheesy movie montage fashion. For example, the time me and some close friends rallied to save our college fraternity house from what seemed like an inevitable campus closure via a pain in the ass administration is typically imagined through Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” appearance in Iron Eagle.
This past Sunday, the fam got together to celebrate Marmo’s birthday at the Gramercy Tavern at 42 East 20th Street. And while it would be extreme to induct mere dining experiences within one’s life highlight reel, my dinner at Gramercy Tavern (hereinafter referred to as the”GT”) came pretty close. So if I was to set my exceptional experience at the GT to an 80’s music/movie montage, what better and more appropriate segment to use than Joe Esposito’s triumphant masterpiece, “You’re the Best Around” as seen in the closing moments of one of the greatest 80’s movies of all time, The Karate Kid. Please bear with me as draw on the comparisons.
I enter the Gramercy Tavern – Daniel Enters the Gymnasium for the All Valley Tournament
I’d have to imagine my feelings upon entrance to the GT were similar to that of fellow NJ paisan, Daniel LaRusso, as he walked into the All Valley Tournament: Wonderment, excitement, a tinge of intimidation perhaps – only because of the rep it brings with it. I needed to bring my blogging A-game.
The place is simply fantastic looking. It has two general areas: the more “casual” tavern and then the restaurant, where we sat. But there is a similar theme throughout. Wood floors, tapestry curtains, blossoming bright colored plants, and aged iron chandeliers that look like they had been forged by knights in the pits of some dungeon. It’s like a Medieval Tudor-style farmhouse, with a sprinkle of magic and cheer. They start everyone off with a delicious crispy potato puff, with olive tapenade (as seen below).
We meet Our Server – Miyagi accompanies Daniel-san to start the tournament
Our server, whose name escapes me, hands us our leather bound menus and drink lists. After letting the fam chillax and take in the scene for the perfect amount of time, he swoops in and provides us with the headiest of tips concerning mixed drinks and wine recommendations, while seamlessly regaling us with brief, yet relevant tales of some dining history at the GT. And my man is a pro. Like our own personal Miyagi. It’s apparent he has been working here for quite some time, and gives off the simultaneous impression of prompt, professional service without pressure or attitude. Point, LaRusso.
The Appetizers – Daniel-San cruises through the early rounds
Cue the music! I order Lamb Parpadelle while Elana selects the Cauliflower Custard. Both are tremendous. My parpadelle has a delightfully salty flavor, owing to some beautifully cooked shredded lamb. It is gracefully plopped in a faintly think burgundy broth, with hints of lemon swirling around in its depths. Every third forkful or so is accompanied by a karate chop of spice to the taste buds. It’s honestly perfect. Elana’s custard is similarly off the charts. Like a cauliflower panna cotta of sorts, it also has hazelnuts to supply an appropriate contrasting crunch. Truly, an achievement in science.
The Entrees – Daniel-San dismantles the Cobra Kai sidekicks en route to the Final
No offense to Daniel-San, but one of my favorite underrated moments in the tournament montage is when Dutch (played by Chad, the son of Steve McQueen) cracks Daniel’s jaw with a the back end of a slick double roundhouse. Without question the prettiest and most athletic karate move of the entire movie. The GT’s entrees are similarly flawlessly presented.
And like Daniel-San, I’m able to move past the beauty of my meal’s arrival and get down to business. I ordered the Duck Breast with confit, cabbage and mushrooms. The duck is cooked like a medium rare filet, with that sweet tasting quality that only duck meat has. The accompanying confit is made up of darker meat and is, appropriately, a tad more salty. The dish is held together by a lurking presence of soy sauce and peppercorns.
Elana orders the Smoked Arctic Char with sunchokes, leeks, and hazelnuts. Much like every dish so far, it arrives as meticulously presented as one of Miyagi’s Bonzai Trees. The leeks, which form the guts of the sauce, emit this sweet tasting mist over the char which is lightly smoked and boasting a hazelnut crust. There is also a noticeable mustard like presence established throughout the leek sauce. Elana is beyond pleased – like she died and went to heaven. Quick, get this girl a body bag, Johnny.
Dessert – Daniel LaRusso’s gonna fight? Daniel LaRusso’s gonna fight!
I always get a kick out of watching Miyagi rub his hands together to heal Daniel’s leg prior to the showdown with Johnny Lawrence, which is followed up by the shameless ring announcer breaking the exciting news to the crowd. And indeed, after ingesting dinner, appetizers, and three hunky pieces of bread with the most amazingly salted butter spread all over it, I was a little tired myself. But a thousand crane kicks to my noggin couldn’t stop me from participating in dessert, for which our server assured us would be a highlight of the meal.
And it was. Elana’s peanut butter semifreddo was simply awesome. A cold treat with macaroons on the side, my fork kept getting helplessly pulled over to sis’s plate. An absolute winner. I went with a GT staple, the chocolate bread pudding. A warm, moist sponge cake which melted in my mouth. Like a true establishment of class, the GT also placed some fine small treats on the house to polish off our meal.
The Bathrooms – Elana had a very positive report on the washrooms: “The bathrooms had a rustic look with fresh flower arrangements, baskets of hand towels and vintage art.”
Top to bottom, the GT is fantastic in everything they do. Not a single thing gets overlooked. It’s our favorite restaurant of the year, and the highest rated restaurant since doing the blog. Indeed GT, You’re the Best, Around.
Overall Experience: The Godfather