Restaurant & Wine Review: Gramercy Tavern in NYC

by Ian D’Agata

Gramercy Tavern

42E 20th St. New York City

NY 10003 USA

Tel. 001 212 4770777

The dishes

Citrus & Beets, burrata, pecans, balsamic

Roasted delicata, tatsoi, anchovies, pumpkin seeds

Beef tartare, Bayley Hazen, Asian pear, Dijon

Grilled arctic char, mushrooms, turnip, kale

Duck meatloaf, cauliflower, beets grapes

The wines

Huré Frères 2015 Champagne Blanc de Noirs Instantanée     94

Huré Frères 2014 Champagne Blanc de Noirs Instantanée     94

Giuseppe Mascarello 1982 Barolo Monprivato         98

Quilceda Creek 1983 Caberent Sauvignon Washington           95

Schloss Lieser-Thomas Haag Niederberg Helden Auslese Long Gold Capsule Mosel                        95

Truly one of NYC’s most beloved restaurants, Danny Meyer’s Flatiron District classic hits the right notes and has been one of the city’s consistently best dining spots over the course of its existence. Part of the Union Square Hospitality Group (that includes other iconic pieces of American dining such as The Modern, Union Square Café, Maialino, Marta, and much more), Gramercy Tavern has been remarkably adept at serving contemporary American cuisine in a high-energy, high-volume setting enhanced by state-of-the-art service since its founding, in 1994.

Chef Michael Anthony & I

The food at Gramercy is the reign of Executive Chef Michael Antony, who took over from Tom Colicchio in 2006 and has basically never looked back. Almost twenty years out, you could excuse Anthony and the Tavern going through the motions at times: after all the two are practically dinosaurs when it comes to NYC’s fast-changing restaurant scene and so it would be normal for a little fatigue to set in. And yet nothing could be further from the truth: the restaurant design, replicating that of an upscale American tavern is as timely as ever, the dishes follow seasonality with a vengeance, and the ingredients are always first-rate. Add that Anthony has always been careful to incorporate newer and fashionable food trends into some of his cooking and dishes (without ever losing sight of the house unofficial motto “American cooking in an American context”), and so Gramercy Tavern is far from resembling a dinosaur. Throw in a large, modern wine list that has something for every palate and wallet, a corkage fee that borders on being ridiculously patron-friendly, one of the nicest, brightest and best Wine Directors in the city in Randall Restiano, and you begin to understand that Gramercy Tavern really should be popular.  Honestly, what’s there not to like about all of that? It follows that the packed crowds at both lunch and dinner are logical, almost inevitable consequences of all the good that is being done on a daily basis.

I had lunch there recently with four other friends and we had a very good time. The citrus and beets and roasted delicate appetizers were excellent, as were the flavourful arctic char and duck meatloaf mains (the latter of these two main the DOTL, or dish of the lunch). The Tavern Burger featured obviously very high-quality meat, though I wouldn’t have minded and extra kick of meaty flavour; by contrast, all the other ingredients in the tartare detracted from the meat’s presence such that in the end the tartare was more about an ensemble of aromas and flavours than a true tartare where the meat gets to be in the spotlight from start to finish. No big deal: both dishes were outstanding, but I wonder if die-hard meat lovers might not come away less impressed than I was.

Wine Director Randall Restiano

It was just as hard to quibble about the day’s wines. I picked the Huré Frères 2015 Champagne Blanc de Noirs Instantanée from the wine list, and it turned out to be as I hoped, a sparkling wine made with optimally ripe Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes from what was a warm year. Layered and rich on the palate, but with noteworthy freshness and lift, I really wish Champagne’s Blanc de Noirs, despite all the hype that accompanies them and the often ridiculous, exorbitant prices, would be a lot more like this beauty than the often very disappointing tipples they are. Wine director Randall Restiano generously gifted us with the same wine from the 2014 vintage, to allow for a side-by-side comparison of two Champagnes made by the same people in the same way in two very different vintages. And in aprim example of what a talented grower can do even in cooler year, the Huré Frères 2014 Champagne Blanc de Noirs Instantanée is a joy, in no way green of gritty. Rather, it is bright and lemony, nicely chiseled and fresh, and a perfect food wine (by contrast, the 2015 is more limited in its pairings, needing bigger fare). There’s not much one can say about the Giuseppe Mascarello 1982 Barolo Monprivato, a practically perfect wine that comes close to getting 100 points. This bottle was everything a Barolo from a true grand cru of Barolo in a fantastic year should be: simply put, a memorable wine. Faded rose, truffles, tar, nutmeg, sandalwood, potpourri and crystallized red berries dominate the aroma and flavour profiles; the wine is marvelously well-balanced and is only now starting to lose its fruit, so I would suggest drinking any bottles you might still have soon enough, for this wine is in a great place right now. The Quilceda Creek 1983 Caberent Sauvignon Washington showcases all that is great and slightly less so about American red wines: at over forty years of age, the thing is still brimming with ridiculous amounts of fresh, juicy blackberry and blackcurrant fruit and one glass just makes you want to have another almost immediately. At the same time, while undoubtedly a beautiful wine with years of life still ahead, it is also remarkably monotonal in its delivery of dark fruit flavours, with barely distinguishable other aromas and flavours of spices and herbs. In fairness, we had only opened this beauty a few hours before drinking time, so next time I will make sure I pull the cork in the morning of that day’s dinner so as to give this wine plenty of time to breathe. Still: though the fruit was remarkably more present than in the Barolo, this can didn’t come close to that wine’s complexity. Last but not least, the Schloss Lieser-Thomas Haag Niederberg Helden Auslese Long Gold Capsule Mosel might well have been the WOTL (Wine Of The Lunch), boasting a truly remarkably purity and precision of aroma and flavours. White peach, jasmine, lemon verbena, spearmint, chlorophyll, pear, minerals and lime lingered impressively on the high acid but harmonious mouthfeel. A marvelously pristine wine of unbelievable clarity and cut, about the only thing missing was more noble rot to kick up the complexity up a notch or two, but it’s hard to complain about something this good.

Gramercy Tavern is one of those rare places that appeals to everyone: tourists, New Yorkers just out to have lunch, people wanting to close a deal or lovers on a date (in the case of these last two dining categories, I suggest asking for a table in the back’s dining room, which is a much quieter environment than the front room where dining patron din and music blaring make for a festive but not so private setting. But no matter where you do sit at Gramercy Tavern, you’ll come away having had a very good, satisfying time. And you really can’t ask for much more than that.




Ian D'Agata

Editor-in-Chief of Terroir Sense Wine Review
President of Terroir Sense Academy
Vice President of Association Internationale des Terroirs
Chief Scientific Officer of TasteSpirit

Ian D’Agata has been writing and educating about wines for over thirty years. Internationally recognized as an distinguished expert, critic and writer on many wine regions, his two most recent, award winning books Native Wine Grapes of Italy and Italy's Native Wine Grape Terroirs (both published by University of California Press) are widely viewed as the "state of the art" textbooks on the subject. The former book won the Louis Roederer International Wine Awards Book of the Year in 2015 and was ranked as the top wine books of the year for the Los Angeles Times, the Financial Times and the New York Times, while the latter was named among the best wine books of the year by Food & Wine Magazine and the NY Times.

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  • As I happy participant in this joyous lunch-get together, I have but one small disagreement with your review: The Quelcida Creek seems much more rigid and monothematic than your gracious review expressed. That it is still very much alive at 40 years is great credit of this important estate. Otherwise, thanks for making this wonderful lunch possible.

    • Ciao Bob, I actually liked it, what can I say? I actually didn’t think it was rtigid at all, but hey, maybe I just woke up in a good mood that day!

      • My sensitivity to what I call rigidity in red wines has increased as I have come to taste more Burgundies and Oregon Pinot Noirs than any other red wines. So fully tannic Cabernets shock my tender palate!

  • Ian, I know you are a lover of German Wine, but I feel that, like many other wine professionals, you sometimes don’t quite consider the wines as seriously as wines from other regions. In this case, in the text of the article, unlike all the other wines, you don’t mention the vintage of the Schloss Leiser BA. I do see from the photo of the wine, that it is a 2018, but no written mention. And no discussion of ageability of the wine. As you are fully aware, German Riesling is one of the world’s most ageable wines. Irregardless, I very much enjoy your wine and food writing.

Ian D'Agata